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Unique History Lessons at The Buttonwillow Civil War Theater in Pigeon Forge

Truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Buttonwillow Civil War Theater in Pigeon Forge. Every time I’m in this area, it’s overwhelming to keep track of all the new attractions, shows and restaurants that constantly open up in this area. 

Before we dive in, I need to make something perfectly clear. The show presented in this theater “Grandaddy’s Pocketwatch” is not a regurgitation of what you’ve read in the history books or watched in documentaries about the American Civil War. 

As a matter of fact, I would go as far as to say you’ve got to walk in the theater with at least a frame of reference of what the Civil War was about. You should have an idea of who the major players in the war are. Nobody is going to explain to you who Abraham Lincoln, General Sherman, and Robert E. Lee were or what their part in the war was.  

This show, unlike most others along the Pigeon Forge parkway doesn’t have a large cast or high production values. This is a two-person show written by the star of “Grandaddy’s Pocketwatch”,  Steve Gipson. 

The story follows a brother and sister who represent both sides of the American Civil War. Based on true events, the characters talk about what life was like during the war from how they dressed, how they eat and even how language was used back then versus today. 

Copyright: Buttonwillow Civil War Theater

However, the characters jump back and forth between acknowledging today’s current culture and that of the American Civil War.  Often times they talk to the audience by breaking the fourth wall by chatting with us directly which made things a bit awkward at times. 

Regardless, the point of “Grandaddy’s Pocketwatch” can be boiled down to two words: it’s complicated. As society moves forward and many people get their news from just reading a headline or a meme, Steve wants audiences to know that what you’ve probably heard about the American Civil War is far from the entire story. Most to the point, it’s entirely unfair to look at such an important period of American history through modern lenses.

Generally speaking, history books, documentaries and historians want you to believe that the Civil War was only about slavery. More importantly, we are taught from childhood that there are only two sides: good vs evil. cowboys and Indians, villains and heroes. You get the idea.

Yet, when it comes to the war (North vs South), it isn’t as clear cut as a good side vs a bad side (spoiler alert: no story ever is). Plenty of people from the North did own slaves. The war was more about money than many people realize. And yes, people who were in political power pivoted their views on slavery before, during and after the Civil War (some things never change).

Since I was young, I’ve always been drawn to passionate people. I may not be particularly interested in basket weaving, but put someone in front of me who’s passionate about it and I can be locked into them for hours listening to their passion for something I know very little about. 

Steve Gipson oozes passion about the Civil War. He’s devoted his entire life to researching documents from museums and archives all across the country. Many of which are weaved into this show. His mission in life is to make sure that bigger picture of the Civil War is preserved, not just the sound bites. 

Do I recommend visiting the Buttonwillow Civil War Theater in Pigeon Forge? I absolutely do. If only to hear someone talk so passionately about something they spent their entire life researching. However, you have to walk in with an open mind and at least some background knowledge of the American Civil War. If you can do that, the one hour and forty-five-minute show will fly by. Click here for more info and to book tickets. 

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