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Cairo video aimed at younger students

Co-producer Ken Tucker, standing left, and director and co-producer David Van Hooser with The Renaissance Center in Dickson, Tenn., direct Adrian Catchings, 15, between filming scenes inside the USS Cairo gunboat Thursday.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[12/12/03] Adrian Catchings had to make sure his makeup looked all right before he walked around the USS Cairo Thursday.

The teen was part of a group of five working on a film about Fort Donelson in Dover, Tenn. They needed a Union gunboat, and that brought them to Vicksburg where the USS Cairo, the only surviving ironclad, is on display in the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Catchings, 15, said he’s worked in theater since he was in the second grade. He said seeing the Cairo in person made the Civil War more interesting.

“I never realized how huge these things were until I got to see one today,” he said.

David Van Hooser, director and co-producer, said the 15-minute video is aimed at grades four through high school. He said having a teenager help narrate the video and showing an actual ironclad should make it more interesting.

“When you’re that age, you’re interested in the present,” Van Hooser said. “It’s hard to get excited about history.”

Filming of the federally funded video at the Cairo lasted from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday. Van Hooser said the taping and editing should be completed by April.

Vicksburg Military Park Curator Elizabeth Joyner was interviewed for the video, discussing ironclad gunboats.

The 1862 battle at Fort Donelson involved gunboats and resulted in a total of 17,398 deaths. At the fort, about 12,000 Confederate troops surrendered to Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army, allowing a Union advance along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

Six ironclad vessels similar to the Cairo were used in the battle, although all of them were later scrapped, Joyner said.

The seven ironclads were named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The USS Cairo was named after Cairo, Ill.

It was sunk in 1862, the same year it was built, by an electrically detonated Confederate mine in the Yazoo River, seven miles north of Vicksburg. It was raised from the river 100 years later.

Although the USS Cairo museum in the Vicksburg Military Park is open, the area around the Cairo is closed because of repairs to the rain collectors on the canopy and its support beams. Joyner said she doesn’t know when the area will reopen.

After Catchings was recorded speaking and walking inside of the Cairo, he said he was impressed.

“It was just kind of a picture in a book before I came here,” he said. “Something of this scale is kind of awesome.”