War at Your Door

A single bullet hole, preserved in a board at New Bethel Baptist Church, serves as a reminder of April 1864, when the Union army appeared in Garner.

Before they reached Cary and Morrisville, a thousand Union cavalrymen clashed with 600 Confederates on Highway 50 at Swift Creek, which was then just a path. It’s likely they kept on shooting right down Aversboro Road, today a main Garner thoroughfare.

Behind the battle lines, soldiers and statesmen recorded what they saw, heard and felt during the struggle.

Now you can hear their stories first-hand in a new musical drama, while knowing that show proceeds benefit current-day Garner nonprofit, Community of Hope.

After researching thousands of pages of diaries and first-person accounts, and consulting with local historians Ernest Dollar and Kaye Whaley, and descendants of those who fought, Garner native and playwright Tim Stevens has created War at Your Door, a musical drama depicting two dark days in Garner: April 12 and 13, 1865, just before Raleigh surrendered to Gen. William T. Sherman.

“There have been incredible surprises; I’ve been stunned by the coincidences, of how people are intertwined in the tales,” said Stevens, a Hall of Fame sportswriter who’s also credited with launching the award-winning Broadway Voices series that’s become a fixture in Garner’s arts scene.

“History seems distant when you’re disconnected from it, but think about it: Garner’s railroad tracks were in about the same place they are now,” he said. “The Civil War happened in Garner. It’s of great historical significance, and we should recognize it.”  

The all-local making of War at Your Door includes modern-instrument arrangements of Civil War-era songs and an overture by Jessica Hall of The Hall Sisters, and is directed by Collin Batten, a Garner High grad who has performed with The Blue Man Group. Artwork is by artist Vincent Wood.

The play centers on a peace train sent by N.C. Gov. Zebulon B. Vance, in an effort to meet with Sherman and ensure that if the Confederates didn’t resist advancing Union armies, Raleigh would not be burned by the army as Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. had been.

“A series of 13 monologues, largely taken from the diaries, move the story along; through them we learn the characters’ stories,” Stevens said. “Widows, black, white, family traditions — it’s about the diversity of the people and how they were affected by the war.

“It’s fascinating,” Stevens said of his research. “I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t know. With the play I want to show people that these things did happen here,  and to give us a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made. This is a community story.”

War at Your Door

April 9-10, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets $12

Garner Performing Arts Center


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