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Four stu­dents created a doc­u­mentary called “Defending Liberty,” which explored the lives of Hillsdale stu­dents who served for the Union in the Civil War.

The doc­u­mentary focuses on three sol­diers and one nurse who left Hillsdale to serve the Union. Seniors Reagan Gen­siejewski and Lily McHale, junior Gabrielle Bes­sette, and sophomore Carter McNish created this film for the Video Sto­ry­telling class. 

“The doc­u­mentary started with a real­ization: very little is known about what can rightly be called the most critical time in this col­lege’s history,” McNish said. 

Stu­dents orga­nized the doc­u­mentary in a way that would com­mu­nicate Hillsdale’s con­tri­bution to the Civil War through indi­vidual stories, Gen­siejewski said.

Throughout the research process, they inter­viewed faculty such as Pro­fessor of Man­agement Peter Jen­nings, Vis­iting Assistant Pro­fessor of History, Miles Smith IV, and Asso­ciate Dean of Men, Jef­ferey Rogers.

“We started with meeting with Dr. Jen­nings, who gave us an overview of Hillsdale College and the Civil War,” Gen­siejewski said. “From there we dis­tin­guished who were the stu­dents we wanted to high­light, and then each did research and basi­cally created our own doc­u­mentary on each student.”

McHale said the research process helped her appre­ciate Hillsdale to an even fuller extent.

“Going through all the research was really awesome and gave me a better appre­ci­ation for Hillsdale, and actually showed me that we do have the values that we’ve had since day one,” McHale said.

The doc­u­mentary team could only focus on a handful of stu­dents, according to McNish, due to the limited time in the doc­u­mentary. There were many more, however, who fought to pre­serve the Union in the Civil War.

“By the current count, the total number of Hillsdale Civil War sol­diers is 505, but the list con­tinues to grow,” McNish said. “Most of these stu­dents fought in the 4th Michigan infantry, which fought in the Eastern Theater in many of the war’s most famous battles, par­tic­u­larly at Gettysburg.”

Each student had unique expe­ri­ences cre­ating the doc­u­mentary. McNish enjoyed trav­eling to mul­tiple bat­tle­fields, where he obtained footage of the places Hillsdale stu­dents fought.

“You can’t help but get this tingly feeling that you’re part of some­thing much larger than yourself in those places,” he said. “Knowing what hap­pened there, and how you’re con­nected to it makes for an entirely dif­ferent expe­rience of the ground than that of the average visitor.”

Bes­sette, who took on the task of com­piling the project into one film, hopes to pursue video pro­duction as a career. While Bes­sette has com­pleted many projects in the past, nothing com­pares to this doc­u­mentary, she said.

“It has been one of the most chal­lenging, hum­bling, and rewarding expe­ri­ences that I’ve had during my time at Hillsdale, and we could not have been tasked with a better topic,” Bes­sette said. “Learning about Hillsdale College’s role in the Civil War makes me so proud to be a student here and to carry on the legacy of defending liberty.”

Gen­siejewski said her favorite part of the process was reading the letters between Asher Lafleur, a Hillsdale student who fought for the Union, and his wife Etta.

“It was beau­tiful to watch their rela­tionship develop through the letters and use them in my film,” Gen­siejewski said.

McHale rec­om­mended taking the Video Sto­ry­telling class, as she said this doc­u­mentary sparked her interest in filmmaking.

“I def­i­nitely love filming after doing this. I did not con­sider it, really, at all before taking this class,” McHale said. “Now after the class and doing the whole project, I am actually con­sid­ering doing it in the future.”

The doc­u­mentary was com­pleted in less than two and a half months, according to Buddy Moore­house, the class instructor. McNish esti­mated that the project took over 100 hours of com­bined work to complete.

“It’s been great working with Reagan, Gabs, and Carter,” McHale said. “They all really bring some­thing to the table that we need, and we couldn’t have done it without all of them.”