Movie Review: The Extended Director’s Cut of “Gods and Generals”

Once again, I would like to thank Warner Brothers for sending me the two films in advance and allowing for this review to take place. This has really been a lot of fun. I would also like to attach a spoiler warning: if you want to be surprised at what scenes are included when you watch it for the first time, do not read this review until after you see it!

Opening Remarks

When I arrived home from work and found the package had arrived containing the two films I so anxiously awaited to see, I knew my anticipation was going to be soon over. I quickly brought them in the house and opened them up, wanting to watch them right then and there. Instead, I waited a couple of hours, not able to come to the realization of what I was actually holding in my hand. This is the version of Gods and Generals that we have heard so much about, and done our fair share of speculation over. What scenes were coming in? What new characters will there be? Will the Antietam battle scene live up to its reputation spread by the very few who had seen it? Over the next five and a half hours, after taking breaks to jot down notes and walk around, the four hours and forty minutes of brilliance would answer all those questions, and leave me satisfied.

At first, I was not going to take any notes, because I waited so long and wanted to enjoy it, but when the new footage began to flow fast and furiously, I had no choice but to write down what was going on. The first thing that the audience will notice is that the film is broken down into five parts: Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Moss Neck, and Chancellorsville. This definitely serves to guide the film, and almost makes each section seem like acts from a play, very fitting when you consider the scope of this film and screenplay is Shakespearean in nature. As you will read below, the Antietam scene blew me away, and the newly added John Wilkes Booth character was absolutely fantastic. But what caught my attention was not the addition of new material, but the subtraction of some. Not only are some scenes extended, but some are shortened, and two (that I counted, could have been more) are eliminated all together. Many people said the reason why they found the original boring was because of the constant praying and preaching, and director Ron Maxwell took care of all of that here.

Before the actual review of content, I want to make note of the technical aspects of the Blu Ray presentation. The picture itself was masterfully enhanced and the colors enriched, while the sound is so realistic and absorbing, you will feel like you were picked up and placed right in the middle of the battlefield. Since I already reviewed the theatrical version of this film, this review will focus mostly on the new scenes. Please keep in mind that I could not describe them all, because there were too many, but these were what I felt were the best and most important.

Part One: Bull Run

The first new footage that makes its way in is the highly anticipated insertion of the John Wilkes Booth character, played by Chris Conner, who figures quite prominently throughout the entire film, in five or six scenes. We see him make a speech to some Confederate recruits, citing a line of Shakespeare, but not before signing some autographs for the herds of beautiful young women who flock to see the superstar actor. The portrayal of Booth in this film was so important, because we see what he was really like, before his intense hatred of Lincoln began. He was young, charismatic, and patriotic—most likely the major sex symbol of his day as well. He was not the raving mad lunatic that history tries to paint him as, and here we see the human side of him.

A good scene involving Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, captured by the wonderful Stephen Lang, involves him wanting to purchase a horse. Initially, he intends to give the horse he names “Little Sorrel” to his wife, but keeps him, after telling Pendleton (Jeremy London) that he is “even-tempered”. Several shots are also shown of him riding the horse in the Virginia countryside.

Now we get to a major change involving the original footage. The scene where Jackson prays on the eve of battle was removed entirely, and there is no music playing when his soldiers come out of the woods and on to Henry House Hill. As soon as I saw this, I knew that this cut would be for real. The removal of the prayer kept the pace of the film going more evenly, and allowed for the battle of First Bull Run to be fought with intensity, without the audience having to bring themselves up from listening to Jackson.

Part Two: Antietam

I swear, that when the title card for this part came on the screen, I got goosebumps. For the next hour or so, this would be the section that has the most added footage. John Wilkes Booth makes his second appearance backstage, having a conversation with our good friend Henry T. Harrison, played by Cooper Huckabee, who you will remember as Longstreet’s spy in Gettysburg. We then move to Centreville where Jackson informs his men about his promotion to Major General and transfer to the Shenandoah Valley. His men are upset by this, because the brigade will have to remain, but they say how they will petition to get transferred with him. This makes a coming scene, where he gives his “First Brigade” speech to his men on horseback, have more meaning and clarify a lot. There is also extended dialogue between Jackson and his wife Anna (Kali Rocha) as they are laying in bed, after she visits him.

The Union then makes their entrance, with the already released “Camp Mason” deleted scene. There is a new scene involving Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his superior officer Adelbert Ames (Matt Letscher), whose character was greatly expanded in several scenes, when they discuss tactics and their importance. Ames also remarks that he heard how smart Chamberlain is, and says that he will be able to master whatever duty he is given. Ames also tests Chamberlain’s brother, played by C. Thomas Howell, on the steps in loading a rifle.

Robert E. Lee, played hauntingly well by Robert Duvall, then holds his first council of war, to tell his generals of his Maryland invasion plans. Just like in Gettysburg, Longstreet (Bruce Boxleitner) warns him of the risks, while Jackson is excited for the opportunity.

Now to the part everybody is waiting for, the actual battle scene, and it begins rather unexpectedly. The scene where Chamberlain and Kilrain (Kevin Conway) meet for the first time is expanded, and leads right into the battle, as that meeting was supposed to be on the morning of September 17th. Ames joins Chamberlain and they hear cannon fire in the background. Having never been in battle before, he is nervous, but Ames tells him it is just the artillery feeling each other out—this is really quite unassuming when you consider the bloodshed about to occur. Howell also keeps his humor, when he confronts his brother and says that he has gained weight even with a diet of hardtack and “worms”, as he puts it. The scene then cuts to blasting cannons when all hell breaks loose.

When the battle begins, Lee rides to his artillerymen and tells them how important they are. We then go right into the cornfield, where yes, I will announce it, we have the best battle footage of the entire movie (it even trumps my much loved Fredericksburg). The fighting is fierce and brutal, and the pace of the entire sequence is frantic, making you uneasy because so much is going on. There is no gallantry at Antietam, just horror. The two sides advance and blast away at each other, the bullets shredding the stalks of corn and tearing through arms and legs of the men. There are more bullet entry effects in these five minutes than the rest of the film, and perhaps that is why it was removed—I’m beginning to think the MPAA was a lot more strict back then, and in 2003 this would have made it an R-rated film. The effects here are top-notch. There is one shot of a bullet going through a man’s canteen and sending water everywhere. The artillery effects are also spectacular, and men go flying when the explosions occur.

Two of the characters I interviewed, Brian Mallon as Hancock and Patrick Gorman as Hood, also get more screen-time here. In just about twenty seconds, Hood will give you the feeling of such realism. Pendleton rides to him and asks how long he can hold, and Hood barely even looks at him and gives a half-hearted salute, because he is too busy watching his Texas infantry get slaughtered in the cornfield. Hancock gets his addition when he confronts the added character of George McClellan (James Parkes) rather unenthusiastically. I will not quote what is said between the two, but McClellan has the air of arrogance about him, and I only wish he got more screen-time, because as a person, he was so complex. There is also a scene revolving Jackson and a close call with a cannonball. However, I will not ruin that for you—you will have to see it for yourself!

Just like in Fredericksburg, Kilrain and Tom have their little wise-crack. The younger of the two says that it would be hard to kill a sergeant (their rank) because there are two men standing in front of them. The old Irishman then says, rather bluntly, “A sergeant only fires his weapon when the men in front of him are killed.” Unfortunately, the two brief scenes in the cornfield is all the fighting we get here. That is the only part of the film that really disappointed me—I guess I was expecting a longer battle scene, but it is my own fault for assuming as much. Nevertheless, the intensity present in just ten minutes or so was so great, that I actually had to watch the scene a second time when it was completed.

When the battle comes to a close, Ames rides and tells the men that they will not be needed. He makes a slight dig at McClellan, for failing to use all his men, and noting how nothing was accomplished by either side, and the losses were so great. It then cuts to Booth, performing on stage, and what he is reciting is played over a pan shot of dead soldiers, with the words matching pretty closely to what is shown. We then see him eating dinner with a lady friend, where he calls Lincoln mad for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. But it is the lady who steals the scene, when she says the truth about the proclamation, and how it did not really free anyone. Later on, we meet the character of Prussian general Heros Von Borcke (Matt Lindquist), who joins the Confederates and is a friend of J.E.B Stuart (Joseph Fuqua). Here he presents Jackson with a new uniform, a gift from Stuart, and makes him try it on. His character is quite funny, and is in one or two more scenes.

Part Three: Fredericksburg

It was at this point in the viewing, when I looked down at the player and saw there was about two more hours left, that I knew I needed some coffee. Thankfully, I was able to put the notebook down for most of this part, because it was left relatively unchanged. There is one line I like from Pendleton, though, when he tells Lee how far away Jackson is, and how quickly they will arrive. Lee asks something to the effect of, “What are his men made of?” The response is, “It’s General Jackson, sir. For him, dawn begins a minute after midnight.”

While the battle scene was pretty much unedited, there was one thing I did not understand. During the shelling of the city, when the Beales’ and Martha’s family are hiding in the cellar, and there is a knock at the door, the line Martha (Donzaleigh Abernathy) speaks is overdubbed and changed. Rather than, “Praise be, it’s young John.” it goes to, “Praise be, it’s Master John.” Perhaps this was to clarify her place as a slave within the household, though she is treated rather well.

During the scene where the generals meet beforehand, there is about five seconds of dialogue added where Stuart remarks to Jackson that he likes his new uniform. Jackson’s mannerisms make him appear more human, and the added footage really takes him down a notch from where he was, making the emotionless commander a bit more likeable, though that is how he was in real life. There is also a small, yet rousing speech given by James Kemper (the late Royce Applegate) to his men before they are deployed to the stonewall at Marye’s Heights.

My only critique here is that I really expected Maxwell to revamp the CGI effects of soldiers marching into battle. They seem to be enhanced slightly, but the superb clarity of Blu Ray does not hide the fact that they all move exactly the same way. This was scoffed at in the original, and I have no doubt it will be scoffed at by many here too.

Part Four: Moss Neck

The one section of the film that I thought the original could have done without was the telling of Jackson and his men and their dealings with the family at Moss Neck Manor. But once again, because the storyline is expanded, it fits right in and rather smoothly. It actually begins toward the tail end of Fredericksburg (I wonder why they did not wait a little longer) when Hancock brings his injured friend to the makeshift hospital. This is where we see the second bit of dialogue removed completely, as Martha’s quoting of the Book of Esther while caring for the soldier was cut out.

After seeing an insertion of Lee receiving news of Burnside’s retreat from Fredericksburg on December 15, Chamberlain is seen riding talking to a general, who I assume is Joseph Hooker, about the failure of the attack. This is where Ron Maxwell makes his cameo, as a subordinate officer in the background. The next new footage is the already released “Steal Away to Jesus” scene where Jim Lewis (Frankie Faison) talks to a fellow black Confederate soldier about how the other man was given his freedom papers right before his former master was killed in battle.

There are now two new major scenes, where Jackson’s newborn baby is baptized, and the other where we finally have meaning given to the music on the soundtrack titled, “No Photographs”. In a quite humorous sketch, photographers arrive to take a picture of Jackson, saying that they initially came for Lee but he would not have it taken until Jackson does. After much deliberation, he announces that he cannot refuse a request from Lee, and has the picture taken, much to his dismay.

Finally, to cap off Part Four, is the best of the Booth scenes. Abraham Lincoln (Christian Kauffman) and Mary Todd (Rosemary Knower) are riding in a carriage on their way to the theater, talking about how wonderful an actor Booth is, and how they are excited to see him perform Macbeth that night. Here, Booth gives the much-anticipated “Dagger of the Mind” soliloquy, where at one point, while raising the dagger, he looks Lincoln directly in the eye. When the performance is through, Booth is backstage smoking a cigar with Harrison when a worker tells him that the President wants to meet him. Booth responds, “Tell that tyrant…that destroyer of civil liberties…that war monger, that I am in dispose. Better yet, tell him nothing. That I have gone for the night.”

Part Five: Chancellorsville

While the battle scene was left alone, as far as I could tell, there is a lot of added dialogue. The first is before and after the Wilderness strategy discussion and the other is Jim Lewis talking to Von Borcke about Jackson’s eccentricities with prayer.

After Jackson is wounded, we see the rest of the footage. John Wilkes Booth makes his exeunt, with a performance in Julius Caesar, as Brutus, in which Chamberlain and his wife Fanny (Mira Sorvino) are in attendance. The two meet Booth and Harrison after the play, but Booth does not speak to the Colonel, just his wife. When they leave, Harrison becomes enamored with Chamberlain’s bravery, and then begins to talk about wanting to become a soldier. He calls it “an honor” to be killed by a man like Chamberlain, and despite Booth trying to dissuade him, it leaves off with Harrison ready to join the army (which he does, because of where he is in Gettysburg).

Jackson’s death has some minor edits as well. There is a small hymn sung while at his deathbed. After he dies, the funeral procession is shortened and the ending is slightly altered—I will not spoil that one for you, because it is quite somber. If you were teary-eyed at the end of the original, you will experience the same here.

Closing Remarks

To give this movie a number rating would not do it justice. Let’s just say that I am more than thrilled with the production that we have all waited eight years to see in its entirety. Personally, I think it was worth the wait, though I wish it was cut by a few years! The story flows a lot better and the cuts made, along with the additions, really help the audience stay focused. This was the masterful epic story that was meant to be told, and I am sure all who enjoyed the theatrical version will be head-over-heels with this one. The only thing that makes me sad about this was the fact that so much had to be put off. Because Conner put so much into the Booth character, and Harrison was so likeable in the sequel, it’s a shame that they had to wait eight years for their performances to be seen, but better late than never I guess.

For the critics that dismissed it the first time, give it another shot. Gods and Generals has been enhanced and revamped from start to finish, and it is worth a try. It will probably take another viewing or two for it all to sink in for me, but I am very happy right now to be able to have reviewed this for all of you—I hope it has wet your appetites even more. There will be no better way to commemorate this 150th anniversary of the American Civil War than to watch this film. There is so much passion behind every scene, not only because of the painstaking attention to detail, but the adventure it must have been to finally produce this project. To Ronald Maxwell, I have just two words to say: “Thank you”.

Own Gods and Generals on Blu Ray May 24th! Until then, some more of the deleted scenes have been put online. Check them out!

EDIT: Click here to read some additional follow-up to this review.

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71 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Extended Director’s Cut of “Gods and Generals”

  1. Ben Kullman

    Thanks for the review OMG&G it sounds great! And everything I could have hoped for, I honestly think I might shed a tear of relief when I finally see it after such a long painful wait. I only wish I could see it with a few of my core group friends. I hope that the critics that did hate it give it a second look and see the film I always knew it was

  2. Blake

    Thank you for the review, Greg. Very interesting. I’m look forward to it even more after seeing the new batch of clips.

    I’m curious, did the Hancock/Armistead scene in California and the Chamberlains’ scene from the soundtrack DVD not make the cut?

  3. Chris

    Great review Greg, now I absolutely can’t wait!

    Can I make a bit of an odd request? You mentioned that the battle scenes at Antietam were a little under ten minutes. Is there any chance you could tell me the exact length of the combined battle sequences? I want to know what to expect.

      1. Chris

        That’s a bit disapointing but then again Bull Run wasn’t much longer and it seemed long enough. Not to mention that if they’re as good as you say they are then it will still be excellent.

      2. Bull Run was longer but it was just stand and shoot. This is back and forth in the cornfield with very quick camera shots of bullets going into the soldiers.

  4. Sandra Culter

    Greg, just wanted you to know that when I clicked on the link to check out the deleted scenes of G & G, I got a message that my computer was infected and my security software had blocked them; trojans, worms etc.

      1. Chris

        Was it security software that you actively know you have, or was it software the webpage claimed you had?

      1. Chris

        You coul;d also just pick up a PS3 for 299.99. They have a built in Blu-Ray player (which is how I intend to watch the film next week :D)

  5. Steven

    Excellent review, Greg! The only thing that disappoints me about it is that the scene with Jackson praying before First Manassas has been cut. I thought that was a particularly powerful piece of acting from Stephen Lang. Oh, well. Guess I’ll have to keep the theatrical version for that scene, but that’s life.

    Still, cannot WAIT to see this! Just eleven days to go. Just hope the world doesn’t end beforehand. 😛

      1. Chris

        LOL! 😛 Don’t worry, according to the site (I was curious) the Rapture is on the May 21 and the world will be destroyed on October 21. So we’ll still be able to watch it while dodging meteorites 😛 😛

      2. Chris

        LOL! That would be an exceedingly long article! :P. You know though now that you mention it, how about an article on the Millerites? You could talk about how these aren’t the first people to be so hilariously wrong :P. History repeats its fools.

  6. Kyle

    So I guess this is a stupid question, but … I know you were bummed when you found out the movie contained *only* an extra hour. Does the one hour do it? Did they make the best of their one hour? Do you not feel *quite* so bad about the loss of the other 1.5 to 2 hours?

    1. I think everyone was expecting 5-6 hours, because of rumors over the years, and even James I. Robertson’s statement in November, but according to Maxwell in the film’s introduction, they only shot about five hours worth of usable footage, so the 4 hours and 40 minutes is very close to that. Like everyone, of course I wanted more, but I am more than happy with the finished product.

  7. Kyle

    Sorry, Greg, I got a couple more questions…

    The movie is PG-13 for extended battle scenes and “disturbing images”. What might these images be?

    Also, being a massive fan of the score, is there more score that was unheard in the theatrical release? I would think there might be, but I (obviously) haven’t seen the blu-ray cut yet.

    Thirdly, I did not read much of your commentary because I don’t want to spoil the movie for myself, but I noticed you mentioned that a couple of things had been shortened/left out. How much of this removal goes on?

    1. 1) The disturbing images are not too bad. The men getting shot in the cornfield are a little more graphic, and there is some blood spilling.

      2) There is not that much new music that I noticed, maybe 10 minutes worth. Can’t be precise. I actually have an article typed on that and saved for tomorrow, suggesting a release of another soundtrack.

      3) Only two major things were cut, both being a character praying. I liked them both originally, but I did not miss them being going. It goes to help the flow.

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  10. Jake

    Greg,

    One thing I’m wondering is why is Chamberlain supposedly attending a play near the end with Fanny? Isn’t he supposed to be quarantined with the rest of the 20th Maine? Is there any such scene explaining this outbreak within their ranks?

    1. Jake

      Oh, and to comment on the supposedly 6-minute Battle of Antietam – that’s just about all there was in the novel, too, so it’s not like Maxwell took extreme expansive liberties with it like he did by creating the entire First Manassas sequence. And even at only 6 minutes – that still TWICE as much of Antietam than was shown att he start of GLORY!

  11. Blake

    Having flipped through the script again, I have a couple more queries I was wondering if you can answer for me. Because, dang it all, I can’t wait till May 24th!!

    1) You mentioned that the previously available scene of Jim Lewis speaking with the other African-American Confederate has been reinstated. I’d like to know, is the earlier scene between the two of them also extant in the director’s cut? It was a conversation between them about this same person’s master and would have taken place after Antietam, within the same sequence as Heros Von Borcke presenting Jackson with the new coat.

    2) In the screenplay some of the sequences during the Moss Neck passage of the film were significantly rearranged in the theatrical cut — and, I feel — to the slight detriment of the story’s progression. In script form, the winter quarters passage after the “Silent Night” montage, which ended with Chamberlain’s letter to Fanny, was as follows: Jackson’s execution of the deserters; the Confederate and Yankee trading in the middle of the Rappahannock (the rebels were listening to a different song being sung by the Federals on the opposite side of the river, and NOT “Silent Night”); the Jane Beale scene in Jackson’s cabin; the “Bonnie Blue Flag” scene; and then Chamberlain’s conversation with his brother on slavery.

    This is in the nitpicking realm, to be sure, but I’m an editor as well as moviegoer and my curiosity has the better of me. I also wonder if the chronology in the Harpers Ferry sequence at the beginning of the film has been somewhat revised (such as Jackson’s “Men of the valley …” speech to his soldiers coming at the beginning of that passage, instead of his meeting with Jenkins and his son).

    1. Yes, there is an earlier scene with Jim Lewis and the newly “freed” man from the Steal Away to Jesus scene.

      There is also an extension of the Bonnie Blue Flag scene, where they make fun of Lincoln.

  12. Kyle

    I wonder how close this version is to the version originally submitted back in ’02 to the MPAA. Initially, it received the R; Maxwell had been trying very hard for a PG-13 rating, so he was really surprised. The MPAA gave Maxwell the problem points, Maxwell ratcheted them down, resubmitted it, and received the lowered rating.

    So Greg, you may be right about the MPAA lowering it’s standards (I’m almost certain you’re right, unfortunately, with all the trash let out in theatres today). I’ll bet this is really close, if not, the original R version.

    1. It is a shame, and I do hope that the Antietam scene is not was caused the R rating. It’s brutal, yes, but there is not a large amount of blood, and compared to the crap in theaters today that get by with PG-13, it’s really nothing.

      1. Blake

        I always figured it got the R rating because of the 20th Maine fellow being decapitated by shrapnel.

      2. That’s right, Ben Kullman, an extra, told me about that scene (I believe it was when they were waiting in reserve at Antietam). I was upset to see that it did not make it into the director’s cut.

  13. Kyle

    Greg, maybe you’ve said (or implied) somewhere, but are you pro-south or pro-north? Or do you have another take on it? You *seem* to have pro-southern sympathies at times…but you live in NY, so I’m not sure. 🙂

    1. Was born in New York, currently live in New Jersey. I guess you can say that I am kinda split down the middle. I love the southern generals, have a Confederate flag on my wall (along with a 20th Maine and CSA Irish brigade flag), and will defend their cause until I’m blue in the face against anyone that says they fought solely for slavery. There are many Union figures I respect and look up to as well, such as Chamberlain, Hancock, and Meagher. I am not a fan of Lincoln’s politics yet I cannot help but respect the man and father, who was a fascinating character.

  14. Paris Stachtiaris

    Great review. Can’t wait till to see the extended version of “Gods and Generals” myself. I’m a little disappointed that they took out Jackson’s prayer on the eve of Manassas. It was a short and beautiful prayer that I didn’t find to be overly religious. The prayer capurted the man’s belief and made the line he would later tell Sandie Pendleton why he was not afraid to die in battle.

    1. Kyle

      Chances are, if I have enough time on my hands, I’ll make my own edit of the movie and put that prayer back in…and whatever other removed footage I can. hehehe But I have yet to see the film, obviously, so my thinking might change.

  15. Robert

    Do you know if the Intermission point is different in the Director’s Cut than it was in the Theatrical and previous DVD versions?

  16. Sharon Ramirez

    Just a quick question. Does anyone know if G&G Director’s Cut is coming on DVD as well or just Blu-ray? I really hope it’s coming on DVD as I don’t have a Blu-ray player…..I know, I know, I’m dreadfully behind the times, LOL.

      1. Sharon Ramirez

        Bummer, OK, thanks for the response. Maybe I’ll have to get into the 21st century and purchase a Blu-ray player…….OR wait for July 4, but that’s such a LONG way away. 🙂

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  18. Anna Day

    Hey I originally saw the theatrical release and loved it. I loved the respect showed towards the South and to Christianity. I makes me sad to hear that the prayer scenes could be gone. Have they removed all traces of what I loved about the original release? Does it still respect Stonewall and his faith? Please let me know.

    1. There is still plenty of focus on Stonewall and his faith. His reading of Corinthians with his wife remains, as does his conversation about haven before he dies.

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  21. Chris

    I noticed that the two scenes of the irish brigade in the streets of fredericksburg were not added. Maybe b/c they didn’t want to confuse anyone further since St. Claire Mulholland didn’t command the Irish Brigade in the attack.

    I heard there was also filming with the Irish Brigade getting their sprigs of green, too bad that wasnt in there either.

  22. Peter

    I wonder if this “new” and improved version of Gods and Generals will be able to build the momentum needed to get The Last Full Measure made?

  23. Jessica

    Greg,
    I can’t remember if I have seen this movie, the original or otherwise. I don’t even know if you still monitor this blog, but I have a question. With the Christmas season here I keep hearing Silent Night. Every time I hear it I think of a battle scene where it is being played while soldiers are dying. But for the life of me I can’t remember the movie. Is it God’s and Generals?
    If you still monitor this, please let me know before I drive myself mad. 🙂
    Thank you,
    Jessica

    1. There is a “Silent Night” scene in G & G, but it’s not overlaid with soldiers dying. It’s sung in the Corbett’s home when they have all the top Confederate generals over for Christmas, then it begins to fade away as the trading scene on the Rappahannock begins. Hope it helps!

      GC

      1. Jessica

        Thank you Greg, but unfortunately it did not help. I still cannot think of the movie. Thank you anyways.
        Merry Christmas!

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