Yes, “Ancient Aliens” Did Just Have an Episode on the Civil War

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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.

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“Lincoln” Watch: Film to be Rated PG-13, and the Ribald Humor of Honest Abe?

“Lincoln” Watch is how we are going to keep tabs on anything and everything related to the upcoming film, as we wind down to its November 9 World Premiere, and November 16 wide release. How excited are you?

As expected, the MPAA handed down a PG-13 rating for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. To me, this is a very important part of the film’s potential success, because it would have affected the size of the possible viewing audience, and whether or not that film would be available in schools for use as a teaching tool after it gets released to DVD. The actual description of the rating reads as: “For an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language”. So it appears that people are going to see a bit more war than they originally thought, and a realistic depiction at that. I also want to make mention that people on message boards seem to have been thrown into a tizzy at the fact that part of the rating is due to strong language. While most people are having fun with it (“Hey, maybe Mr. Lincoln drops the F-bomb!”), some are raising some serious points as to what the language could be. PG-13 movies are allowed one usage of the F-word to still retain their rating, but I highly, highly doubt that word will be used here. Someone else brought up the possibility of the N-word being used, which could fit in with the intense scenes of debating about the slavery issue. Still, I do not think I have seen a movie made after the late 1970’s that used that word and was not rated-R. Why are the tiny particulars of this so important? Well, to be honest, they’re really not, but it does give us something to talk about, like maybe whether or not some of Abraham Lincoln’s bawdy jokes will make it into the film.

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Civil War Journal: New Jersey’s Anti-Union Feelings a Microcosm of the Copperhead Movement

Part of the reason why I started “The Copperhead Chronicles”, many postings of which having to do with more of the politics than the actual upcoming Civil War film that led to its creation, and have posted articles like this, was to expand our knowledge on a subject that very rarely gets any mention, or taught in schools, if not for maybe a one sentence fragment in the biased history textbooks we make our young students slave over. This subject is a general anti-war, anti-Lincoln movement in the northern states, more specifically falling to a political group known as the Copperheads, which will have prominence in Ron Maxwell’s film, slated to begin production this month. Many in this ultra-politically correct world cannot fathom any northerner being against the so-called “Great Emancipator” or his little war, and unfortunately, many do not even get the chance to give it much thought. Proponents of the Copperheads have been buried and kept out of sight in the historical record. George Brinton McClellan, an eventual governor of New Jersey, the ill-fated, egotistical Union General who ran for president against Lincoln in 1864 as a Copperhead supported candidate, has been relegated to nothing more than a caricature of how to not conduct a military campaign. Meanwhile, another one of the movement’s leaders, Clement Vallandigham, has become just “that guy who accidentally shot himself to death while trying to prove a point in a courtroom in 1871”.

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Civil War: Coming to a Meme Near You

Who would have thought something so simple as a funny or awkward picture being placed under a couple of captions would have caused such a sensation? They are called “memes” for those of you hiding under the proverbial internet rock, and whether you know it or not, you have probably all seen one in some way, shape, or form. So I thought of trying to tie a meme in to history and the Civil War, and sure enough, when we want to make fun of someone who fought in the War Between the States, Union General George B. McClellan quickly comes to mind. You can file these under “Maniacal McClellan” if you do a search for these on QuickMeme, and if you want to, can add to the album with your own creativity. The first of these two will be there, while the third is only on my account because it does not share the same title. Enjoy!

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Civil War Journal: Who Were the Copperheads?

As we near closer to the production of Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead, I thought it best to explain just what exactly a Copperhead is, because this is going to be a film dealing with a portion of the Civil War that has never been tackled on film, and a nearly forgotten part of our American history in itself. We have all seen the battlefields and men dying, and even the politics behind it, and why certain things happened the way they did, but what of the anti-war movement in the north, yes, the north, of all places? There are many people out there, probably including some Civil War buffs themselves that did not even know a sentiment like that even existed. A “Copperhead” was the nickname of a group of Peace Democrats who lived up north that were in opposition to Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the war effort. Some felt that the southern states had a right to secede while others just wanted to force a truce with the rebellious states in order to end the most costly war in American history. In going against Lincoln, many northern patriots looked at them as traitors, and called them a derisive term for back then, snakes, specifically, Copperheads. At first, this terminology was seen as insulting, but then the Peace Democrats decided to flaunt their new nickname, many wearing copper pins or pennies sewn on to their jackets and clothing. For a more in-depth look at this movement, I will post a quote from the Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War, by Patricia Faust:

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The FNYTSF Mailbag (2/9/12): A Gettysburg Glitch, and a Defense of McClellan

Every once in a while, I will get a question or comment from someone in an email. More often than not, it is something insignificant, like asking advice or requesting information, things along those lines. But in the last week or so, I have gotten two emails that I think deserve to be read by all, because to answer a question in one is something that could interest other readers, and the second one is a very well thought out statement regarding a much-hated Civil War general, who could probably use someone coming to his defense. Below are the emails:

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Interview with Author and Historian J. David Petruzzi

What exactly constitutes someone being considered an “expert”? There are many qualities you can contrive in order to define the word, but I am pretty sure, that at the end of the day, no matter what you think of, historian and author J. David Petruzzi would always be considered one when it comes to the American Civil War. He is the author of five books on the subject, including the freshly released New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook, which has been described as a must-read for diehards and newbies alike. With another trip to Gettysburg coming up in the next couple of weeks for me (have not yet decided on the dates), I think I am going to pick up a copy and take it along with me, because it seems to be the real deal according to the reviews.

All of Petruzzi’s hard work has led him to be selected as a historical adviser to the highly anticipated television miniseries To Appomattox (2013), which has been mentioned a few times on this blog. With many fans out there wanting to learn more about it, and his role, I asked him to shed some light on that, as well as his general opinion on various aspects of the Civil War and films made about it. He is also the author of other related works, including walking and driving tours of Gettysburg, One Continuous Fight, which details Lee’s retreat, and finally, Plenty of Blame to Go Around, which currently holds distinction as the only book dedicated entirely to Confederate cavalry General J.E.B Stuart’s famous, and controversial ride, from Virginia to Gettysburg. Mr. “Call Me J.D” Petruzzi also maintains a blog called “Hoofbeats and Cold Steel”, which I discovered after stumbling upon his review of the History Channel Gettysburg documentary from late May—both of us had choice words to say about that one, while his expertise took it even further! Below is our interview, which we conducted by email this afternoon:

GC:You are serving as a historical adviser to the upcoming mini-series To Appomattox. What exactly will your job entail?

JDP: First, I’m really humbled and honored to be a part of this, which I truly believe will be the media event of the Sesquicentennial.  It’s all been very exciting, because I’ve never been involved in something of this scope and magnitude.  My initial duties a few months back entailed two things: First, I was asked to read the entire script and offer historical accuracy suggestions.  As an aside, I was hooked after the first few pages.  From the very first scene in the first episode to the last scene of the last episode, it is an amazing story.  Writer Michael Frost Beckner is a life-long student of history (he also has ancestors who fought in the war) and his research went extremely deep, so the writing was already very accurate from a historian’s point of view.  I just caught some things here and there and helped Michael do a few rewrites and modifications.  Second, I assisted in assembling a world-class team of consultants, each of them with a particular specialty.  We have a uniform expert, a flag expert, personality experts, battle/campaign experts, and so forth.  We’re all experienced enough to know that some historical boo-boos will creep in here and there, but our team is comprised of the finest in their fields.  Viewers will have the confidence knowing that in each scene, within the context of the dramatic storytelling, every word uttered by every character – every item in the shot – every military action portrayed – will be historically accurate and plausible. My primary duty now is to bind the script of each episode, and begin making a collection of them with all of my historical notes and supporting material with them.  For example, each episode, page-wise, runs about 65-70 pages.  By the time I’m done, each of my episode binders will consist of about 200 or more pages.  I’ll also be collating the material of the consultants.  Therefore, as each and every scene is being blocked and prepared, we’ll have information at hand which gives us all of the historical accuracy details ready and available.  If there’s a flag or flags in a scene, we’ll have the right ones.  If Robert E. Lee, during the Mexican War, is in a scene, it will list what he looked like at the time, and exactly what his uniform should look like.  When U.S. Grant’s home, “Hardscrabble,” appears in an exterior shot, there’s a photograph of it. Michael and I speak just about every day, often several times a day.  He has me participate in just about everything having to do with the historical environment of the series, and that means assisting with things like enlisting corporations that provided consumer goods during the war to be sponsors and/or advertisers.  I’ve assisted in preparing printed presentations submitted to many entities having connections with the series.  It’s been great fun, and I enjoy helping any way I can. Once pre-production begins in the spring of next year, my full-time work begins.  From pre-production through the end of filming, I’ll be full-time on the set.  I very much anticipate that, and it’ll be a lot of hard, long work but a great deal of fun.  As Historical Adviser, I’ll be working personally with the actors and actresses, helping them understand their characters and hopefully in some small way to help them give a believable performance.  Michael has written into this story no caricatures, no icons up on pedestals – these historical figures are shown as exactly who I believe them to have been in real life… human, fallible, successful, and failures.  Angels didn’t sing when Lee walked into a room, but his men loved him and his enemies respected him.  Grant wasn’t a slosh who spent all his time on the floor passed out (though some would have you believe that).  He had only periodic struggles with alcohol, and that because he was often very lonely – he dearly loved and often ached for his wife and family – and his internal conflicts with his failures in life.  I think when folks are finished watching this series, they will come away feeling that they understand Grant and all of these men and women much more clearly. On the set I’ll also be coordinating, as the head of the Historical Department, the efforts of consultants and the crew assembling sets, reenactor/extra coordinators, battle scenes, etc.  Basically, any way that I can assist the producers, director, and all departments regarding history and accuracy.  When I don’t know an answer, I have to find it.  But as I mentioned earlier, Michael has written such a wonderful script that my job won’t be nearly as difficult as it otherwise could be. Once filming and editing is complete, I hope to continue to be involved as Michael’s ambitious list of “extras” are worked on.  We plan to include, in the resulting DVD boxed set that will be released, to have a “Behind the Scenes” documentary, mini historical documentaries, educational tools, etc.  We really want the entire To Appomattox experience to be just that – an experience.  We don’t want it to be over for the audience once the final episode begins.  Truly, it is then that the real learning and teaching begins.

GC: As it stands in pre-production, what are your hopes for what this series will accomplish?

JDP: I touched on that a bit in my previous answer – I  hope that viewers come to begin to understand just in what environment the war took place, and who these people were who fought it, planned it, and those who waited at home and worried.  Today, we look at a picture of U.S. Grant and see a black and white, detached-from-us-today photograph.  But what was he thinking at West Point?  What was his relationship with James Longstreet?  What were his struggles with civilian life failures, alcohol, and loneliness?  What was it like to be in a room with George McClellan before or during the Civil War at particular times?  How did all these main characters – Grant, Longstreet, Lee, William Sherman – and all of their mutual friends interact with each other over several decades?  What did they laugh about?  What did they worry over?  What did the war do to their relationships?  All of these and more are dramatic limbs among the dramatic spine of the series, which is Grant’s memoirs. I also hope that it will go a long way toward getting young people more involved and interested.  It is they who will carry on the work of understand the war properly after us.  We are, after all, within the Sesquicentennial and interest in everything about the war is at an all-time high.  If one child turns to a parent and says “Let’s go visit Gettysburg – or Shiloh – or Chickamauga” then it’ll have all been worth it. Further, to be quite blunt, I believe the series and the portrayal within will knock a few pedestals out from under some “iconic” figures – as it SHOULD be.  It’s not an intentional effort to make any of these historical figures any less than what they were… quite the opposite, in fact it is to portray them (most often in their very own words) as they really were.  They laughed, they cried, they stumbled, they were successful, they failed.  And many of them leashed Hell upon the earth and to each other.  An enormous percentage of Civil War soldiers died on battlefields utterly alone.  In the dirt.  In their own blood.  Perhaps clutching a picture of their wife or a child.  And their everlasting legacy on Earth was to be tossed into a trench, their identity never to be known again.  Many families didn’t have even a grave to mourn over.  Thousands of soldiers today still lie in parts unknown, all but forgotten.  Theirs and many like stories are another foundation of this series.

GC: What is your favorite Civil War movie of all-time, and why?

I love so many – The Horse Soldiers, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Glory, you name it.  But probably my favorite is Gettysburg, based on the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels.  Much of the dialogue is just plain silly, but it was Shaara’s interpretation of those characters and they’re simply wonderful.  Admittedly, the movie has set standards by which many reenactors and living historians now do their craft.  For instance, Longstreet never wore the huge hat (it should have been given its own zip code) that actor Tom Berenger wore in the movie.  Longstreet typically wore a regular kepi.  I’m told that while in the town of Gettysburg prior to filming, Berenger went into the store Dirty Billy’s Hats and asked for the biggest hat in the place.  Folks tried to tell Berenger that it would be inaccurate for Longstreet, but he wore it anyway.  Now, when you see one of the dozens of Longstreet portrayers around, they’re all wearing one of those huge hats for fear of not being “recognized.”  Many of them know better, but it is “Longstreet pop culture” to wear a big hat even though it’s utterly silly and inaccurate.  But if a Longstreet portrayer showed up at a reenactment wearing the correct kepi, no one would know who he was.  And that’s understandable.  But in our series, Longstreet wears the right clothes during the war, and none of the uniforms will look like they were just pulled off a Hollywood wardrobe rack. But all of that aside, every time the movie Gettysburg is on, I can’t take my eyes off it.  All of the actors are simply fabulous and I utterly enjoy watching it.  And if the pre-Pickett’s Charge bombardment and the Charge itself doesn’t touch your heart, then you need to check your pulse immediately.

GC: You recently just published another book, “The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook”. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

JDP: Thanks for asking about that – folks who know me know that I never turn down an opportunity for shameless self-promotion!  In the Savas Beatie “Handbook” series, it’s a neat little companion to The Complete Gettysburg Guide that I also did with master mapmaker Steven Stanley.  It contains a lot of material that we couldn’t include in the Guide – things like Gettysburg Campaign facts, trivia, personalities, and even Medal of Honor awardees.  There’s a photographic study of the entire five weeks of the campaign.  There’s also a comprehensive Order of Battle that is the most accurate and up-to-date available.  Steve designed the entire book for our publisher, did all of the maps (he’s the best in the business bar none) and it’s simply gorgeous to look at.  Steve and I are working hard on many more books – such as a Maryland Campaign Guide and others – and I’m simply blessed to be partnering with him on these projects.  Between the two of us, Steve has more talent in his little finger than I’ll ever have, period.

GC: Back in May you wrote a scathing review of the History Channel documentary on Gettysburg (as did I). How is it possible, with so much information out there, for a major production to be so misinformed and inaccurate?

JDP: Oh yeah, I ripped that show and to think of the thing still makes me ill today.  It was that bad.  How something like that can air?  I think much of it has to do with marketing and trying to appeal to an audience which today is pretty inflicted with ADD.  And I also know that the writers and producers didn’t consult with the historical advisers and consultants beyond just their few minutes of speaking throughout the episode.  If they had – consulted with knowledgeable folks like Garry Adelman and such – most or all of the garbage that aired wouldn’t have seen the light of day.  It was filmed in South Africa literally on the cheap, so the terrain looked nothing like Gettysburg (unless Gettysburg is comprised mainly of acres and acres of sand and pine stands and I’ve somehow missed that).  If you read my review of the show, you’ll see that I point out an error committed just about every minute, and I actually didn’t include most of them.  The show was very, very hard to watch, and my wife kept running into the room thinking that I was screaming in physical pain rather than mental.  I’ve seen only a couple positive comments about that show, and universally everyone trashed it.  All the CGI and graphics done by the Scott Brothers studio – which was brought onto the project only at the very last second in order to do the CGI and attach their names to it – couldn’t save that show from making everyone’s eyes bleed.  The History channel can only do the right thing by burning all copies of that program and never allowing it to see the light of day ever again. It also bears mentioning that such historically deficient tripe places even more expectations on us and our series, and we plan to rise to it.  Glaring historical inaccuracies in personalities and the set will only distract viewers, and we don’t want that.  We want everyone – student and scholars of history to those who know very little about it – to enjoy it and learn from it.  The demographics of our expected audience are enormously broad.  Not only will Civil War folks watch this, but, for instance, fans of Rascal Flatts (who is doing the music score and acting in it), fans of NASCAR drivers participating, and fans of the particular actors and actresses.  We have a heavy responsiblity to each of them to do this right and honorably.

GC: Lastly, aside from Gettysburg which you have invested so much time in, which is your favorite battle? Who is your favorite general? And why?

JDP: I dearly love Antietam.  It’s so quiet and non-commercial there, a stark contract to many things about Gettysburg.  Watching the sun set from Little Round Top is always awesome, but watch the sun come UP from the area of Burnside’s Bridge, and now you’re talking my language.  The area of the Cornfield there always gives me goosebumps, and I can’t help when walking the length of the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) and just nearly tearing up as I look around an envision all those dead young boys of both sides that were in and around that.  Because of my interest in the cavalry, another favorite field is Brandy Station.  For us “Cav” folks, Brandy is the Motherload.  There, the cavalry of both sides brought “Thunder on the Plains.”  When I’m standing up on Buford’s Knoll or near Fleetwood Heights, nothing else in the world matters at that moment. If you asked others about my favorite general, they’d all probably assume John Buford.  And they’re probably right.  I admire the guy.  Soft-spoken and reserved, but he’d dangle you from the nearest locust tree if he suspected you just didn’t smell right.  I’d have loved to have been on a battlefield with him.  I also like Winfield Hancock.  Guy always had a clean white shirt on no matter what, and he could swear a blue streak said to have made flower wilt at his feet, and if any ladies had been present they’d have fainted dead away.  His men felt invincible near him, and that fella would have been one to have shared a wee nip with.  I bet he had stories. I also like to study the cads, the scoundrels.  Speaking of having a whiskey with someone, Dan Sickles would probably be the ultimate party dude.  And a fellow like Judson Kilpatrick fascinates me.  Snarky, shrill, but hell-bent-for-leather.  It’s why Sherman wound him up and turned him lose.  Kilpatrick had a habit of getting just about everyone and everything around him send to Providence, but his personal traits are both confusing and fascinating.  Truly, I like ’em all.  Everytime I discover an officer or common soldier with an interesting story, I just have to know more.  That’s what keeps this so exciting and endless – there are quite literally millions of stories out there, and millions more to find. Among those millions of stories, our To Appomattox series will bring some of them to people’s living rooms – and hopefully their hearts.  It is there that the seed of curiosity is born.

I would like to thank J.D for an absolutely enlightening interview! Reading and digesting this really makes me excited for 2013, when we will see this television series released. I had been trying to keep up with it, but with different updates being posted daily from their Facebook Page, I figured one day, I would just sit down and browse through all of it. This interview has given me just-cause to do that, because I don’t think I have felt this much excitement since 2003, when as a 12 year old, I waited with anticipation for my favorite Civil War film, Gods and Generals, to reach theaters. I cannot promise to provide as much coverage for To Appomattox as I did with G & G, but this is as good a place as any to start. Many thanks again to J. David for taking the time to type all of this out and send it over—this could have been a book in itself!

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.

Civil War Journal: An Interview with Author and Historian James M. McPherson

When it comes to historians, James M. McPherson has a résumé that the rest of us can only dream about. Having put more than fifty years into studying the American Civil War, Mr. McPherson has authored over twenty books on the subject, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume which served as a part of Oxford’s History of the United States, Battle Cry of Freedom. More familiar to me would happen to be a book he wrote in 1982, Ordeal by Fire, which was transformed into a textbook for the excellent Civil War class I took last semester (HIST 235 for those who may want to take/audit the class at Brookdale). To this day, it is the only book I have purchased at my college that was actually worth the money.

Aside from writing tremendous pieces such as the aforementioned books, and some of his other notable works, What they Fought For: 1861-1865, For Cause and Comrades, and Tried by War, he has also authored books aimed towards children, such as Fields of Fury, which I actually enjoyed myself, even a 19. Other than publications, he has also appeared on television numerous times, including slots on Biography and The American Experience. He is currently a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University and is the foremost Civil War historian in America, and it was an honor to be able to conduct this brief email interview with him. Below is our conversation:

GC: The thought of 600,000 Americans dying over the fact that cooler heads did not prevail in the years leading up to 1861 is appalling . Is there anything that Abraham Lincoln or any of the other politicians could have done differently to prevent the American Civil War?

JM: The Southern states could have accepted Lincoln’s election and remained in the United States.  Lincoln could have acquiesced in Southern secession and allowed the United States to be broken up.  The Confederate government could have refrained from firing on Fort Sumter.  Lincoln could have pulled the troops out of Fort Sumter before it was fired upon.  Any of these actions might have prevented the war.

GC: In your mind who was the best general in each army? And who is your personal favorite?

JM: Lee and Grant. Grant [is my favorite].

GC: Blame is always thrown in so many different directions for why the Confederates lost the battle of Gettysburg. What do you think was the real reason?

JM: To explain why the Confederates lost the battle of Gettysburg, I have always liked Pickett’s own response to that question several years after the war: “I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

GC: I find George McClellan’s tendencies, personal letters, and actions to be almost comic. Do you feel the same way about the “Young Napoleon”, and what do you think was his biggest mistake?

JM: I think his letters were tragicomic.  His biggest mistake was to patronize Lincoln and not to pay attention to Lincoln’s repeated advice to him.

GC: Out of all the different movies made about the Civil War, which one is your favorite, and why?

JM: Glory. It gets at a key issue of the war better than any other movie.

GC: A new theory (if I can call it that) out there is that John Wilkes Booth was not killed after he escaped, and that the soldiers shot the wrong man and lied so that the nation would be at ease about the Lincoln assassination. Do you give any credence to this notion?

JM: It is actually an old theory, and it is absolute rubbish.

GC: Lastly, because you have studied the Civil War for so long, where is the level of interest today compared to when you first started writing about it in the 1960’s? Is battlefield preservation where you would like it to be?

JM: The Civil War probably had a level of interest in the first half of the 1960s similar to today’s, but it declined thereafter until it began to rise again in the late 1980s until it is reaching another peak right now at the beginning of the sesquicentennial.  I have been gratified by the amount of success in battlefield preservation during recent years, but there is always room for even greater efforts and successes in this endeavor.

I would like to thank Mr. McPherson for taking the time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview. I probably don’t have to recommend his work to anyone, because even if you are a newbie to the Civil War, chances are you have read something by him, whether it was a book or an article. His most recent work was a biography of Abraham Lincoln, which came out in 2009.

Brookdale: Where do I Park My Car?

This will be in the next issue of the Brookdale College newspaper. Just wanted to post it here first because no one reads the paper and half the students don’t know of its existence.

Caesar had Gaul, Alexander had Persia, Hannibal conquered the Alps, and Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. But for Brookdale students, they have the Lincroft campus parking lot, a task so insurmountable that all it needs are rings of fire, spikes on the ground, and patrolling storm troopers with machine guns whose only orders are to shoot first, ask questions later. I enter the traffic circle on Newman Springs Road, not knowing what lies ahead. Will I fulfill my destiny and find a spot within twenty minutes, or do I give the nasty old woman I had for a driving instructor when I was 17 a run for her money?

In a way I feel like General George McClellan, attempting to invade Richmond on his Peninsula Campaign in 1862: I ride very slowly, gauging all my options. I take my time, searching every parking lot aimlessly while the inexperienced Robert E. Lee waits for me to make my move. Where will he let me park, I wonder? Shall it be lot one or lot two? Maybe four or six? Wait a second, this isn’t the Civil War, it’s a sadistic version of The Price is Right, only the price is never right because the only price there is comes in the form of the gasoline I burn trying to ride to Boston and back looking for a spot. Just like McClellan on the peninsula, I fail miserably. I’m no Napoleon, I know, but I feel intelligent enough to be able to do this. McClellan’s horses were tired, his men were hungry, his cannons were broken, and his enemy waited for him with an enormously overestimated amount of men, just like my tires wear out, gas runs low, and my brain melts and oozes out of my ears as I search for the astoundingly elusive answer I so desperately seek.

It has become so bad that some days I leave an hour before class, and for my math class on Mondays and Wednesdays, which runs only an hour and fifteen minutes, I find that I spend more time in the car and walking than actually doing the math in a class I paid handsomely to attend. I don’t mind a long walk, especially in the spring when we can all use a nice breath of a fresh air, but since Mother Nature seems to have it in for us this winter, and snow is mounting in the five degree January temperature, it is not an enjoyable feat, having to walk a mile round trip from the parking spot to the building. In fact, I have stopped looking close to the buildings because I will only annoy myself further. I will not let the Parking Lot Gods trick me into playing their game; I will end the misery rather early, and settle for a spot near the reflecting pool of the Washington Monument.

Should the federal government decide to abolish the death penalty on a national level and look for a punishment of equal or greater value, they should let prisoners on death row wander around the Brookdale parking lot on Monday mornings at 11 am. Within an hour, they would be begging for mercy. Then, if the college front office needs another course for the semester plan, they can have Driving 101: Navigating Lincroft like Magellan, in which students can, for credit, try to park their car in lot four on Wednesdays at 10:30. Should they succeed, they are to receive their diploma and a 4.0 GPA immediately, not having to take any additional courses. The credits they receive will then only be transferable to Harvard and Yale.

But all this complaining would be moot without a solution, correct? It would be like a history major having to take math and chemistry classes; the professors can throw all the numbers they want at you, but at the end of the day it is still meaningless and irrelevant to life and the future. What the heads of Brookdale should do to fix this problem is to first, chop down all of the trees by the main entrance way of the campus. Since when have humans ever cared about nature anyway? Cut them all down; after all, it’s not like they produce breathable oxygen or anything like that. The second option is to fill in the bordering lake. There would be no harm in that because there are plenty of fish in the oceans that haven’t been killed off or contaminated by mercury. Lastly, there is the possibility of demolishing the entire campus and making room that way, but I guess that would defeat the purpose of a parking lot, right?

Basically, if you catch my drift, this is a problem that has no solution, and that is an even bigger problem than the one at hand. How did this situation create itself? What went wrong? Did the Parking Spot Fairy just come down from the heavens one day and zap up the spaces? Please find out for me, because as of right now, the secret to finding a good spot at the Lincroft campus is leaving your car in the driveway and walking from home.