Every once in a while, I will get a question or comment from someone in an email. More often than not, it is something insignificant, like asking advice or requesting information, things along those lines. But in the last week or so, I have gotten two emails that I think deserve to be read by all, because to answer a question in one is something that could interest other readers, and the second one is a very well thought out statement regarding a much-hated Civil War general, who could probably use someone coming to his defense. Below are the emails:
Email: I know I’m a little late on this, but I just read your review of the Gettysburg Blu-Ray release. Excellent article, it reminded me of how much I loved the film, and I ordered the Gods and Generals/ Gettysburg limited edition set from Amazon. I too thought the video quality was a bit disappointing. However, I was wondering if you noticed any video glitches or skips on your disc. I haven’t had time to sit down and watch the whole film since I ordered it, but I was watching Pickett’s Charge and I saw a pretty noticeable video skip at the 3:57:36 mark. I have tried the disc on two separate players and it occurs on each. In addition, there are no scratches or marks on the disc whatsoever, as it is brand new. Anyway, I was wondering if this is a defect on all the discs that were manufactured or if I should send it back to Amazon for an exchange. I’d appreciate your input if you noticed this. Thanks for the help and keep up the great work. (Jason Todd)
Response: I must have seen the Gettysburg Blu-Ray five or six times by now, or at least the scene you mention, and I never noticed any glitch. But sure enough, after receiving your email, I went and looked, and there it was, at the exact moment you stated. Most people will not notice it, especially since it is during a very intense scene in the film, but if you are looking for it, or you have a trained eye capable of catching such glitches, I can see why it would be bothersome. The defect will be on all discs, and is most likely the bi-product of compression issues, as getting a nearly five hour film to fit on just one disc is no easy task. Luckily, there were no such problems with Gods and Generals, and that runs even longer. Still, it really does make one wonder why Warner Brothers did not choose to go with two discs for the film, and a third for the special features, exactly like their DVD release in the collector’s set. Sure, it would have cost more money, but I think the loyal fans of this film, genre, and time period, would have spent the extra few bucks. Hopefully, this glitch were be corrected for future releases, much like the incorrect date for the battle of Antietam in G & G.
This next one is not a question, but a statement regarding an article I wrote on Union General George B. McClellan over at the To Appomattox fan blog. I have been meaning to re-post it here as a part of by Civil War Journal column, but since the original choice to play “Little Mac”, D.B Sweeney, has gone on to take a different role in the production, I thought I would wait so I could update it.
Email: I found your email on the To Appomattox website and wanted to drop you a short note. I’m currently preparing a first person impression on George McClellan and have found that there’s a lot more to learn about the man than what you get by watching Ken Burns a couple of times. I read your scathing opinions of Little Mac, and feel you did more to criticize and degrade then to really convey the facts. I don’t doubt your expertise on the subject of the Civil War, but I would hardly think the term “laughable” appropriate as an adjective in describing the man who is more responsible, directly or indirectly, for the North’s winning the war than any other. By this, I mean his creation of the Army of the Potomac, his twice taking beaten, demoralized soldiers and turning them into an army, giving them pride in themselves, and undertaking the enormous task of creating, equipping and moving an army from one place to another, in large part, with subordinates who certainly were more politically motivated than militarily. Without a doubt he was flawed, and certainly left much to be desired as a fighting general. But like Steven Sears and Gary Gallagher, you seem to have an axe to grind with him for whatever reason, and that fact clouds your ability to give him his due. His mistakes caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands? Perhaps that jab would be better directed at Grant for the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. Slow to act? Yes; but I believe Balls Bluff showed what can happen when public pressure, poor communication and ill preparedness get in the way a strong, well thought-out battle plan. He certainly learned from that. Perhaps a mention of the interference from the Radical Republicans, Stanton’s order to curtail all recruiting in the North just as the Peninsula Campaign was getting under way, and the holding back of McDowell’s Corps from him three times during the campaign, would help some to realize that his decisions in many cases were based on circumstance beyond his control. Love him or hate him, as historians, we need to convey the facts, not fill peoples’ heads with half truths. That’s all I ask. The old adage is quite true…when an untruth is repeated over and over, it somehow becomes truth. Please feel free to use this at any time as my rebuttal to your article. (Ken Hall)
Response: I thank you very much for such a long, thoughtful email. There is no doubt that behind all his faults, McClellan was really a brilliant man with superb organizational skills. Next to Robert E. Lee, no general was perhaps more loved by his men. However, in my eyes, what cannot be overlooked is his lack of killer instinct, which ultimately led to his downfall. Some of what he did during his career as commander-in-chief or commanding general of the Army of the Potomac was quite comical, and when I teach or give lectures about him, I always start off my routine with that, which keeps my audience, generally school-age children, interested and paying attention. Rest assured, though, I do not grind on him the entire time, and I do try to make sure to get his better qualities out there. Unfortunately, they do not seem to stand out as all the rest, which is why a series like To Appomattox becomes so important—because hopefully we will be able to see a well-rounded portrayal of him for the first time.
Have any questions or comments for the FNYTSF Mailbag? If so, send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear from you, and if it is something really good, will post it here in the next edition!