On watching “Gettysburg”

Rocketboy and I watched “Gettysburg” over three nights. Mini-me was allowed to watch as well, but I kept normal bedtime rules in place. Mr. RFH missed the first night, which was the lead-up to the battle and the first day. I summed it up for him as “getting ready to fight on both sides and General Buford talking a lot about good ground.” (He’s not the one writing the report for extra credit.)

The kids were a lot more interested after I told them that at least one great-great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg. He was in the 40th New York.

Watching this also reminded me that I need to take the kids to Fort Sumter, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Appomattox. They have been to Shiloh, Lookout Mountain (two ancestors there), and Antietam. I know we took Rocketboy to Gettysburg, but he doesn’t remember much of it.

I don’t know if this was historically accurate or part of the movie set-up, but the kids noticed that the Southerners mostly had full beards, and the Northerners had mustaches.

My memories of the battlefield would indicate the judicious use of wagons and tents to cover up battle monuments. I could be wrong, because I know they also filmed outside the park.

I didn’t think Lee was portrayed all that well. Mr. RFH said he was spacey. Martin Sheen was missing the charisma, or I was too distracted by the accent or something. On the other hand, I thought Jeff Daniels made an excellent Joshua Chamberlain.

We made some snarky comments about a lot of middle-aged fat men fighting, but really, I’d much rather have the re-enactors than CGI.

The kids loved the cannon scenes. (Me, too, especially the panning overhead shots.)

I can appreciate a good war movie like this that doesn’t end up like “Saving Private Ryan” with the gore. Yes, the gory one is more real, but I’d rather not show that to my 11-year-old.

There was a lot of “did that really happen?” “did he really say that?” from the kids, and usually the answer was yes.

Your thoughts on the movie or the battle, readers?

17 thoughts on “On watching “Gettysburg””

  1. There is significant speculation that Lee was uncharacteristic in his demeanor and decision-making in the days leading up to, and during, the battle itself. And that it was due to what would eventually kill him, which was heart failure. He may have had a minor stroke or had a heart attack, both of which can manifest themselves as extreme fatigue and slow processing/confusion. Great grandfather of mine missed Gettysburg after having been shot in the chest at Chancellorsville in May. He eventually died of that wound in 1885, when the Rebel minie ball settled onto his heart.

    The movie is excellent, and extremely faithful to the book The Killer Angels, by Shaara. And, from all that I have read, quite accurate historically. One character that is rather interesting, if minor, is Confederate General Trimble. He was “extra”, without command, and his criticism of Ewell is not entirely accurate. By the time Ewell decided, in late afternoon, not to take his exhausted men in an uphill attack on Culp’s Hill, most of the Iron Brigade had already occupied the hill and were well along in fortifying it. Trimble’s own quick reconnaissance did not take him to where he could see them, so he believed the hill unoccupied.

    1. Given that the Iron Brigade was mostly made up of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin Volunteers, would you want to try and take something away from dug in Badgers?

    2. Don’t forget those vicious Wolverines in the Iron Brigade either.

      The arguments about whether Trimble was accurate in his assessment have raged for over 150 years. The best response I heard to the question of “What would Jackson have done if he were there?” was “Like Beethoven, he would have been decomposing.”

  2. The key to winning and losing the battle was at Little Round Top.
    Chamberlain and his Maine men literally saved the Union and without ammo using only their Elan and bayonets.
    Little Round Top was the pivot point of the whole battle which was fought for the want of shoes for Southern soldiers.

    1. I’m from Maine!

      Having spent a lot of years in the South, and looking at the state of things today, I do have to say though … I wonder if saving the Union was the right thing to do?

    2. It sure was…
      By the way have you also seen the “camouflaged” statue of Warren on the top of little round top in the movie?!
      They probably weren’t allowed to move it at all! 🙂

    3. @LT Rusty: The sentence “it sure was” goes about the key to winning and losing the battle (see sentence in obsidian53’s post). Because i think it was a major impact.

      But it isn’t about your post…mind you, if you might think this. Because i have no idea if saving the union was the right thing and all…and with the state the south’s in nowadays….never been there, so can’t say anything straight about it. *Hope to go there someday though…but that’s a different story*.
      Anyway, don’t want my reply to be misunderstood by you. 😉

    4. The shoes story was post-facto justification. There was no shoe factory in town (there were cobblers, but no more than usual in a small town), but the Confederates were ALWAYS in search of supplies, so one could argue that any movement of their armies was tied to gathering supplies.

  3. I have read that Lee was sicker than a dog during the Battle of Gettysburg, with food poisoning, a common occurrance in the pre-refrigeration age, being a likely suspect.

  4. LT Rusty:

    Read Harry Turtledove’s series about the South winning the 1861-1865 war between the States and decide whether keeping the Union together was a good thing or not.


  5. There are numerous inaccuracies in the movie, but, on the whole. is gets the story right. For example, the boys from Maine didn’t spend the final day at the middle of the Union line, but over on Big Round Top. That wouldn’t tell us much about the battle though, so Shaara moved them. Similarly, it puts great emphasis on LRT, while ignoring General Greene’s troops defending the other end of the line – outnumbered on the spot far more significantly than were the boys from Maine. One thing people who have never visited LRT don’t understand is that while you MIGHT have been able to struggle a cannon or two up onto LRT, that’s all there would have been space for to fire on the rest of the Union line. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine did a fantastic job, but it was not the only significant point.

    One of the great things about Gettysburg is that there are so many things to talk about, so many books written and such a well-preserved battlefield. One of the marvelous things is how instructive it is in teaching that in order to understand a battle, you must walk the ground. So much of the fighting is much easier understand if you stand where they stood and see what they see. I wrote a little about this on my own blog – http://habap.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/understanding-battles-walking-the-ground/ – and you can always read Craig’s 73 posts on Gettysburg – http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/category/battlefields/gettysburg/

    1. I might use the word “omissions” rather than inaccuracies. What the story told, it by and large told correctly. Whether that was all, or even with the emphasis we think it should be, is another matter.

    2. URR, there are both omissions and inaccuracies, though none are particularly important to the telling of the story. Best movie ever made on Gettysburg, to be certain and one of my favorite movies.

  6. Gettysburg, a hell of a fight! The need for shoes meant even a rumor of them in a town would meant a fight.
    Heroes all that day, both sides.
    Yes, it was better that the south lost to preserve the Union, the south was led by Democrats, who kept blacks as slaves and treated the poor whites like trash, kept down because a slave doesn’t have to be paid and is always worth something. The poor whites could not find jobs because whites had to be paid for work which whites did not get because of slavery.
    Race politics, pitting White people against Blacks and Indians and vice versus, this is an old Modus Operandi for the Democrat party.
    Now my state is Republican, voting overwhelming for Bush in 2000 the first time since the War Between the states over a hundred years ago the state has voted for Republicans.
    Even in the last election My State went for Republican except for the city city of Atlanta.
    I believe that about says it all.

  7. Lt. Rusty – interesting thought…maybe echoing another’s thought/statement, but I remember a series of articles by “Life” magazine when I was a young lad (tenish and I’m sixty-two now), titled “If the South had Won the Civil War” made for some interesting reading.

  8. David Navarre,

    Fair enough. Though I do consider it considerably more authentic than most Hollywoodery.

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