GALLERY: Col. Peter C. Woods, portrayed by re-enactor Leonard Lay, leaves his home to command the 32nd Texas Volunteer Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil War. Filmed on Lake Travis, the Battle of Blair’s Landing was shot using an 80-foot replica of a Union gunboat. This scene required 30 Civil War re-enactors and a full day of filming. PHOTOS by TOM BENDER
by SHELLEY HENRY
Staging two Civil War battles, including a calvary attack on a Union gunboat, would be a daunting task for any filmmaker. Hays County documentarian Richard Kidd, however, is not one to back down from a challenge.
Premiere of historical documentary on Confederate Col. Peter C. Woods
Heritage Association of San Marcos’ Tours of Distinction
Kidd recently finished filming and editing the sixth documentary film produced in as many years by the Hays County Historical Commission. “Col. Peter C. Woods: Country Doctor, Cavalry Officer, Public Servant” is the most ambitious and expensive of the commission’s documentaries. The public is invited to attend the film’s premiere at 7 p.m. May 2 at the San Marcos Activity Center, 501 E. Hopkins St.
One of the most prominent early residents of San Marcos, Dr. Peter C. Woods moved to the Hays County area in the early 1850’s to practice medicine and run a cotton plantation. Utilizing a little known aseptic technique he had perfected in the North, Woods was a successful surgeon with high survival rates and many grateful patients.
When the Civil War began, Woods gathered men from Hays County to form the Confederacy’s 32nd Texas Volunteer Cavalry. Col. Woods and his men patrolled the Rio Grande and Gulf Coast boarders, protecting the cotton trade with Mexico. When ordered to Louisiana, the regiment fought in several battles, including Blair’s Landing, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Yellow Bayou, where Woods himself was injured.
Once the war was over, Woods returned home to San Marcos, where he continued to practice medicine, run a farm, and serve his community. He is buried in the San Marcos City Cemetery.
To bring Woods’ life story to the screen, the historical commission filmed interviews with family members and historians. Among those interviewed are descendants Dorothy Woods Schwartz, co-author of the Hays County history book “Clear Springs and Limestone Ledges,” and Janice Woods Windle, author of “True Women and Hill Country.”
Windle will be on hand for the film’s premiere and will participate in a question and answer session after the screening. Kidd will also be available to answer questions about the making of the film.
Intermingled with interview clips in the documentary are re-enactments of scenes from Wood’s life before, during and after the war. For the Red River Campaign battle scenes, Kidd utilized 30 re-enactors to portray the Union and Confederate troops.
The most elaborate scene to film was the 1864 battle of Blair’s Landing on the Red River, in which Woods’ Cavalry pursued the retreating forces of Union commander Gen. Nathaniel E. Banks. As a prop for a key sequence, the historical commission hired Lake Service Inc. to build a full-scale replica of a Union ironclad gunboat. The 80-foot ship was launched in Lake Travis, which doubled as the Red River.
“You don’t see a Union gunboat on Lake Travis every day,” said historical commission chair Kate Johnson, who produced the film. “It was so well-built. The re-enactors were wonderful, and we filmed on a beautiful day.”
Johnson originally proposed the idea of making a film about Woods because she realized that few people in the county knew much about him.
“The only memorial located directly on the courthouse grounds was erected in Woods’ honor in 1907,” Johnson said. “People walk by the fountain every day, but most don’t know the story behind it.”
In recent years, the Woods Memorial has fallen into disrepair, a situation the commission wants to rectify. Said Johnson, “We are looking into ways to restore the memorial and hope the documentary will create some new interest and energy for this project.”
Commission members planned the premiere of the film to coincide with the weekend of the Heritage Association of San Marcos’ Tours of Distinction, May 3-4. Several sites on the tour have a connection to Peter Woods and his extended family.
One home open to tour visitors is the Baker Home at 727 Belvin Street, where Woods’ daughter, Sarah Cherokee Woods McGehee, once lived. Another site is the Meeks Home, also on Belvin, originally owned by Sarah McGehee’s brother-in-law. Tour-goers can also visit the Woods Memorial on the Courthouse Square and view scenes from the film True Women, based on Windle’s book, at the Texas State’s Family & Consumer Sciences Building.
Tickets for the tour are being sold at the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce and a full schedule of events can be found at the association’s website.
Additional screenings of the Col. Peter C. Woods film will take place in other communities around the county in the weeks to come.
SHELLEY HENRY is a member of the Hays County Historical Commission and president of the Heritage Association of San Marcos.