Last month I posted an ironic and funny story of how a teacher I work with told me about her grandfather’s experience in World War I. She had given me a rather large family photo album containing information and pictures pertaining to her grandfather, Captain William Redden, and his time in the army. The irony of the whole situation was that the regiment he served in was identical to the one my friend is writing a book about, and which I just read an excerpt of a few days before. It was just one of those things that get us history buffs excited. Any way, I had to put it on my blog because of how astonished I was, and she thanked me for it and said she would share it with her family members. Sure enough, tonight I received a message posted to the wall of this blog’s Facebook Page, from one of Capt. Reddan’s other granddaughters, Lynn. I thought I would share it with you all here:
Here we are, with another edition of the FNYTSF Mailbag! Sure enough, I must have jinxed myself by making this a regular column, because although I received emails from people quite regularly before I started this, I have now only gotten one since, which will be featured below. This one is not a question either, but a long, heartfelt statement about one reader’s appreciation for the Civil War, and where it all began, something we can all relate to:
Being early usually pays off, and once again, it did on Friday afternoon. I was one of the first members of the press to arrive at the Premiere, and after we checked in, I noticed Ron Maxwell, who had entered the lobby and was standing and talking to someone. After waiting for him to finish, I walked over and introduced myself, and he knew exactly who I was. We chatted briefly before moving to another location to get some pictures together. I asked if it would be possible to ask a few more questions for my blog (we did an email interview a few weeks ago), and he pointed to some chairs and said, “Sure, let’s have a seat.” I made Jeff take some pictures of us so I had proof that I was actually “working” that afternoon.
Our interview is posted below, but it is what Ron told me after I shut the tape recorder off that I will never forget. He thanked me many times for coming and my enthusiasm for the film (just like I thanked him many times for inviting me!) and then he said that I had been on their radar for a while, and that “…the entire cast knows you, Warner Brothers knows you.” This would have made my day entirely, until he told me that he actually read my article on the importance of the John Wilkes Booth character to the director’s cut of Gods and Generals. This blew me away, because I had wanted him to read it, and was going to email it to him, but because I knew he was going to be busy, I never did, but he still found it anyway. He began by saying, “You got what it’s about.” Before adding, “You have a critical eye. It’s so refreshing that you are free of the political correctness of this generation.” He also went on to wish me good luck in the future as a teacher and historian.
GC: You have waited eight years for this to come out, so what is it like now that the day has finally come?
RM: For the longest time, we were not sure that the director’s cut would ever be released. It’s an unusual director’s cut because when people think in terms of these cuts, you think of maybe ten or fifteen minutes of more material, maximum, organized perhaps in a different way, but for a director’s cut to come out with an additional hour of new material, and that hour totally changes the entire film, reintegrating it, that is a rare event. So, we did not necessarily think that it would ever happen, but we kept that cut under wraps and no one had really seen it other than those who worked on the film. I think if it was not for the coincidence of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, there may not have been a trigger to consider releasing this. But that being the case, about a year and a half ago, Ted Turner decided the timing was right and that we should release the full version that we had scripted, filmed, and edited eight years ago. Happily, those of us who worked on the film, now have the film we really intended on making, and those who have been waiting for it, I know from the blogosphere and internet, and reenactors and history buffs, that there has been a lot of people hoping it would be released at one point, and here it is! I’m thinking over the long run, as one can anticipate these kinds of things, that this will be the definitive version of the film, and this will be the film that people will see going into the decades of the future.
GC: Of all the scenes you added, which is your favorite scene, if you had to choose one?
RM: I don’t know if I have a favorite scene, per se, but what I really appreciate is that, first of all, everything in the film makes more sense now. We’ve restored the historical integrity and continuity of events, number one. Number two, to have the whole Antietam sequence back, which again, the reason it is there and the four battles are there, is that they unify the main characters of Chamberlain, Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson. Antietam was the place where they were all present again. We obviously don’t pretend in this film that it is the battle of Antietam—you could do a whole big movie on just the battle alone, but it is just the grace notes to show where our characters are. Another thing I was gratified to bring back was the whole subplot with John Wilkes Booth, because every time you see him on a stage, that is historically where he was. He was on that stage, in that theater, in that play, playing that role, as he is shown to be. And so we have, in retrospect, and of course, no one knew it at the time, but when we juxtaposed the images of Booth on the stage with the events of the Civil War, you have, in effect, William Shakespeare as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on what is going on in the war, because Booth is playing regicides over and over again. Now, this obviously does not mean that any actor who plays a regicide is going to act it out in real life (laughs), but it is curious that he is given the words of the greatest poet in the English language, and those roles, of Brutus in Julius Caesar, Hamlet in Hamlet, and Macbeth in Macbeth, are the rationale for regicide. They are the most potent rationales for bringing down a tyrant, and he is saying this over and over again, so one must ask the question, did Shakespeare influence him in his ultimate political act? We see him gradually becoming radicalized. The film is over in May of 1863, so that is two years before he assassinates Abraham Lincoln, and he is not yet radicalized to the point, to the act that he ultimately commits, but he is on his way. I think the film accurately portrays him as a totally rational, totally sane, extremely talented, very popular, and very successful matinée idol, who is not just a matinée idol, but also someone who is a highly esteemed Shakespearean classical actor in a long family tradition. His brother Edwin and his father Junius Brutus Booth, were a great tradition of the stage, so he was a kind of like royalty. The equivalent today would be someone like Robert Redford, someone who is a very good actor, and also a matinée idol back in his day, who suddenly becomes an assassin. I think understanding how these things work, which is completely different from justifying political murder, is fascinating, cause obviously the whole exercise in making Gettysburg and Gods and Generals is to go where those people lived, to try to understand what made them tick and what was in their minds, not to bring or hold them up to the judgment of the 21st century, but for us, in this century, to go where they were and to try to illuminate that for ourselves and understand it. So to bring Booth back into it, it really makes the whole film work for me—it kind of locks it in perspective, to have this Greek chorus, the words of Shakespeare, commenting on what is going on in the American Civil War. Finally, we have restored a lot of the tender moments: Jackson and his wife baptizing their baby, Jackson getting his photograph taken, Jackson with his aides-de-camp, and when they are punning and joking around, and when he gets a new uniform; Joshua Chamberlain and his brother, who cannot figure out how to load a musket as quickly as he should, which is a matter of life and death as we later see, when he has to load it quickly when he is on the front lines in the battle of Fredericksburg. All those personal, familial touches, back in the film, humanize the characters and make it work a lot better.
GC: One last question, and it has been beaten to death, I know, so if you don’t want to answer it, that’s okay. The Last Full Measure, any chance at all that it will be made?
RM: This is where I find that I kind of laugh—I laugh at the people who should know better, who say with great authority, “This film will never be made.” Maybe they have a direct line to the Almighty, I don’t (laughs). I know that making Gods and Generals was miraculous, making Gettysburg was miraculous, like any of the films in that genre that we could talk about, whether its Glory, or you name the title, even The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are not films that are talked about. There is nobody at a studio meeting in Hollywood who goes into their weekly meetings and says, “Does anybody have a Civil War project today?” It does not happen that way. So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.
Once again, I thank Ron for taking some time to talk to me. His answer regarding The Last Full Measure was very passionate, and is definitely hopeful. When we were all done, he said, “If we decide to make it, you’ll be the first to know!”
Towards the end of the Extended Director’s Cut of Gods and Generals, is a very sophisticated scene, where Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Fanny (Mira Sorvino) meet the acting troupe fresh off a performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in which world-renowned actor John Wilkes Booth plays the character of Brutus, who inserts the final sword thrust into the body of the slain tyrannical emperor. Co-actor Henry T. Harrison (Cooper Huckabee), exerts a mighty announcement upon the death of Caesar: “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead.” The scene is in no doubt a foreshadowing, but before it can be dwelled upon, the Chamberlains have been invited by one of the characters to meet Booth and Harrison after the play, and Mrs. Chamberlain asks Booth a very simple, yet thought-provoking question. She says, “Mr. Booth, tell me, do you think of your character as the hero or villain of the play?” Booth is at a loss for words, and consults Harrison before answering, “It is for the audience to decide who is hero and who is villain. We simply play the parts allotted to us.” This quote, however trivial to the naked ear, is the driving force behind the entire film.
The reason why G & G is so brilliant is because it portrays both sides as being right, despite the negative and not-so-truthful reviews stating that the sentiment is stilted towards the Confederacy. Though they indeed get more screen-time, both they and the Union Army are given equal treatment in regards to which cause is the just one in the disastrous struggle of war. The added subplot involving John Wilkes Booth only adds to a film which prompts the audience to think. Students grow up learning that the Confederacy was evil, essentially, and Booth was a psychopathic monster who murdered our 16th president. Because our education system is not at the caliber it should be, questions go unanswered. When I am in a classroom teaching, the point of my presence is not to just give facts, it is to give reasons behind them. You can only bring up the death of a person or group of people so many times and say that it is terrible before people, namely, the young men and women of America, become bored and ask, “So what?”. If you want to spark interest, you cannot go for the what, you have to go for the why.
Why did Booth assassinate Lincoln? Did he just wake up one morning, and on a whim, decide to load his pistol, sneak into the back of Ford’s Theater, and shoot the President in the back of the head? No, it was a slow build-up of events and ideas that lead to his thinking. But no one wants to know about this; no one wants to ask why. There is an American Heritage book on the Civil War that I own from the 1960′s, and the exact words used to describe Booth are “insane assassin”. That is all; one paragraph about the killing, and Booth is given his usual demonized and vilified, and always brief, treatment. The fact of the matter is, Booth was not insane, nor was he a monster, or a murdering robot as the minuscule paragraphs of biased history textbooks portray him. He was, in fact, a man, a famous one at that, who grew heated over Lincoln’s politics and decided to do something about it. While we can all agree that killing a president is far from being right, was Booth, at one point, the most photographed man in America, acting in a moment of insanity or patriotism? That is a question we can answer on our own, after thinking about it for a while, but the portrayal in this film is the most truthful one ever shown in any setting.
Right off the bat in his first scene, Booth is seen as a superstar when he is mobbed by a group of beautiful young ladies who ask for his autograph and quote lines from Richard III, pretending to be interested in Shakespeare, but Booth can tell all they really care about are his attractive looks. Booth has plenty of sex appeal, because he was, after all, the sex symbol of his day. It is hard to fathom, with anyone for that matter, being regarded as sexy when all we have are soon-to-be 150 year old grainy black-and-white photographs.
The acting put forth by Chris Conner in the role is nothing short of exhilarating. When you think about it, Conner is not just playing Booth in this film, he is playing Kings Hamlet and Macbeth as well, because of the advanced lines of dialogue in the two soliloquies he delivers. The first, is spoken overlaid with shots of dead bodies on the Antietam battlefield, where Hamlet’s character remarks that he can see a field of “twenty-thousand men” who “go to their graves like beds; fight for a plot.” It is only by extreme irony that in real life, he was giving this performance at McVicker’s Theater in Chicago on the same date as Antietam, the deadliest day in American history, September 17, 1862. Later on in the film, we get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, as Mary Todd is raving about Booth being in Washington City for the entire month of April, 1863. The Lincolns have heard how magnificent his plays are, and cannot wait to see his performance in Macbeth. This is an excellent scene, not just for the carriage ride where the Lincoln’s discuss Booth, but the ensuing stage scene. Before it cuts to the theater, Honest Abe says, “I hear Booth does the death scene spectacularly; very physical, wilder than his brother Edwin!” Then, in a classic instance of the tongue-in-cheek humor Lincoln was famous for, he adds, “But that is the one reproach I have of Shakespeare’s heroes.” “What reproach is that dear?” asks Mary Todd. “They all make long speeches when they are killed.”
Booth then is seen on stage, reciting the “Dagger of the Mind” soliloquy. There is a reason why this was chosen, of all parts of Macbeth to pick. It is again ironic, because it works both for historical and poetic reasons. This speech, talks about there being a threat living amongst them, and while Booth pulls out a dagger, his eyes lock with Lincoln’s, who is sitting up in a private box. The overall effect is dramatic, and haunting, with the beautiful and eerie music composed by John Frizzell building up in the background. This is enhanced when you realize that this is reported to have actually happened, and even the ensuing incident, when a stagehand comes to Booth’s dressing room after the performance and tells him that the President and First Lady enjoyed the show, and want to meet him. Rather than come up with an excuse, Booth blatantly tells the man, “You may tell that tyrant, that destroyer of civil liberties, that war monger, that I am in dispose,” before begrudgingly changing his mind to have the stagehand tell the President that he had already left for the evening.
Earlier in the film, Booth is there to give the audience a dose of reality. Well, not really him, per se, but a lady friend he is dining with after Hamlet. He calls Lincoln “mad” for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, because he believes it will incite a slave uprising, before he is reminded by the woman that the document will only free slaves in rebellious states, the same states that Lincoln had no jurisdiction over. This brief conversation is there to properly teach audiences that the famed Proclamation did not free all the slaves, as we incorrectly learned growing up. If that was the case, slave-holding Union states such as Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri might have seceded from the North, and Lincoln could not have taken that chance. Of course, critics will have something negative to say about this, but since it is actually the truth, I wonder what they will draw up this time.
No other film has ever portrayed Booth in this light, because whether or not you agree with his politics present in those certain scenes, you can tell that he is sincere, and there is no insanity present in his tone of voice; it is just his very strong opinion, which as an American citizen, he was allowed to have. It can be fully expected some people—in all likelihood, the same people who decried the film back in 2003 with overwhelmingly negative reviews—will attack the insertion of these scenes as yet another instance of pro-south propaganda, but it is far from that, because it is the truth. Had The Last Full Measure been made, it would have shown the culmination of the development of Booth’s transformation from angry actor to assassin, thus helping the audience to fully understand why he killed Abraham Lincoln. But unfortunately, the sequel to the trilogy will probably not be made, and we will just have to hope audiences can handle a man with such a diabolical persona being shown in a light that is inconvenient to them, because what do we do, as a society, when someone is a threat to the lies told in history books? We bury it from plain sight. Just as certain figures in Hollywood tried to bury Gods and Generals and see to a quick bow-out eight years ago, it will be brought up yet again as more audiences view this extended cut.
We can only hope that the brilliance of Chris Conner will not be overshadowed. We can only hope that audiences will embrace John Wilkes Booth, if only for four hours and forty minutes out of their entire lives. This film is not selling Booth the assassin, it is selling Booth the man. Sometimes, when hatred is built up against someone over the course of many generations, it is forgotten that they were human once. This movie has now given us the opportunity to absorb that, and catch a glimpse of what he really was like in the years leading up to his tragic final act in 1865.
For additional reading debunking the not-so-truthful history that we grew up learning, please read this article I wrote last year on the real meaning of the Confederate Flag.
Taking a break from a busy two days of hockey…
For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me the greatest birthday present a young history buff could have ever wanted, a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I had been into the Civil War since I was six or seven by that point, and it was now time to actually take the trip to see what I had been reading about and watching films about all those years. I am now twenty years old, my birthday being today, falling appropriately on the anniversary of the second day’s fighting, when Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain saved the flank at Little Round Top. I do not believe in reincarnation, but as a strong believer in fate, I do believe there was a reason I was born on this day. It seems like it was just meant to be.
I do not remember everything, because it was such a long time ago, but aside from the heat and tremendous amount of people, I had an incredible time, and attended the 138th anniversary reenactment where we sat on bleachers, baking in the sun for hours. The spaces were crammed, as my knees were in the back of the person in front of me, and the person behind me had their knees dug into my back. When it was over, I walked around the encampments and met all my favorite generals, getting their autographs on postcards. I even got a chance to meet with my favorite general of all, Robert E. Lee (pictured below). Another thing I remember is people talking about the 150th anniversary, twelve years prior, and how special it is going to be. I cannot imagine how crowded the town will be then, but I am going to try my best to get there.
In the town, our hotel was right across the street from the Wax Museum, which had an encampment out front. It was there that I met Major General Isaac Trimble (pictured below), who became my best friend for the three days I stayed there. I visited him every day and he told me stories and introduced me to his staff. We even ran into them at a Friendly’s where they were eating their breakfast. Back at the reenactment, I was talking to a Union artillery soldier, and he offered to give me a spare jacket and let me come on the field, even though I was only ten. I was so excited, but my parents being parents, did not take up the offer. We thanked him and got a picture as well, and he went off to join his unit. It was also at this reenactment that I snapped a picture of Patrick Gorman, who was on hand to portray the same character he played in the film Gettysburg, Confederate General John Bell Hood. I showed him the picture during our interview a few months ago, and he offered to autograph it and send it back, so I sent him a few copies. It is just amazing how things turned out. Little did I know, I would be corresponding on a regular basis with someone I grew up watching in film, and someone I almost met on that day.
On and off for the three days we were there, I adventured around the battlefield, seeing the “real deal”, so to speak. It was such an amazing, and somber experience. I also started a personal tradition of kneeling by the Lewis Armistead monument by “The Angle”, as he had become one of my favorite generals through characterization in the film. Every time I visit, which has been about six times since, I kneel and pause for a few moments by the spot where he was mortally wounded. A few feet from there, I found a bullet lying in the dirt. Despite it being illegal to remove relics, I took it anyway, figuring it would have a good home here with me. It was an unfired minie ball, that popped up after I kicked some dirt around. I almost did a double-take out of sheer disbelief that I actually found something. It was only when I got back home did it set in what this bullet meant to me. Granted, there are thousands available in souvenir shops, but this was something I found on my own, something that was carried by a soldier who fought in that battle. Who was he? What was his name? Did he live or die? Those are all questions I ask myself out of unanswerable curiosity every time I look at it.
All in all, this was a vacation that changed my life. I owe most of that to the film Gettysburg, which I have watched every July for at least the last ten years, but I think the tradition stretches back to when I was seven. I will be unable to get there on the anniversary this year, but will probably go later this month or in August. I may only see the same ol’ sites every time I go, but it is something that means more to me than almost anything else in the world. History is something that can come alive if you actually take the time to visit a historic location or a battlefield, and that holds true for the sleepy town of Gettysburg.
In looking at the two pictures I posted, I do not even recognize that little guy any more. It is amazing how fast time flies, and how quickly these ten years went.
While I applaud the filmmakers of Gettysburg for finally giving us an accurate depiction of Civil War violence, with plenty of blood, guts, and limbs flying everywhere, I cannot help but feel that the audience was deprived of highly important information, especially if someone was watching this who did not know much about the most important battle in our nation’s most important struggle. For a documentary that came with so much promise and hype, it ultimately failed to deliver, almost mocking the New York Post’s review from this morning that said this documentary “will change the way TV documentaries are made from now on.” If by change, they meant including all of the facts next time, then by all means they are correct.
Despite my disappointment, this was not the worst documentary the History Channel has ever produced (can anything rival Life After People?). It began at such a high level, in tackling an often shunned portion of the battle, which is the Railroad Cut on the first day of the fighting. The combat scenes were hard-hitting and intense, and as I settled down on the couch, I had a smile on my face that this was finally going to be that one Civil War film that was both fair and accurate, yet grizzly in showing the horrors of war, not the Lost Cause fantasy world that some Southern Apologists feel to this day. This foreshadowing was only partially fulfilled. Bullets tore through bodies, cannon balls severed limbs, and shrapnel knocked down rows of lined soldiers. But at the same time, information crucial to understanding this battle at its full capacity was left out. Whether or not this was intentional is beyond me, but had it been included, I would be singing songs of praise right now.
This is not a nitpick here, folks. The information left out includes not one single mention of McPherson’s Ridge, Devil’s Den, or Little Round top, and not one utterance of the names John Buford, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (who saved the Union Army’s flank with a daring bayonet charge), John Bell Hood, Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett, James Kemper, Isaac Trimble, Lafayette McClaws, E. Porter Alexander, J.E.B Stuart, or Winfield Scott Hancock. Other crucial players, such as George Pickett and James Longstreet were mentioned in passing, only once, with them not even being characterized as part of the docudrama aspect of this film. How any motion picture relating to the entire Civil War, let alone this battle, can be made without these men and locations being focused on is incredible.
The one thing I did notice, however, was that the parts of the battle shown in this film (Pickett’s Charge aside) were not depicted at all in Ron Maxwell’s 1993 feature film Gettysburg. While that one drew upon the fighting in the three aforementioned locations, this newer film was about the first day’s fighting in the town, along the Railroad Cut, and Culp’s Hill. At first, I thought that the filmmakers did not want to show anything that was already done, but then I thought that this was a documentary—it is supposed to include everything. Now, for someone who wants to get a perfect picture of what the battle of Gettysburg was really all about, they will have to watch this film along with a nearly five-hour Maxwell version. Spending seven hours viewing films may turn more people off of the Civil War than inspire.
To further reinforce what was left out, there was not even a mention of the fighting at the Peach Orchard and the Wheat field. One could basically argue that this film left out more about the battle than in included, and that is very sad, because it kick’s off the highly anticipated “Civil War Week” on History in a bad way. Tomorrow night’s special is Lee and Grant, and I am almost afraid to watch it.
In getting to the actual information about the parts that were represented, the narrator went out of his way to mention slavery as being the sole cause of the Confederacy’s fighting every chance he could. When profiling William Barksdale, his ownership of 40 slaves was cast into the spotlight, as was a Confederate doctor’s earlier in the program. Another aspect that I would like to critique, regarding a battle scene, was Pickett’s Charge. While ignoring every general present with the exception of Brigadier General Joe Davis, who apparently led the charge all by himself, it showed a group of about ten men marching near the base of a mountain. In reality, the charge comprised of 12,000 men marching on rolling farmland, with no mountain in sight, and no trees except for where the Confederate army deployed from. I understand that they could not use thousands of extras for this small scene, but how about some CGI figures that littered the screen in cheesy overhead shots as troops closed in at the stonewall?
One last item that I question, was the decision the filmmaker’s made to spend a little more than five minutes on the Confederate’s “Rebel Yell”. What was in real life, a shriek to inflict intimidation and fear into the hearts of enemies, was shown in this movie as a bunch of hillbillies with no teeth in their mouth cackling out turkey gobbles. I sat in disbelief that human beings could even make such an atrocious attempt at trying to get it right. While the closeups of rotting teeth and gums were accurate, I felt myself more prepared for Thanksgiving dinner than waiting behind an entrenchment for an enemy to charge and try to kill me. If you DVR’d this special, please hit fast-forward when you get to this part. Die-hard Civil War buffs and historians can just hit delete when you get to the menu.
All was not lost in this film, however. The visual effects and action scenes were top-notch, made even better by a glorious high-definition television. Had everything I mentioned been included, then this would have been a masterpiece. Instead, it slides down the mounting slippery slope of Civil War related movies and television specials that “could have been”. I will give this a rating of 4 out of 10, and make the insignificant suggestion that this should have been at least a two-part series, so that everything could have been covered. There was a lot that was right with this program visually, but even more that was wrong on the fact-side, and I cannot let that slide.
What is Memorial Day? A time for a three-day weekend, barbecues, and sales at stores and car dealerships. Unfortunately, ask almost anyone what they will be doing on that day, and they will respond with one of those three things, because it is the most important to them. However, this holiday was not always like that—there once was a time where people remembered the soldiers that served in the Armed Forces of the United States, whether they lived through combat or died fighting, and used the day as a chance to say “Thank You”. Today, this occasion has been relegated to the decision of whether you want hot dogs or hamburgers for lunch, and not about the millions upon millions that have fought for our Flag all over the world.
War is a scourge, and so is what we have become as a nation. We are self-absorbed and misinformed, and government censorship has a lot to do with it. Below is one of the most famous photographs taken during the Civil war, where more than 600,000 Americans lost their lives. It is of a Rebel sharpshooter, killed in the Devil’s Den portion of the Gettysburg battlefield. We can see his face, clearly, and we can see that he is lifeless—his loved ones will never hold him in their arms again. Alexander Gardner took this photograph in 1863 and has only in the last several years come under scrutiny, because the body presented here was not found in this location. He was killed somewhere else and dragged there for dramatic effect, his rifle perched perfectly against the rock barricade. My question is, what does it matter? This young man is dead, and he is not coming back. Pictures like these shocked the nation when they were first exhibited, because people saw, for the first time, what war was all about: killing. The romance was gone, the innocence was lost.
Now, a hundred and fifty years later, what photographs do we see? Where are pictures of our soldiers today, in the Middle East, broken and bloodied by shrapnel, bullets, and bombs? Why do we not see pictures of their dead bodies? The American government does not think that we as a people can handle it, but they will not tell us that. They will hide behind “having respect for the dead” as their reason. If I was a soldier, killed or severely wounded in action, I would want my picture taken, and shown to everyone who wants to go to war. The politicians and fear mongers who use patriotism as an excuse for invading a foreign country should all be exposed to the horrors that a simple photograph can hold. Of course, what they convey still cannot tell us about who they were as people. These men, then and today, are not numbers. Type in “Civil War Dead” in Google, and ask yourself, who are they? Where did they come from? Did they have family? What were their interests and hobbies? Did their family ever learn of their fate?
When discussing this, I am drawn to a particular piece of dialogue from Gods and Generals, where Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain delivers a powerful soliloquy to his brother Tom, shortly after a disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg. An excerpt of it goes as follows:
“Come outside, I want to show you something. All these thousands of men, many of them not much more than boys: each one of them some mother’s son, some sister’s brother, some daughter’s father. Each one of them a whole person loved and cherished in some home far away. Many of them will never return. An army is power. It’s entire purpose is to coerce others. Now, this kind of power cannot be used carelessly or recklessly, this kind of power can do great harm. We have seen more suffering than any man should ever see, and if there is going to be an end to it, then it must be an end that justifies the cost.”
We live our lives in a state of utopia here in America, with our heads high above the clouds. Our newscasts are either biased towards an ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal point of view and agenda. Politics, politics, politics is all it is, which hides the truth from us. Rarely do we even see pictures of wooden caskets, neatly lined on a runway, draped in American flags. As sobering as those shots are, they are not nearly enough to get across true sadness. Based on personal experience in teaching children ages 10-14 over the last two years, I can honestly say that our youth in America has no idea about what war is, as well as what it means to have respect for others, and a bunch of other things that you could take a stab at for yourself (and by all means, blame the parents). I am going to leave my personal views about what I think of our war out, because this is not the time or the place, but I remember in one class, I asked my 7th graders the very simple question of, “Why are we fighting over in the Middle East right now?” Out of seventeen children present, not one person offered up a response.
Men and women are dying or getting wounded every single day our army is over there, and no one seems to care, no one of course except their family, which waits with an anxious horror at the day they will get a letter, phone call, or visit saying that their child is dead, or had to have an arm or leg amputated. Newscasts do not even report casualty figures any more—at least they did that in the “Conflict” (or is it a “Police Action” now?) known as Vietnam. It truly is sickening, that we have a fighting force of thousands, and we only wait until someone we know, or a friend of a friend gets killed or wounded, that we start to care.
For the last year, I have immersed myself in the study of the Civil War, as most of you know already if you read this blog regularly. I can honestly say that I am a changed man because of it. It has taught me that no good can ever come of killing one another, but at the same time, it has taught me to have nothing but the utmost respect for those that do fight. While I have nothing but disgust and abhorrence for the politicians and war mongers who send our people to foreign lands to make war, one cannot direct that anger at the soldiers themselves. They are simply doing their duty, and fighting for the country that they love.
Then there is the commercialization factor. Just like everything else, including once religious holidays, businesses have to try to make a buck. Why a day honoring dead soldiers prompts store sales and barbecues is beyond me. Where did it all begin? The graphic above is something I made this afternoon, after scouring the internet looking for how stores are “remembering” our dead soldiers. This is what we have become, and unfortunately, there is no turning back. I cannot say that I will be doing anything spectacular in remembrance tomorrow, because I am not. It will most likely be a normal day, with a workout in the morning and some online college history coursework needing to get done, but I will be watching History International tomorrow afternoon, which offers a marathon of Civil War documentaries, leading up to the highly anticipated premiere of its sister network History Channel’s Ridley Scott-produced docudrama Gettysburg. In not speaking for anyone else, this is the best way for me to honor the fallen.
So I guess my message is this: to the American people, take some time to reflect on those that have fallen, and not just pig out and crack open a beer on your back patio. And to our government, why don’t you show us some photographs? Get permission from their families if you have to; just do the right thing. Perhaps if our citizens saw a picture of a twenty year old soldier, whose body was cut in half by a piece of shrapnel, they would choose to remember instead of party on Memorial Day.
Thanks again to a reader named Blake, I can now show you four more clips that have been released by Warner Brothers, two from Gettysburg and two from Gods and Generals. They are very short, but it is still better than nothing. In a way, I do not even want to see a sneak peak of the Antietam scenes, because I don’t want to ruin it—I have waited eight years and figure I can stand to wait another twenty days. Click on the pictures to view video.
Gods and Generals
The Union band at Camp Mason
The 20th Maine is being recruited as a newly formed band is playing. Colonel Adelbert Ames (Matt Letscher) walks towards them, looking little more than peeved at the awful sound coming from the band. He then yells at them to, “Stop that damn drumming!”
The 20th Maine at Fredericksburg
The regiment is marching through the town on their way to the front, when Ames and Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) are confronted by their commanding officer, Charles Griffin (a new character added to the film, played by Matt Miller). He then tells them, “They drove my first brigade to hell”, signaling that they are next. There is also a shot of a Union hospital at the beginning.
Buford’s Cavalry Enters the Town
This is a fantastic scene that encompasses so much, where John Buford’s (Sam Elliot) cavalry rides into Gettysburg, where they are confronted by townspeople who can’t believe that the war has come that far north. When asked how serious the situation is, Colonel Devin (David Carpenter) remarks, “Nothing the cavalry can’t handle.” But the best line is spoken by Buford at the end.
Longstreet and Freemantle on July 2nd
I’ve always loved the scenes with the British character of Arthur Freemantle (James Lancaster), and his discussions with James Longstreet (Tom Berenger). They always turn the movie from rough and rugged to a bit debonaire, by adding a touch of class. Here, the two are discussing military tactics.
We are now exactly twenty days away from the release of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut, and what better way to count it down than by getting the readers of this blog involved! Since November, the articles I have written on this site regarding the film have garnered more comments than anything else I have written in any category. I would like to thank those who keep checking back and who have spread this site to places it had never been before. But for now, I would like to hear from you about what your favorite scene in the film was. Please leave your response, as extensive as you want, in a comment below.
For me, there are many to choose from. Any part of the battle scenes from Fredericksburg could have topped the list, as well as when the Confederate troops were marching right before the battle of Chancellorsville, with the slowly building music of “V.M.I Will Be Heard From Today” playing in the background. Instead, I will choose the moment right before the battle of Fredericksburg begins, when Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his 20th Maine regiment are standing upon Stafford Heights, watching the other Union divisions slowly move into place. It is here where Chamberlain begins one of the better recited soliloquies in film history, when he cites the work of Pharsalia, written by Marcus Lucanus, who chronicled the Roman Civil War.
For anyone that has actually read Pharsalia (I have tried, but did not get very far), you will notice stark similarities between their conflict and ours. It is almost frightening how you could compare the two. Whether or not Chamberlain really did this before going into battle is irrelevant—he was a scholar, a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College, so it makes sense he would have something to say regarding history before heading into the first major battle of his life as a military colonel. This scene also perfectly illustrates the complexity and high level that this script is at. The scene, like the rest of the film, is epic in proportion. Below is what he says, with his brother and fellow soldiers standing closely behind him:
In the Roman Civil War, Julius Caesar knew he had to march on Rome itself, which no legion was permitted to do. Marcus Lucanus left us a chronicle of what happened: “How swiftly Caesar had surmounted the icy Alps when in his mind conceived immense upheavals, coming war. When he reached the water of the little Rubicon, clearly to the leader through the murky night appeared a mighty image of his country in distress; grief in her face, her white hair streaming off her tower-crowned head, with tresses torn and shoulders bare, she stood before him and sighing said, ‘Where further do you march? Where do you take my standards, warriors? If lawfully you come, if as citizens, this far only is allowed.’
Then trembling struck the leader’s limbs, his hair grew stiff and weakness checked his progress, holding his feet at the river’s edge. At last he speaks, ‘Oh thunderer, surveying great Rome’s walls from the Tarpeian Rock– oh Phrygian house gods of Iulus, clan and mysteries of Quirinus who was carried off to heaven– oh Jupiter of Latium, seated in lofty Alba and hearths of Vesta– oh Rome, equal to the highest deity, favor my plans. Not with impious weapons do I pursue you. Here I am, Caesar, conqueror of land and sea, your own soldier, everywhere, now too, if I am permitted. The man who makes me your enemy, it is he who be the guilty one.’
Then he broke the barriers of war and through the swollen river swiftly took his standards. And Caesar crossed the flood and reached the opposite bank. From Hesperia’s forbidden fields, he took his stand and said, ‘Here I abandon peace and desecrated law. Fortune, it is you I follow. Farewell to treaties. From now on war is our judge.’
Hail Caesar. We who are about to die salute you.
Let your voice be heard! What is your favorite scene?
To view the complete online script of Gods and Generals, click here. To read Pharsalia in its entirety, for free, click here. Please stay tuned for later today, when I will post four clips recently released by Warner Brothers, two from each of the Cut’s coming out!
Can you believe that Gettysburg was not nominated for one single award in 1993 or 1994? Watching this film leaves me frustrated every time, because the movie is so full of great performances. I know it did not get much time in theaters because of its running time, but I still consider it a travesty that this movie was ignored by every motion picture association, even though it stayed in the Box Office Weekly Top Ten for a time, an incredible feat when you consider it could only be shown twice a day.
Even the critics who did not like Ron Maxwell’s epic 1993 Civil War film Gettysburg still agreed one on thing, that it was just that, an epic. From the costume design to the size of the cast, right on through to the scope of the battle scenes, it is fair to say that this movie is a one of a kind in the subject field it tackles, and is also the last of the good old-fashioned epic war films. No longer are movies made with a cast of thousands—the humans have been replaced by animatronic figures or computer generated images. No longer are battlefields used, where the soldiers march actual distances—there is now only a small area of real ground surrounded by green-screens. This is why Gettysburg stands out to me, that and the fine acting performances all around, given by Tom Berenger as James Longstreet, Jeff Daniels as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee, but there are also a few others that stand out and go underrated when viewing this film.
The entire group of Virginian brigade commanders have an excellent chemistry that unfortunately could not get any more screen time in this film already loaded with speaking roles. A young Stephen Lang (who actually grew his own beard, according to Bo Brinkman) plays the division commander of Andrew Prine (Garnett), Royce Applegate (Kemper), and of course, Richard Jordan as Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. While Lang plays Pickett’s eccentricity and personality to perfection, and the others combine to be humorous and serious as the film progresses, it is Jordan who steals the show as the passionate commander who loves his men and his Confederate country, but also loves his best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock (played by Brian Mallon) who is fighting for the Union.
Armistead recollects the time he spent with Hancock, and the last night they were together before they went off to fight against each other in the War Between the States. They were at the same house with their wives, when Myra Hancock sang “Kathleen Mavourneen” and played it on the piano, and they all began to cry. It is here when Armistead swears to Hancock that he wishes the Lord would strike him down if he ever has to fight him on the field of battle. While both soldiers faced off against one another at Fredericksburg (in the same exact way, just in reversal of who had the stone wall), their troops did not directly clash with each other. But at Gettysburg, Armistead is worried that he will have to “raise his hand” against his old friend, and in a very emotional conversation with Longstreet, gives him a package to be delivered to Myra in the event of his death. It seems that the only two times in the film where I teared up are when Jordan is on the screen. The first is this scene, and the second is as he lays dying on the battlefield.
The sadness is escalated, perhaps, because Jordan himself was dying of brain cancer while filming this movie, and actually had to be hospitalized for a brief time at Gettysburg hospital. To keep this in mind while watching Armistead’s final on-screen moments (the general would live only three more days in real life) makes it even worse, and it is possible that Jordan was able to play this to perfection because he knew that he was dying. In a way, this all has to do with fate, and you can see in Armistead’s eyes before the charge that would kill him, that he knows he is not going to live. It is because of this belief that he was able to fight so bravely, and when getting to the Emmitsburg Road on his way to attack the Union line, he sees his men have slowed down, but he stands up, sticks his hat on his sword and yells for his Virginians to follow him. They do, prompting a roar from Pickett, and a final push that actually broke through the Union line. Unfortunately, just as it seemed the Confederates would accomplish what they set out to do, the Union would send in reserves to quell the attack. It is here that Armistead would be shot, in his upper chest area, before falling down next to a cannon. Even so, it was his men that would get farther than any others in “Pickett’s Charge”.
Every time I visit Gettysburg, and go near “The Angle”, where Armistead fell, I have to stand next to his monument that looks very plain, and simply reads, “Brigadier General Lewis Armistead Fell Here. July 3, 1863″. I stand there for a few moments, after placing a small Confederate Flag at its base, and try to take in all that he accomplished, how he could be so brave to run in front of his men, and lead them straight into a barrage of a thousand firing rifles. I always ask myself, if I could do what he did, and my answer is always, “I don’t know”. I like to think I could be as brave (I think we all do) but I just do not know. We are in a much different time frame and society, and the answer is unknown to us all. But when I pause, I am just not remembering Armistead, but the man who personified him, Richard Jordan, who did not get a chance to see the finished product of his performance, because he died in August of 1993 (Gettysburg premiered in October). Here was a great actor, who gave what I feel is the best and most complex performance in this mammoth film. According to IMDB, Ron Maxwell actually got the news of Jordan’s passing while editing Armistead’s death scene, which just adds to the irony.
And so, I make the case, nearly eighteen years later, for Richard Jordan to have received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It does nothing now, to sit here almost two decades later, but it brings awareness to the fact that sometimes the best films/actors/actresses do not win, no matter what the case. If you have not seen Gettysburg, then obviously I encourage you to do so, because no film has had a greater impact on my life than it, and if you have seen it, then watch Jordan’s performance even closer next time, because you may be amazed at the high level of acting that can so easily be overlooked. Jordan’s performance is equal to that of John Wayne’s in The Shootist, in terms of “farewells” and that makes it all the more special.
Rest in peace to both Lewis A. Armistead (1817-1863) and Richard Jordan (1937-1993)