The other day, I concluded the first of a four-part lecture series on the American Civil War for Brookdale. We started with the causes of the war and ended right at the start of the Peninsula Campaign. When it was over, a few participants came up to me to chat. Mainly a greeting, maybe saying they enjoyed it, or shared a trip they took to a battlefield. But the last person waited until everyone was gone. She said she had a question. “I didn’t want to ask this earlier because you know how people get, but do you see any similarities between now and right before the Civil War began?” My short answer was yes. She was no doubt referring to a few slides I had covering the antebellum years of our history, regarding differences in society. We seem to forget that the lines were not just drawn between pro and anti slavery, but the differences in lifestyles and views aside from that were just too great. Part of me wanted to relate it to now, but it was the first class and, well, you know how people get.
It’s been nearly three years since my last post about Gods and Generals. If you go way back, you may remember my 2011 series when I blogged about the release of the highly anticipated extended director’s cut. This past July was the fifth anniversary of when I was invited to Manassas, Virginia by Warner Brothers to cover the official premiere at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. It was one of the defining moments of my life, and I am proud to call friends a few actors who I watched on-screen since my childhood. Anyway, I have actually stumbled onto some new footage. You’ve probably never seen it. Heck, anyone aside from director Ron Maxwell and those in the editing room probably haven’t seen it. Except for James Horan, who played Col. Arthur Cummings in the First Manassass battle scene. I was looking over some of my old work (I interviewed him in September of 2011; one of many cast and crew members I had the pleasure of speaking to in my blogging adventures) and one thing led to another, and I was on Horan’s website. I started watching a highlight reel of his acting, and lo and behold, there was a clip from Gods and Generals I had never seen before.
On April 5th, the Indiegogo campaign for a new Civil War short film titled Our War will be marching into action, in need of fan support to help subsidize the cost of production. The movie is to be directed and co-written by J.D Mayo, who has extensive work with independent films, as well as Civil War historian and reenactor Steven Hancock, who will be producing the film as well as writing the screenplay. Having known Mr. Hancock for many years, I can attest that his passion and knowledge for the American Civil War will make for an interesting film project, which we can be sure will be as authentic and historically accurate as possible. Pre-production has already been underway, with the filming of a teaser trailer featuring the star of the film Ryan Daniel Thompson, who appeared in two episodes of the hit AMC historical drama Turn: Washington’s Spies.
I was first introduced to George Ryan by my friend Jeff Huber about five years ago. We all served on the board of trustees for a museum, which sometimes was the equivalent of fighting a war. If there was ever something that needed to be said, or something right that needed to be stuck up for, George was the one to do it. We quickly became friends, all three of us sharing a love of the American Civil War. He oversaw accounting for the museum and soon became my family’s accountant. I don’t think there are many people who looked forward to seeing their tax guy in April as much as me, because every time was cause for a conversation about the Civil War in some way. His office contained paintings and artifacts which I used to marvel at. He could talk about anything to anyone, but we more often than not got on the subject of Gettysburg. He used to take scout troops out there camping, and always looked forward to it.
I bet you missed it, didn’t you? How lucky you are. As I sit down to write this, I am indeed still wondering if fortune smiled down upon me whilst I was looking through the channels for programs to DVR and saw an Ancient Aliens episode flip across the scene, and somewhere, my brain caught the words “Civil War”. Ha! I thought. It must have just been something else. That is how my eyes saw it. As I continued to scan, I decided to go back, and sure enough there was the episode from this latest season titled, “Aliens and the Civil War”. I gasped. I laughed. Then, I cried. I decided to save it for a later date so I could sit there, laptop in hand, and devote my entire attention to a minute-by-minute blog of what was going on during the show. It was in 2011 when I took this same approach, after stumbling on “Aliens and the Old West”. It was this episode which tried to argue that Harrison Ford’s newly released Cowboys and Aliens might be more fact than fiction. If you think that previous post and this one coming up now are all part of some gigantic, three-weeks-late, history-nut April Fool’s Day joke, you are wrong. These episodes really did air. You can catch them on re-runs.
Nearly 150 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln remains a polarizing figure. To some, he is the greatest president the United States of America ever had, a man who freed the slaves and saved the Union. To others, he was a power-hungry tyrant, who invaded his own country and used back-room, sometimes scandalous politics to get what he wanted. No matter what one’s personal view of him, however, all can agree on two things: he was a master politician, and a deeply conflicted man, both internally and his public persona. No person of such high standing in American history has had his views gradually change to the point of nearly a complete reversal. No president has ever been in office in the midst of such terrible and chaotic internal strife.
It is difficult today to look back upon Abraham Lincoln and give him a singular label for what he should be remembered for, but almost always, it boils down to the slavery issue, and how he had the Emancipation Proclamation drafted and then his fight to get the 13th Amendment passed to free the slaves prior to the conclusion of the American Civil War. However, as is the case with many figures when studied through the looking glass back through history, people see what they want to see. Lincoln is a much more complicated figure to study, because at the same time this country was experiencing its single greatest moment of political dissent, Lincoln was dissenting against his own government and party, and sometimes, even himself. His views, which began as quite simple ones began to change and morph over time to what we know them as today, but to ignore the journey that he went through would be a disservice to both the man and the history of this nation.
Yesterday, the month-long Kickstarter campaign to finance the proposed Civil War mini-series (or at least, a film), To Appomattox, came to an end, with the production staff failing to reach its unprecedented $2.5 million request. While the project generated a lot of buzz online, in the end, only $77,674 dollars was raised, or roughly 3% of what they were asking. The campaign did garner media attention on the national level as well as 436 backers (including four who purchased above the $4,500 level, something that is impressive), but the question we now have to ask is, does this recent financing attempt and subsequent failure spell the end of more than ten years of pushing To Appomattox? Michael Beckner, according to some social media comments, seems to think that he can still draw network interest over the summer by showing them how many peopled back the project, in addition to more than 5,000 followers on Facebook. However, no matter how passionate the fan base may be (myself included; I pledged $100) networks are only interested in making money, and will no doubt be skeptical to take on such a massive project since no one else has bitten for more than a decade. Perhaps we knew, deep down, that $2.5 million was a lot to ask, no matter what the subject matter, but I think it is rather disappointing that such an underwhelming amount was raised.