Despite Hype, History’s “Gettysburg” Fails to Deliver

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.

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Remembering the Fallen: What is Memorial Day?

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.

San Francisco Giants: Help Wanted!

Just like last season, the San Francisco Giants are in dire need for offensive help, but unlike last season, it is injuries that is the cause. With catcher Buster Posey injured this week in a play that will likely end his season, he becomes just the latest casualty in an incredibly unlucky 2011 season. Currently on the disabled list sit the aforementioned Posey, Pablo Sandoval, who actually seemed to be recovering from his offensive doldrums last season, Mark DeRosa, role player Mike Fontenot, and speedster Darren Ford. Aubrey Huff, who was the team’s all-around leader last season, bats a measly .223, while newcomer Miguel Tejada brings an atrocious .212 batting average to the table (this really gets put into perspective when you note that pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is actually batting .308). Power-hitter Pat Burrell leads the team with an astounding five homeruns, tied with Sandoval who has been out for nearly thirty games. At the same time, Freddy Sanchez tops out the team in hitting, with a .298 average. In other words, somebody help!

Sandoval should be set to return in a couple of weeks, but the Giants are going to need more than that. While the pitching is still holding strong, helping the Giants astoundingly remain in first place, while the offense bats .240 and is second-to-last in the National League in runs scored, the Giants need to make a trade to bring in some offense. One cannot be picky here; just get someone. There have been many names thrown around, ranging from Jose Reyes to Ivan Rodriguez. The Giants are allowed to be desperate here, but it does not mean they have to be. Just listen to WFAN in New York and you will hear some of the dumbest calls ever made to the station. Fans of the Yankees and Mets are smelling blood in the water, and see that if the Giants are so hard up for offense, they must be willing to trade pitching. Sophomore Madison Bumgarner is the name that nearly every caller wants, and I have heard proposals such as Reyes for Bumgarner, and even Yankee fans getting in there, wanting to give the Giants their top catching prospect Jesus Montero for Jonathon Sanchez. New Yorkers always want to think they can get a Filet Mignon for the price of a Morning Star boca burger, but come one now!

One caller even told Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, who host a midday show on WFAN, an asinine proposal of Josh Thole for Bumgarner, to which Benigno responded, “Yeah, sure! Give us Sanchez too!” It really is quite funny, because everyone seems to be enamored with the Giants from coast to cost. Mike Francesa has even had to dismiss disillusioned callers and their fantasy-like wishes.

The Giants will not trade Madison Bumgarner or Jonathon Sanchez. Nor will they trade Tim Lincecum for Jorge Posada. Anyone that thinks a deal involving those three makes sense, get your head out of your behind. Desperation never worked in anyone’s favor, except the trading partner that exploits it. If the only way the Giants can get help is by trading a pitcher, than I would rather stay the course and miss the playoffs. Saving this season is not worth jeopardizing the next three. If the Mets want to get rid of Reyes so bad, then I would offer Miguel Tejada and a prospect: take it or leave it. The Mets would save a tremendous amount of money while the Giants would not be overpaying for a rental. That helps out the infield, but then the Giants need to fix their catcher dilemma. Eli Whiteside is a good backup, but by no means is he an everyday player. The Giants have contacted the Nationals regarding 39-year old Ivan Rodriguez (.211, 2 Hrs, 14 RBI), which would be a decent stop-gap for this season. I would also inquire about Jorge Posada on the Yankees, whose .174 batting average would fit right in.

The disgruntled catcher has caused Yankee fans to forget his past greatness and jump on the What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately bandwagon. The Yankees could send him to San Francisco for a prospect or two and never see him again. There, Posada can get back to actually catching (he does not seem to love the designated hitter position) and help the Giants’ young pitching staff. It could serve as a reclamation project of sorts, that they tried, and succeeded, with Pat Burrell who was also unhappy DHing and struggling with the Tampa Bay Rays early last season. His career was thought to be over too, and look how that turned out for the Giants in the long run.

Joe’s Angle: The New York Rangers’ Off-Season Plan

Will the Rangers be courting Jamie Langenbrunner for help this summer?

Heading into this off-season, the New York Rangers find themselves in quite good shape when compared to the last few summers. The Rangers must establish a true first line in order to justify their investment in Marian Gaborik, whose disappointing 2010/11 campaign could have been attributed to injuries and lack of chemistry with players around him. He will, and must, look to regain his form found in the previous seasons.

Brad Richards is the only marquee free agent on the market when it comes to offensive players. Richards, 31, is the number one center the Rangers need if they would like to take their development one step further. The mentality of the Rangers’ youth movement is nice, but they need top line talent to win. Unfortunately, this top line talent does not exist anywhere in the organization outside of Marian Gaborik. Pairing Richards with Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski would give the Rangers a top line. Wolski is a question mark on that line, but given he gels with talented players we could see him have a breakout year.

The Rangers have two players in Chris Drury and Sean Avery who are both primed for buyouts. The Rangers cannot endure one additional season while carrying Drury’s 7+ million cap hit. They need to spend their money elsewhere in order to improve the club. Drury’s 3.7 million buyout hit will give them additional flexibility. When it comes to doghouse player Sean Avery, it does not make sense for the team to keep him around, unless he can reclaim past success, which is doubtful. Avery’s role with the Rangers has seemed to disappear and he has turned into more of a liability than anything else on the ice. Cutting his salary cap hit almost in half will give the Rangers an additional $1 million in spending money. In order to bypass buyout ramifications, the Rangers could also send Avery salary to Hartford, removing it entirely from the cap as well.

When it comes to other players on the free agent market, there is only one forward I would not steer clear of. Jamie Langenbrunner is a forward, who if used in a 3rd line role, could prove valuable to the club. The Rangers should take a long look at Langenbrunner. Despite his age, a team needs a few veterans sprinkled in if they want to find any type of success. Jan Hejda, a veteran defenseman from Columbus, can also help the Rangers if paired with youngster Micheal Del Zotto. The Rangers have had interest in bringing Hejda in for several years via trade with the Blue Jackets, but were never able to make a sensible deal. Now that Hejda is a UFA, a one or two year deal may make sense.

Stay: Anisimov, Boyle, Callahan, Christensen, Dubinsky, Fedotenko, Gaborik, Prust, Stepan, Wolski, Eminger,Girardi, McDonagh, Sauer, Staal, Biron, Lundqvist

Go: Avery, Drury, Prospal, Gilroy, McCabe

Your 2011-2012 New York Rangers

Salaries calculated through CapGeek and are noted in parenthesis next to the player’s name.

1st line: Marian Gaborik ($7.500m)- Brad Richards ($6.750m)– Wojtek Wolski ($3.800m)
2nd line: Ryan Callahan ($3.975m)- Derek Stepan ($0.875m)- Brandon Dubinsky ($3.975m)
3rd line: Jamie Langenbrunner ($2.300m)– Artem Anisimov ($1.350m)- Mats Zuccarello ($1.750m)
4th line: Brandon Prust ($0.800m)- Brian Boyle ($1.225m)-  Ruslan Fedotenko ($1.250m)
Scratches: Erik Christensen ($0.925m) and Chris Drury ($3.716m)

1st pairing: Marc Staal ($3.975m)- Daniel Girardi ($3.325m)
2nd pairing: Ryan McDonagh ($1.300m)- Mike Sauer ($1.505m)
3rd pairing: Jan Hejda ($2.500m)- Michael Del Zotto ($1.087m)
Scratch: Steve Eminger ($0.650m)

Starting: Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875m)
Backup: Martin Biron ($0.875m)

Salary Cap: $62,500,000
Cap Payroll: $62,284,167
Bonuses: $1,487,500
Cap Space (23-man roster): $215,833

[Note from Greg Caggiano] Even though Joe and I disagree about Brad Richards, I must say this looks like a decent line-up, or at least more so than last season’s. The three free agent moves he has made here are realistic and certainly not out of the question, though fans may be wary in bringing in another ex-Devil in Langenbrunner. But out of all three moves, I like that one the best. The players that he let go I agree with, though I would have added Christensen to the list.

Off Into the Sunset: The Honorable Brian Rafalski Calls It Quits

Sorry I’m a few days late on this, but I did not read about it until this afternoon…

I have long said that the most important part of a star player’s career is not the stats—nor is it the paycheck, the amount of championship rings, or any material item such as that. The most important part is knowing when to retire, recognizing when the ship is going to sail and not hanging around so long that you miss it. Two days ago, Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Brian Rafalski announced his retirement. The 38 year-old defenseman basically stunned the hockey world with his bit of news, because just like that other veteran defenseman playing in Motown, he showed absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Since signing with Detroit in 2007, Rafalski has put up 55, 59, 42, and 48 points respectively, all while in his mid-thirties, with the game growing faster every single season. What is even more shocking about this decision is the fact that he still had one year remaining on a contract that would have paid him $6 million more this coming season. Rafalski cites that he wants a deeper commitment to his family and those close to him for why he is leaving. One cannot help but respect that reasoning, because I do not think you would see it in any other sport. Hats off to Brian Rafalski for putting money aside and going with his gut instinct on this—if only more players followed in his footsteps.

The Red Wings will now be down a puck-moving defenseman, which would make me think that ole Niklas Lidstrom will be back for a 20th season in the National Hockey League. The 41 year-old (it must be the water out there in Detroit) has seemed to get better with age, and certainly would not be a detriment to his team by sticking around another season, but I do not watch the Red Wings often enough to comment further.

So once again, kudos and congratulations to Mr. Rafalski for an outstanding career that spanned 11 seasons, and saw him put up 79 goals and 436 assists in 833 games. He also won three Stanley Cups (two with the New Jersey Devils), and played in the finals five times. Enjoy your retirement!

New York Rangers: Is Brad Richards the Answer?

Christmas is only 35 days away, and fans of the New York Rangers have asked Santa Claus for Brad Richards. The Blueshirts barely snuck into the playoffs this season, mainly due to their anemic offense that was always a two periods late and a goal short. They rode the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a youthful defense for as long as they could, but it was not nearly enough. The team needed goals, plain and simple, or they needed passes going to someone who could get them goals, namely Marian Gab0rik, who disappeared more times than planes have gone down in the Bermuda Triangle.

Blame was placed on the offense in two directions: 1) Marian Gaborik was merely a flash in the pan, who came to Broadway, put up a 40+ goal season, got comfortable, and then went away, content with the salary he was given. He was no longer a big game player, no longer the superstar the Rangers gave a five-year/$37.5 million contract to in 2009. 2) Gaborik did not lose any skill himself, but rather, it was the fault of his teammates who could not get him the puck. Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, and others whose names elude me at the present time all were blamed for not being a good enough set-up man.

Either way, Gaborik never had a star center in Minnesota (unless you think Pierre-Marc Bouchard is worth writing home about) but that did not stop him from putting up 42 goals in 07/08 and four other 30-goal seasons, all while never playing a full 82 games. So now, everyone is clamoring for Dallas Stars’ free agent center Brad Richards. He is going to be the answer and savior all in one shot. Why? I don’t know, you tell me.

This is where Rangers fans earn their paycheck, by going around the league every summer and seeing what players out there will instantly come here and save the day. Every season it is always a center, and while I agree that the Rangers desperately need a center (just like Christensen desperately needs a prescription for Cymbalta), I also want to make note of the high-priced free agents the Rangers have brought in over the years. Unless you are a fan of the way Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Wade Redden worked out, you will agree that when the Rangers throw the checkbook at somebody for how well they played in the past, it ultimately fails.

Brad Richards is a fantastic talent, don’t get me wrong. He has put up 91 points twice (Gomez put up 84 once) and has registered more than 40 assists in all but one season, which was when he was injured in 08/09. But why all of a sudden is he going to click with Gaborik and put up those points here in New York? Rangers fans have this Utopian idea in their heads more than half the time, one that includes severely over-rating our homegrown players and then automatically assuming every free agent in the world wants to play here. To go on a tangent for a second, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will be overpaid this summer, and neither will be worth the paycheck—trust me on that. But will you take off the blinders and see it too? There is not a player in this franchise (you read correctly, not one player) who should be considered untouchable in my eyes.

Now we must look at what price Richards can be had for. He clearly deserves between $6 and 7 million, easy. The Rangers currently have just over $18 million in cap space, with Dubinsky, Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer all restricted free agents. With those players eating up well over half of that, the Rangers will then need to replace Alex Frolov, whose money thankfully comes off the books, and then must reconsider bringing one (or none) of the pair of Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal back—they should not re-sign both. Then there are defensemen Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger also hitting free agency, and while I like McCabe’s potential as a leader and powerplay catalyst, unless he takes around $2 million for a one-year deal, I would not bring him back. As for Eminger, I am still on the fence about whether he should be brought back, but I am inclined to think no. So now where is this money for Richards going to come from, with most of it tied up in signing the Rangers’ own players? The logical answer would be to summon the ghost of Harry Houdini and make Chris Drury disappear (or they could just banish him to the minors or buy him out), or even find a way to trade Marian Gaborik, but something tells me that would defeat the purpose of signing Brad Richards, won’t it?

What Glen Sather and the Rangers have to do is get creative though trades, which is where the GM excels anyway. I would like to see what the return could be for a Gaborik deal, and although fans would worry about dealing him, if the Rangers can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense with him, they can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense without him. The Rangers must work the phones here, and find a way to get Gaborik’s contract off the books, and get some high to medium level talent in return, and maybe even some draft picks. With that money, perhaps they can then do what everyone really wants to see, and that is poach Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils. But I will attach a disclaimer to that: do you really see Sather doing that to his old crony Lou Lamoriello? I don’t think so.

So, the answer to the question I initially asked is “No”, Brad Richards is not the answer. Sure he would be part of it, but unless the Rangers can solve all of it, I would not tie up a large amount of money like that in a 31-year old whose best days are truly behind him. I am tired of seeing the Rangers gamble with enormous contracts, thinking they are a quick fix when all they do is handicap the team further down the road. The Rangers need a center alright, but I would rather give Michal Handzus one year at $2.5 million and throw him next to Gaborik than lock up Richards for five to six years. The free agent market is drier than the Sahara Desert when it comes to centers this summer, but that doesn’t mean the Rangers need to settle for someone just because nobody else is there.

Think I’m joking about the laughably boring free agent market this year? Just click here to see for yourself.

“Gods and Generals” Fans: Today is Your Day!

Well everyone, the day we have all waited eight years for has finally arrived. I would just like to say that it has been a pleasure writing for you in these last few months, and I hope you will continue to frequent this blog as I will try to keep the Civil War related articles coming. In the mean time, I invite all of you to post your complete reviews in the comment section of this article. And don’t forget to answer these questions:

  1. What time in the morning did you wake up?
  2. Did you skip work or cut class?
  3. How many people did you knock down on your way to the film section?

Okay, so maybe I’m kidding, or at least I hope so, but I’m sure there will be some funny stories to go along with these. In case you have not already read them, or were just waiting because you did not want the added footage spoiled, please check out my reviews of both the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut and the Gettysburg Director’s Cut.

Happy viewing!

One of the Most Beautiful Pieces of Music You Will Ever Hear

Usually I never make a post this late, but I could not wait any longer for this. I am in the middle of watching the Dances with Wolves Extended Cut on Blu Ray (many forget that it is actually a Civil War movie in the beginning) and I love John Barry’s soundtrack so much that I was looking for it on YouTube. It was then that I stumbled upon this variation of the main theme, performed by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which combined orchestral and bagpipe melodies. I think what you are about to hear will blow your mind with amazement:

I have always been a fan of bagpipes, though I rarely listen to them, largely in part to my grandfather, who died when I was only one year old. He was a big fan of two things in life: war movies, and bagpipes. There is a crate of his old records sitting right beside me in my computer room, and every time I hear a bagpipe tune, or any variation of his favorite song “Amazing Grace”, I cannot help but feel that he is with me in some way. Please enjoy this fantastic piece of music, and have a great evening.

I highly recommend this film to everyone, both the original and extended cut, which is about fifty-five minutes longer. Not many movies can take you through so many feelings, which include excitement, happiness, humor, and finally, sadness. The music is a big part of that, and of course, it features a terrific cast of Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell, and Wes Studi.

Civil War Journal: Five-Star Dining in Your Own Home

With hundreds of recipes on-line for the gourmet Civil War cuisine known as hardtack, I decided to go with the simplest one imaginable, since I’m more of a cook than a baker. With just four cups of flour, four teaspoons of salt, a little less than two cups of water, and plenty of patience, you can make the three-times daily bread ration that soldiers ate in the war that divided a nation. Normally, when I go to an encampment or reenactment, I buy a square or two, eating one and saving the other for when I give a lecture. It always generates laughs when you slam the three-by-three inch cracker on the table, and the sound resonates through the room, without a piece even chipping off, and then you explain that this was an essential part of the 1860’s US Army diet. Below is what came out of my oven today:

Okay, so they don’t look like conveyor belt material, and they taste like something Wolfgang Puck’s evil twin would have made (they smell pretty good, though), but they are enjoyable nonetheless. It’s fitting that I am going to the dentist on Thursday, because I may need one if I eat more than a few of these. The key to the perfect hardtack, however, is waiting. You can eat them as soon as they come out of the oven, but they will still be somewhat soft and flaky. You should wait a few hours for them to become stale and harden, and once they get hard, they will stay edible for years.

There is a story that during the Spanish-American war in the 1890’s, that the US Army actually sent our soldiers hardtack that was baked thirty years prior in the Civil War, because they never went bad. How’s that for a re-issue?

I won’t even suggest these for reenactors, because they eat their fair share already, but for teachers that are going to be instructing on the Civil War, this would be something you could bake and bring into the classroom to give your students an idea of what life was like. It is also quite safe allergy-wise because it contains nothing but flour, water, and salt! Health-wise, there is no fat in it if you use the recipe below (there are some that call for shortening or oil) but stay away if you are on a low-carb diet. The recipe I used is listed below, but click here for other army-related breads, including one from Sweden that is actually sweetened up with honey. Hmm…that sounds like a pretty good idea. Until next time, everyone!

Army Hardtack Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • Water (about 2 cups)
  • Pre-heat oven to 375° F
  • Makes about 10 pieces

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add just enough water (less than two cups) so that the mixture will stick together, producing a dough that won’t stick to hands, rolling-pin or pan.  Mix the dough by hand. Roll the dough out, shaping it roughly into a rectangle. Cut into the dough into squares about 3 x 3 inches and ½ inch thick.

After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough.  The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker.  Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.

Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes. The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides. The fresh crackers are easily broken but as they dry, they harden and assume the consistency of fired brick.

Movie Review: The Director’s Cut of “Gettysburg”

There are very few movies out there that can change a person’s life—Gettysburg did that for me. Having first seen it when I was about seven or eight, when my mom taped it off of one of the many airings on TNT in the 1990’s, this was the film that single-handedly turned me into the History and Civil War buff I am today. I watched the VHS tape until it wore out and would no longer work. In fact, even sometimes today, when I watch Ron Maxwell’s 1993 epic, I can still remember where certain commercial breaks were. Little did I know that the version I watched all those times was actually the same director’s cut I received on Blu Ray from Warner Brothers last week, the same film which you are all eagerly waiting for.

The deleted scenes from Gettysburg have never been a mystery. The director’s cut was released in 1994 on VHS and was the version of the film shown regularly on TNT. All scenes have also been available on YouTube for the last few years. When I first bought the DVD when I got little older, not knowing what a director’s cut even was, I wondered what happened to the scene where General John Reynolds asks a soldier how he can see out of his glasses, because they are so covered in dust. That very scene is now back into the film, along with a few others, totaling about seventeen minutes. They are not nearly as important to this script as those for Gods and Generals were to that, but it still helps with character development and building the storyline. One of the scenes the film could have done without, but the others were still very important to understanding certain events that happened in and around the time of battle.

To comment very briefly on the technical components, let me just say that I was somewhat disappointed in the visual quality of the film. While it is still much better than the DVD, it is grainy and almost hazy in certain spots. This is really no one’s fault, as some films just do not transfer well to Blu Ray. I have no complaints about the audio, but the video could have just been a little bit better.

Though both this film and its prequel, Gods and Generals, are both fantastic movies, I will always have a softer spot in my heart for Gettysburg, not only because it was one of my first favorites, but because of the tremendously superior casting. Everywhere you look, there is a star who sneaks in for a role, even if it lasts only two minutes (like that of a certain ex-James Bond). Normally when epic films go that route, and throw in every major actor they can, it fails, but somehow this film always seems to accomplish what it sets out to do, and that is give us an idea of how these men thought, and how their thinking led to decisions that helped shape the country we have today.

There has never been a film made, before or since, that has taken a single event spread out over the course of as small a time as three days is, and tried to cram every bit of information they could, all while still remaining entertaining. Sam Elliot lands the role of Union cavalry general John Buford, and it is too bad that Buford was not more involved in the battle, because Elliot’s scenes end after day one. Somehow, in watching his scenes, I do not even think he had to act to give us this spectacular performance—it seriously looks as if he is just being himself. His mustache is real, his accent is not put on, he looks like he lives on the back of a horse, and all this plays in to why his few brief scenes are so memorable. The first deleted scene to make its way into the film involves Buford, and when they are riding through the town of Gettysburg. While next to Colonel Devin (David Carpenter), a woman in the town asks if there are going to be any problems with the approaching Confederates. Devin responds, “Nothing the cavalry can’t handle.”

The majority of all the deleted scenes occur with in the Day One time frame. These include Martin Sheen’s passionate depiction of Robert E. Lee discussing the strange disappearance of J.E.B Stuart (Joseph Fuqua) with his aid Major Taylor (Bo Brinkman), right before Taylor goes into his mouth-watering description of the breakfast that is available for Lee that morning. There is also some dialogue there that is rather important, and that is when Lee says the Confederate army must be charitable to citizens in the area, and not act how the Yankees did when they invaded Virginia. Taylor blatantly says that those orders are hard to follow.

To move on to the Union side of the cast, Jeff Daniels gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as he is able to portray the man as both a scholar and a warrior. Like I have said in previous articles, it was a travesty that Gettysburg did not receive even one nomination from any organization, even though Richard Jordan’s character of Lewis Armistead was both haunting and incredible and should have won him a supporting actor Oscar. C. Thomas Howell plays Chamberlain’s brother, and there is some extended dialogue between him and one of the 2nd Maine prisoners who refused to fight because their papers expired. Here they have a pretty comical conversation about how many bugle calls the Union army has.

Before that, John Reynolds (John Rothman) gets another scene, upping his screen time, saying that, “We will fight them inch by inch through the town if necessary.” He is shown as being very calm and confident, and this certainly helps the worrisome Buford as he does not think his cavalry can hold out against Henry Heth’s (Warren Burton) infantry.

On the eve of the first day comes some more added footage, this time involving the film’s central character of James Longstreet, played by Tom Berenger. Here, the star of Platoon gives one of the best performances of his career. The most gripping scene involving him, in my eyes, comes right before Pickett’s Charge is about to begin, when the namesake, played to utter perfection by Stephen Lang, asks him if he should commence the attack. Clearly sick to his stomach at the mass death that is about to unfold, Berenger does not even speak, he just gives a small hand gesture. The only thing about his character, and that of others, that detracts from the film is something that has been mentioned and mocked time and time again…the beards. In case you are wondering, no, they do not look any better on Blu Ray. They do not necessarily look worse, but let’s just say they are even more noticeable (as hard to believe as that is). It’s a shame that the production company did not want to pay, as Bo Brinkman put it to me in an interview, “the best beard guy in the business”, that Maxwell had found. With so much screen-time in this nearly five-hour epic, you would think more care would have been taken to the beard that Blu Ray’s official website has called, “fearsome”.

In getting to the actual footage with Berenger, it includes a discussion with his brigadier generals Richard Garnett (Andrew Prine), who thanks his commander for the opportunity to get back in the action. Pickett and Longstreet then talk about Pickett’s division seeing a lack of action, and how he is worried that the war will end soon and his boys will have missed out on most of it (he would sure make up for it on July 3!). A visitor from Britain, Colonel Arthur Freemantle (James Lancaster), portrayed as being very debonaire, yet savvy, tells James Kemper (Royce Applegate) and Garnett that he has never seen Longstreet “fraternizing” so much. He then finds out that Longstreet lost his children in a Scarlet Fever epidemic a year prior, and that was the reason.

The next inserted scene after this is probably more important to the script than any other. Coming on the heels of Morgan Sheppard’s much talked about scene involving a livid General Trimble ripping on General Ewell for not taking Culp’s Hill, a mistake many historian’s blame for the Confederates’ loss of Gettysburg, maybe even the war. Lee confronts the general along with Jubal Early, A.P Hill, and Robert Rodes and asks if it was possible to take the hill, and their explanations are given. With this being such a short scene, if any of these should have been left in the original cut, this should have been it.

Moving to day two, which is July 2nd, I have a special connection to this day, because it is my birthday (perhaps I died in the battle during a past life). Here we see the emergence of Chamberlain as one of the more intelligent regimental commanders in the army, for his bold last stand on Little Round Top, against wave after wave of charging Confederate soldiers. Helped along by an old army veteran, Buster Kilrain (Kevin Conway in a comical and touching performance), he holds his ground and orders a daring bayonet charge that he only thought of because he did not go to West Point. Being a professor without an in-depth knowledge of military tactics, he got creative at just the right time. The cinematography during this battle scene is spectacular. The smoke, combined with the light shining through the forest of trees adds an almost surreal feel to it. This is where I must also comment on the blood (or lack thereof) in this film. Many criticize Maxwell for not depicting blood and gore realistically. When men are shot they slump to the ground, and when we see bullets rip into soldiers, there is very little, and in some cases, no blood shown. There is a reason for this, and that is the greater good and educational value of this film. Because of its PG rating, it can be viewed by virtually any audience. Had it been rated-R, would I have been able to watch it and be captivated by it as a seven-year old? Hell no. As much as I would like to see a realistic battle scene, with blood flowing and limbs getting taken off left and right, this was not the time or place for it. This film, despite three distinct battle scenes, was more of a focus and study on the men, their feelings, and their tactics. The battle is just there as a result, and not the driving force. Once you can understand that, you can appreciate the value of its bloodless scenes.

After that portion of the battle, when Longstreet is walking through the field hospital, after briefly checking in on an injured General Hood (Patrick Gorman, in an emotionally draining scene), he meets up with Henry Harrison (Cooper Huckabee), the actor-turned-spy,  for the second time in the film, and there is some extended dialogue there. The last major deleted scene comes before the battle on the second day, which was when Longstreet and Freemantle discuss tactics. Personally, I did not care for it at all and understood why it was cut. The acting by Freemantle when he exclaims how brilliant Lee is seems rather put on, and the excitement is fake. The director’s cut could have done without it as well.

Now, for the third and final day of the battle is where we see some of the best battle scenes ever filmed, Pickett’s Charge. Unlike Gods and Generals, which unfortunately had to revert to thousands of CGI figures for distance shots at Fredericksburg, the thousands of men seen marching into battle against the stone wall at “The Angle”, where General Hanock’s (Brian Mallon) men await, are real. The filming of this scene alone is an achievement, and it is made even more special when you take into consideration that it was filmed on the actual location where the men began the charge in 1863. The outcome was tragic, as Pickett’s division was nearly destroyed after a mile-long march over open ground while facing infantry and artillery fire, and this scene captures that, but not without some fanfare. The reason why the dialogue leading up to this is so important is because it captures both sides of feeling. Longstreet knows the attack will fail, while the headstrong Lee can see an end to the war in sight. Pickett and Garnett are eager to fight, while Trimble and General Johnston Pettigrew (briefly played by George Lazenby) are thankful for the opportunity to take part. There is even a very sobering scene when Harrison asks Longstreet if he can join, and he is basically told how the army will be decimated when all is said and done.

There is an emotional, almost tear-jerking moment when Lee rides out and hundreds of his men swarm him to cheer, and try to shake his hand. The music, written by Randy Edelman, played during the scene leaves you breathless, as you take in just how important Lee was to his men, and much of a Christ-like figure he seemed to be. But many of those cheering men would be dead just hours later in the ill-fated attack.

From the sweeping camera shots to the music, from the soaring cannon balls to the men being thrown in the air from their impact, the charge scene really deserves a place of prominence in war films. Armistead will steal the show towards the end with his brave gallop towards the wall before being shot, and then is cared for by Union soldiers when the battle is over. Here is where my eyes always seem to well up, because we do not only see Armistead dying, but Richard Jordan as well, who died weeks before the film reached theaters, from brain cancer.

With the review now complete, I just cannot help but feel that I have missed something, because the film is so long and there are so many characters and sub-plots involved. I originally reviewed the film here, a few months ago, so I was trying not to repeat myself and get in those deleted scenes. Once again, I cannot give a number rating here. People may have their squabbles about the film, but to me, it will always be very special. This was a labor of love for Maxwell and the more than ten thousand reenactors who paid their own was to take part in the depiction of the most important battle of our most important war. This masterwork of story-telling and historical drama deserves more respect than what it gets.