Walter Czura stops for a photo with some of the actors in his film, “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” at its premier in January at the Poison Peach Film Festival in Augusta, Ga. COURTESY WALTER CZURA

Walter Czura, a longtime resident and entrepreneur on Hilton Head Island, had been thinking about making a movie for many years, and has now produced his first feature length motion picture.  The independent film, “Sherman’s March to the Sea,”  premiered at the Poison Peach Film Festival 2022 in Augusta, Ga., last month.

Czura, who describes himself as a history buff, is excited about his new venture because of his love of both movies and Civil War history.

“Sherman’s March to the Sea” is a historical drama, not a documentary. Its plot follows the often brutal month-long military campaign that was conceived by General Sherman to terrify the region’s civilian population into abandoning the Confederate cause. Instead it embittered Southerners for generations thereafter.

Czura, who owns Marlin Outdoor Advertising, one of South Carolina’s largest billboard marketing companies, formed a new company, Fortress Films, to produce the movie.

He then hired filmmaker Christopher Forbes to direct the 92-minute project estimated at $1.25 million. Forbes has previously directed 38 commercial films that have been distributed as direct sale DVDs through chain store outlets, or more recently, via streaming platforms.

After recruiting Forbes, Czura took on the task of the script research and plot development. The two then collaborated on the final scene sequencing while Forbes recruited the actors and other participants needed to make the film come alive. Forbes recruited more than 500 re-enactors to stage most of the combat and marching scenes.

“I spent several months late at night poring over historic documents and old books to come up with true-life anecdotes during Sherman’s March that would be compelling for the script,” Czura said. “We then created a series of vignettes that would carry forward the storyline and effectively reveal the intense emotion of the campaign from a balanced perspective between four separate groups: the two opposing armies, plus the civilians living along the path of the march, and the slaves who were freed along the way.”

Czura knew the island had been heavily populated during those times.

“There were more than 60,000 federal troops and nearly 10,000 freed slaves fanned out over 60 miles wide and moving toward the sea at a pace of six to 10 miles per day,” Czura said. “Sherman’s army covered more than 280 miles in five weeks, but unfortunately there were also roving gangs called ‘bummers’ who shadowed the march and took advantage of the chaos by raiding and pillaging individual farmhouses and even small towns.

“I hope this film will do more than just entertain, but will also help audiences get a better understanding of the human trauma that was impacting entire southern communities during that period of time,” he said.

The formerly enslaved people, having been newly freed by the Union soldiers, play an important role in the film as they follow behind the battalions of soldiers pushing toward the Savannah and the ocean. And, as Czura pointed out, “those people wound up becoming America’s first freedom march.”

Nonetheless, there was a tragically compelling incident at Ebenezer Creek near present-day Rincon, Ga., where federal troops, fearing for their own safety, pulled up a pontoon bridge, leaving behind nearly 100 newly freed travelers who drowned trying to cross the creek.

Czura’s vignettes effectively carried the storyline to its conclusion on the outskirts of Savannah, where General Sherman wired a telegram on December 23, 1864, to President Abraham Lincoln: “I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah.”

According to Czura, “Sherman’s March to the Sea” will undergo final editing revisions in preparation to being turned over to a California movie distributor, who will purchase it.

In the meantime, Czura is a looking toward another motion picture with a larger budget to include some better known actors.