Unlike the other cast members of the films Gods and Generals and Gettysburg that I have been able to track down over the last several months, Les Kinsolving is not noted for his acting. Appearing as Confederate General William Barksdale, the distant cousin of the real general, he is more known for his career in the political spectrum, which includes serving as a White House correspondent (part-time now) and talk-radio host on 680 WCBM, which is run out of Baltimore. Les’ career has spanned several decades and has encompassed so much, including being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
When I was done asking him about his filming experience, I just had to probe him on some of his political views, and what being a reporter in our nation’s capital is like. Les was very kind to me and answered all of my questions, and I did not even know this interview was going to be taking place when I woke up this morning. I had contacted him a few days ago, and he responded this afternoon. Rather than schedule an interview for the future, we thought it best to just get it done today. I asked him about his filming experience, what it is like being related to a Civil War general (and a second one which will knock your socks off!), and much more, in our interview below!
GC: How did you first get involved with the movie Gettysburg back in 1993?
LK: Well, I have a cousin, the one that I played the part of, General William Barksdale, and I had always been interested in the Civil War, and I heard they were going to do a movie on the battle of Gettysburg. So, I talked to the author of The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara, on the phone and I enjoyed speaking to him very much. He was a very stimulating person and he told me about Ron Maxwell who was going to direct it. I phoned up to Maxwell in New York, and we made an appointment. I did not tell him of my relation to Barksdale, and I talked with him and we had a wonderful time and there was a great deal of mutual interest. It was then when I told him of my relationship to General Barksdale of Mississippi, and he asked, “You’re his cousin?” and I responded, “I am.” and he said, “You look like him.” Then he said, “Just a minute”, and he went into this closet and came out after a while with this great big picture of Barksdale. He was the only Confederate general at Gettysburg who did not have a beard or a mustache, and again he told me that I looked like him, and I said, “I’m complimented”. He then asked me if I would like the part! (laughs). It took a long time to be produced but I had the part, and I played it again in Gods and Generals, which followed it.
GC: In both films, your scenes were very short, but how much did you have to prepare for these roles?
LK: I had previously been in a considerable number of plays, both little theater and light opera, but this did not take any time at all—I just had a couple of lines in each. I was still honored to have these lines. When I was first cast in Gettysburg, there were no lines and Maxwell waited until my scene came and put in a line for me. General Lee, played by Martin Sheen, says to me, “General Barksdale, is Mississippi ready?” and I said, “Mississippi is ready!”. (laughs) And that was it! I just had one or two lines in Gods and Generals as well. But in Gettysburg, I also played an extra as a flag bearer in a Virginia regiment during Pickett’s Charge, which took seven days to film.
GC: What was the hardest part of your filming experience?
LK: I think the hardest part was when I was playing this Confederate flag bearer and we went over the wall at the charge, and there were three huge Yankees who went after my flag, and I held it and it broke right in two, and I went down and got kicked; I don’t think they did it on purpose, there was just an enormous amount of action. They strapped me up with one of these wrap-around bandages and I was able to go back and do it three or four more times, because we did that scene six times that day.
GC: Did you happen to see the Gettysburg documentary that was on the History Channel last week?
LK: I did not see the whole thing because it came on while I was broadcasting.
GC: Okay, because there was a pretty big section on General Barksdale in it and I was just curious if you had any thoughts on that.
LK: Yes, my son watched it and told me, and I just ran in and took one look and was disgusted because the first thing I saw was that this Barksdale had a beard, and Barksdale did not have a beard at the time of the battle! The picture that I have of him, he does not have one, and I was disgusted at that.
GC: Now, a lot of us Civil War enthusiasts and historians wish we could be related to somebody who fought during the Civil War, so what is it like for you, to not only be related to a soldier, but a prominent general at that?
LK: Well, I am also related to another Confederate soldier named Robert E. Lee, who is a fifth cousin. Robert Duvall, who portrayed Lee in Gods and Generals, was also related to him, and so we found that we were distant cousins.
GC: What it is like being related to one of the greatest generals in military history?
LK: I agree with you, I think he is one of the greatest men in our history, with enormous courage and fundamental decency, and he will always be remembered. Of course, there are those that like to tear him to pieces, but that is expected of those who are still fighting that war.
GC: I would like to move to your other career now, as a White House correspondent. What does that entail?
LK: I am a White House correspondent, but I am not a full-time one anymore because I am a talk radio host and columnist, and I just can’t do it full-time, and with this particular press secretary, as well as the last one, who are two of the three most difficult I have ever dealt with, they hardly ever call on me. This one almost refuses me consistently, so I only go once a week. What I do is, I always have two questions, just two. He allows the people in the front two rows from the networks, to ask eight, ten, and twelve questions, but he will try to bypass me. Sometimes I will call out the networks, and sometimes I don’t. So what I do is, we report for the nine million people who visit World Net Daily, we list all the people at the briefing and the large majority whom he never recognizes or allows to ask questions because he is playing favorites with the front two rows. I think that is abysmal. I made a suggestion once, which was one of the few times I have ever had applause from the back, that he should call on each person in the front row for two questions and work his way right back so he gives everybody a chance, and then go back to the front row and give them two more. That got applause, but not from the front row (laughs).
GC: I have another question for you, and this is just out of curiosity, but what do you think of Sarah Palin?
LK: To look upon her, I think she is a very beautiful lady, and I realize that she had a lot of problems at home, but I think she really damaged herself by leaving the position of Governor of Alaska. I thought she did a good job out there, but she resigned. Now she is going all over the country campaigning, but she hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, announced her candidacy as yet. I’m generally impressed with a lot of what she stands for, though I do not agree with her on everything…I don’t think there is anybody I agree with on everything.
GC: One more political question for you, who would be your favorite president, whether in your lifetime or in the past?
LK: Let me say that I think the greatest of all presidents, closely followed by Abraham Lincoln, was the father of our country, George Washington. I am a great admirer of his and he was not only a military leader that without him, we would have never won our independence, but he was our first president and guided us through the really tough times in getting us established as a country. There are a number who I admire in the modern era as well. I personally liked Ronald Reagan a great deal and I knew him when he was in California because I was a columnist and reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and then the Examiner, while he was governor. There were times when I would ask him questions and he was always very astute and very amusing. I thought he was a great president, and there were others of course. The Roosevelt’s were two of the greatest and let me see who else…we have had some bad ones (laughs).
GC: Well, then who would be the worst president of your lifetime?
LK: That would be a tie between Jimmy Carter and the one we’ve got now (laughs).
GC: Thanks for being honest! I’m an independent so I don’t care who you don’t like.
LK: It’s not that I don’t like Barack Obama, it’s just that he has these press conferences where there are eighty reporters (I’ve stopped going to his press conferences) and they’re ridiculous. He’ll only call on certain ones. In the last three he called on thirteen, thirteen, and seven. He takes an enormous amount of time in answering questions—he gives these long monologues, and it sounds like he is dodging questions with these long answers, and he does this often. That is one of the reasons why I am not very impressed with him. There are times when I have commended him, and I think his order to go after Bin Laden was wonderful, but I think Bush had the same purpose. If they had just found him earlier under Bush, like the Seals did, I think he would have given the same order. I will try to be fair with the president whenever he says or does something that I believe honestly is good. I feel that it is only fair that you should try to emphasize that, and I do.
GC: One last question for you, and this is going back to the Civil War. If there is one piece of information that you think is being taught the most incorrectly about it, what would that be to you?
LK: I would say the alleged massacre at Fort Pillow, where they try to smear [Confederate General] Nathan Bedford Forrest. I have really studied that issue, and I have concluded and spoken out on this a number of times that it was not true. I think there are a lot of things that are misrepresented, but that is one of the worst. I hope that answers your question.
GC: Yes, it is definitely up there on my list. That, and people who say the war was fought solely because of slavery.
LK: Well, the interesting thing about the slavery issue, which is not often mentioned (laughs), is that among the slaveholders in the United States were Ulysses S. Grant and Mrs. Grant.
GC: And I don’t think Robert E. Lee owned any.
LK: His wife, Mary Custis, had a number of slaves, and he emancipated them. Grant, who was too poor to keep slaves, sold them, but Mrs. Grant continued to own them, and I think it was in 1864, she was almost captured by Confederate cavalry with her slaves! (laughs) I have no indication that the Grant’s ever mistreated their slaves, and I do not believe that the Lee’s did either. I have always been opposed to slavery, even though I am a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and I was one of the 25,000 who walked in the last day of the Selma March to Montgomery, because I believe new occasions teach new duties, and time makes ancient good uncouth.
GC: I want to thank you so much for this interview. It was great getting a chance to speak to you.
LK: It was my pleasure, and I hope that this gave you everything you needed, and I am grateful and honored.
I want to thank Les again for taking the time to conduct this interview. It truly was an enlightening experience! You can visit his official website here. Please check out my other interviews with Gods and Generals and Gettysburg personnel, located in the Civil War section on this site, which include Brian Mallon (General Hancock), Patrick Gorman (General Hood), Bo Brinkman (Major Taylor), and Jeff Shaara (Author of G & G).