While visiting my folks in Illinois, I have been quiet on posting, though I do have some pictures, but that’s for another post. First, thanks to my good friend Dr. William Young on his first post on this blog. Beyond that wonderful item, I learned that I shattered the record for the busiest day by over 700 hits. Apparently, Father’s Day was the day to visit the site and specifically my post on the Medal of Honor during the war. Thank you readers for that wonderful surprise and fluke. I am still at a loss as to how it happened, but am not complaining. I will get a post up in the next day or so recounting some of the reenacting adventures I had this last month. On another note, please remember that this is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which warrants a link to this cool song.
Overall, I felt that the program was quite interesting and a stark departure from recent Civil War films of the silver screen. Naturally, the best comparison for this film is Gettysburg (1993). In this History special, there is no Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, or Jeff Daniels. It does not discuss Buford’s cavalry, the death of John Reynolds, or Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top. While the elements chosen for this film were not as much a focus of the theatrical movie, I was looking forward to see how the Scott brothers would cover those parts of the battle. There is less rich drama, mostly gritty emotional turmoil that illustrates the sheer horror of the battle and the larger war. It has some solid educational qualities to it, though.
The coverage of the first day centered around the story of the Iron Brigade’s role in the battle and the fighting inside the town. The coverage of the second day revolved around the Wheat Field and Culp’s Hill, while the third day focused on Pickett’s Charge, but lacking the sweeping dramatic panoramic shots of Confederate troops marching out, or Union forces behind the stone wall. The main difference was showing the horrors of the weaponry used against the troops on the charge. The scenes showing the charge lacked some of the power due to a lack of numbers used, but the idea the producers attempted to show seemed to be met.
The film pulled back to cover broader subjects of medicine, civilian involvement, and African Americans as they all related to the battle and war, which was a nice touch. Personal stories relating to soldiers involved did an excellent job of providing an intimate view of the battle, making the viewer feel as if they are next to the person. The live action scenes were one of the most detailed features of the film and truly gripping, with some fairly violent scenes demonstrating the carnage of the Civil War battlefield.
In addition, the film utilized computer generated graphics and images to discuss the technology used in the battle, specifically weapons and the effects on the soldiers, as well as illustrate the lay of the land in and around Gettysburg. This effective blending of graphics and live action adds to the films’ educational qualities.
One thing that separates this production from the theatrical version is a lack of focus on the major players (Generals Lee, Longstreet, Hancock, Buford, and Meade), except for Dan Sickles. Most of the characters focused on in the film are common soldiers, or brigade commanders, placing the battle around the actions involving their own individual units.
The Scott brothers created a production that illustrated a gruesome war, deviating from a largely romanticized and glorified portrayal of the war, even on History. While I hoped to see their portrayal of Joshua Chamberlain, I was generally pleased with the effort. I do hope that this is the beginning of more productions of this nature on other major battles of the war, especially from the Western Theater.
This film is part of a week-long series of programs on History on the war, including a program Tuesday evening called Grant and Lee. In addition, special episodes of Pawn Stars and American Pickers will deal with Civil War items, so be sure to check them out. Finally, thank you all for making today our busiest day with over 350 hits.
Thus far the first hour of the Tony and Ridley Scott film Gettysburg airing on History has been interesting and insightful. The second hour is beginning with the attack against Dan Sickles’ corp on the late afternoon of July 2, 1863.
*** Live blogging interrupted by tornado warning, will update soon.
Well, we’re still under a tornado warning, but since I live in a basement apartment, I will continue what I started, though I missed the second day coverage, so I’ll assess that later. This section is dealing with the climactic part of the battle, Pickett’s Charge (the lightning outside adds a nice effect, especially with the gruesome detail of the effects of the artillery barrage on the human body). The scenes are gripping, with solid live-action scenes that mix in CGI of solid shot cannon rounds and canister shot.
The scene depicting the Federal position, or “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” is much more brutal than what is shown in Gettysburg (1993). The carnage displayed in the movie is quite graphic and achieves the goals alluded to in the information provided in the earlier post of showing the war as a gritty hard thing, not glamorous at all. The ending of the film details the aftermath on July 4, contextualizing the battle with the rest of the war, and, explored the post battle lives of several figures focused on in the film. It also noted the horrors that befell the town after the battle, including the wounded and the destruction, as well as the dedication of the national cemetery.
I will post a longer review than I initially planned, but weather has a way of altering your plans. Good thing I am recording it with a DVR, so I can catch what I missed later. This film is part of larger Civil War themed programming on History this week, including Lee and Grant and American Pickers, so check your cable listings to see what is airing.
This will be a live blog as the film progresses through the first hour. I will post another posting over the second hour, followed by a brief review after the film. One piece of information about the film is that the executive producers are the brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, whose credits include such films as Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down.
Live blog: 8:05PM
After the first five minutes or so, I am so far impressed with the effects used that detail the horrors of war. In addition are the inclusion of quotes from veterans of the battle. In addition, graphics of maps and CGI of the battlefield provide useful visual aids and serve to contextualize the battle within the larger war. As of the first commercial break, I am pleased, though parts of it are making me think of the movie 300.
With the second segment, the focus on the fighting inside Gettysburg, with gripping brutality that goes beyond some of the battle scenes in movies like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. The film discusses the situation of civilians in the town, including the plight of African Americans. In addition, the medical situation and the Confederate troops roaming through town provide a realism left out of many films. So far, the first half hour has yet to really disappoint me, except for the lack of mention of John Buford’s force and the death of General John Reynolds.
The coverage of the end of the first day deals with the unique subject that can become a dominant concept in counter-factual history, the failure of General Ewell to follow Lee’s order and seize the high ground. There is a wonderful segment on the role of technology, especially how rifled muskets and conical minie balls made the war deadlier. One wonders if they read Earl Hess’s solid book on the subject of rifled muskets in combat.
This section uses animated battle maps and covers the actions of the second day of the battle. The controversy of the failure of Stuart’s cavalry is highlighted and how it influenced the course of the battle. Further, the role of the telegraph and wig-wag signal flags (shout out to Rene Tyree and her blog named Wig-Wags). Daniel Sickles movement of his corp is shown and how dangerous it was for the Union position that day. The brief discussion of the rebel yell is unique, if a bit much.
So far, the first hour of the film has been good and hopefully the second hour will be as good.
As noted in the Alert Box at the top of the latest posts, a new film on the iconic battle, called “Gettysburg” will premiere on History at 9PM ET/8PM CT on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30. I encourage you all to watch and I will offer a review soon after the film shows. Here is more information and the trailer.
Summary: Gettysburg is a 2-hour HISTORY special that kicks off a week of History programming commemorating the 150’th anniversary of the Civil War.
Executive produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, this special strips away the romanticized veneer of the Civil War. It presents the pivotal battle of Gettysburg in a new light: as a visceral, terrifying and deeply personal experience, fought by men with everything on the line. Compelling CGI and powerful action footage place viewers in the midst of the fighting, delivering both an emotional cinematic experience and an information packed look at the turning points, strategic decisions, technology and little known facts surrounding the greatest engagement ever fought on American soil.
The special begins in the high stakes summer of 1863, as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia crosses into Pennsylvania. Trailed by the Union’s Army of the Potomac, Lee’s 75,000 strong army heads towards Harrisburg, converging instead near a quiet farm town, Gettysburg. Known then only as a crossroads where ten roads running in all directions converge like a wagon wheel, this small town would become site of an epic battle between North and South. For three days, each side fought there for their vision of what America should be.
In collaboration with highly esteemed Civil War historians, HISTORY combed through hundreds of individual accounts of the battle to find the unique voices of struggle, defeat and triumph that tell the larger story of a bitterly conflicted nation.
Gindlesperger, James and Suzanne. So You Think You Know Gettysburg?: The Stories Behind the Monuments and the Men Who Fought One of America’s Most Epic Battles. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publisher, 2010.
This book is an interesting take at the park where the bloodiest battle on American soil occurred. While other books focus on the tactics, men, and other aspects of the real battle, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger chose to look at the history of the many monuments that dot the battlefield park. It represents the growing influence of both history and memory and public history.
The title is quite proper, as while most may think they know everything about the battlefield, there are many places and monuments included in this book that readers may not be aware of. The coverage of the work goes beyond the park area and includes several sites and locations in and around the town of Gettysburg. Each chapter is devoted to a specific section and area of the Gettysburg, which allows readers visiting the park to use each chapter as a guide to areas including Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top, Gettysburg, etc.
Three key things stand out that make this book great. First is the wonderful use of maps. The authors included an overview map of all areas covered, then incorporated into each chapter a map of the area covered, with locations of each monument or spot numbered on that map. Second is the abundance of photographs, one of each spot. This allows those visiting the park to know which monument they are looking at, and, allows readers unable to visit Gettysburg to view one of the more striking features of the region. Finally, the descriptions are quite detailed, incorporating latitude and longitude coordinates, which is good for users of GPS touring the park, as well as providing brief, but detailed descriptions of the site or monument and the people that motivated the particular item covered. The only thing that would have been great to include was a suggested reading section, as well, as a notes section to give background to where information on locations featured was found. Though a minor issue, it does not really detract from the overall value of this work.
The authors, though not trained historians, according to the description, do have great credentials for writing this book. They live in Pennsylvania and are members of the Friends of Gettysburg Foundation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Civil War Preservation Trust. Though not an academic book, this is a must have for anyone interested in public history, history and memory, or Gettysburg in general. If visiting Gettysburg in the near future, pick up a copy of So You Think You Know Gettysburg? and see how it changes your visit.
Well, I meant to participate in the final American Military University webcast on Gettysburg this morning, but was out and about with Stuart getting ready for our reenactment weekend in Nashua, Iowa. We ended up running out to my grandfather’s farm and firing some blanks from the 1861 Springfield, which was fun. I also received my Confederate uniform yesterday and am pleased with the quality, so I am making a huge, but quick plug for Blockade Runner.
A side note on this weekend. While I would love to blog about the event soon after each day, I will be unable to do so, but will attempt to write about it and post pictures. This will be my first foray into reenacting, so I appreciate any who are involved with reenacting sharing their first experiences with the hobby, so I can have a fun comparison for others.
When I do get the link to the webcast, I will post it up here for all to enjoy, including myself.
Well, I sat through the webcast, or webinar if you prefer, this morning and it was an interesting experience. The presenters, Dr. Barry Shollenberger and Dana B. Shoaf did an excellent job of presenting the subject of Civil War soldiers to an audience of varying backgrounds. While I was hoping for a discussion on the scholarship on soldiers and where it is heading, since it was sponsored by American Military University, it did convey the basic knowledge that everyone should know to understand the importance of Civil War soldiers. There was also a time for questions at the end. Overall, I found this a unique experience and hope to learn more about its usefulness in other settings.
A little about the presenters:
Dr. Barry Shollenberger is Provost Emeritus at Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama and is also retired from The University of Alabama where he served as Associate Director of Distance Education and president of the State of Alabama Distance Learning Association. Dr. Shollenberger has taught American History for twenty years, is a member and contributor to the Society for Civil War Historians, and has taught continuously at AMU since 1997.
Dana B. Shoaf is the editor of Civil War Times, the oldest Civil War magazine in publication. Shoaf taught American history at colleges in Maryland and Northern Virginia before working for Time-Life as a writer and researcher. He has published dozens of articles dealing with the Civil War and often speaks at conferences. A committed preservationist, Shoaf is a former board member of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.
This was the first in a series of three webcasts on the war. The next two will be on Gettysburg and Shiloh. Here is information on those presentations:
The Battle of Shiloh – Thursday, May 6, 2010 11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
The Battle of Gettysburg – Tuesday, May 18, 2010 11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
I hope you will all take these in.
Yes, these last couple of days have represented the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It seems fitting that they are commemorating this anniversary in town with the new visitor center, however the visitor center may not be all it was cracked up to be, as evidenced by my colleague Bill in his recent post. It is also fitting that fellow blogger and aspiring historian Sarah Adler spent last week at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. It has also been about 15 years since the premiere of the film Gettysburg. All of this causes one to think about the battle more, which is a good thing.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle on American soil, with over 50,000 casualties. It represented several important issues. It was both the high-point of the Confederacy, as well as the great turning point of the war, which found both sides switching how they waged the war. The Union began to fight more offensively in the East, while the Confederates were forced to shift from a primarily offensive war to a defensive war. Gettysburg shattered the Army of Northern Virginia, as it was forced to realize that it was unable to beat the Army of the Potomac and would no longer be able to invade the North again.
It is amazing to consider how the battle could have turned out differently had only a few aspects of it gone differently. Had Lee seized the opportunity to secure the high ground on the first day. Or, if he would have flanked the Union army on day two. Perhaps the largest factor in the battle that could have altered its outcome and the conduct of the war was Pickett’s Charge. Had Lee not committed the men that he did to that charge, the Union victory would have been smaller and Lee would have retained a larger force after the battle to continue fighting.
One other significant outcome of Gettysburg was the rise of Grant to command of all Union forces. Meade’s inability to crush Lee after the battle caused Lincoln to appoint Grant over Meade, which caused the Union armies in the East to begin taking the fight to the Confederates.
There are several great books on the battle out there that I encourage you to read. One that is my favorite and deals with a counter factual scenario of the battle is Newt Gingrich’s novel Gettysburg, which is part of a Civil War trilogy that is quite good.
Gettysburg will likely remain one of the most popular battles in terms of study by scholars and visits to the park. This is not surprising, as while I am partial to the Western Theater, I still maintain an interest in the battle because of its importance to our history. No other battle quite changed the course of the Civil War as Gettysburg. The significance of this battle will become more apparent as the 150th anniversary draws closer. I encourage everyone to read about the battle, watch the movie Gettysburg, and visit the park and take in the history of this battle.
I just returned from my annual trip to Gettysburg battlefield this past weekend, usually an exciting and enjoyable trip. This trip had the added allure of viewing the new visitor’s center for the first time. Upon entering the parking lot to the new center, I felt as though I was entering an amusement park. There was a line of cars searching for spots in the vast new parking area. The visitor’s center reminded me of a mall, complete with a bookstore and movie theatre. The bookstore resembled a Barnes and Noble except the prices of books were much more inflated. The line to the ticket counter and theatre was roped off as if one were waiting for a rollercoaster ride. The price of admission to the twenty-two minute film was eight dollars – approximately the same price of admission to a two-hour blockbuster. The only thing missing was a Starbucks.
After this initial disappointment, my buddy and I decided the only thing that could cheer us up was a couple of hikes on the battlefield, and we hit upon two excellent ones. An hour hike/lecture around the peach orchard was very insightful; arguing that Sickle’s misplacement of troops threw a wrench into both Lee’s and Meade’s plans. After this, we took a hike with renowned park ranger, Troy Harman, all the way up to the top of Big Round Top. Troy was preparing for an anniversary hike on “What would have happened had Lee listened to Longstreet and went around the right of Big Round Top?”
After these hikes and a general survey of most of the battlefield, we observed an ironic consequence of the building of the new visitor’s center. The battlefield was not as congested as the new plaza. It seems that more people were viewing the exhibits in the center rather then touring the fields. The peach orchard hike had an audience of six people. The Troy Harman tour had much more but this is an exception given his popularity. The old center invited visitors to walk right onto the battlefield or cemetery. The new one offers people the luxury of viewing the virtual battlefield from the convenience of an air-conditioned building.
Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the old visitor’s center much more. It was small, but it was much more authentic and not as commercialized. On the bright side, for battlefield enthusiasts, the new visitor’s center may be a blessing in disguise – more room to explore the actual landscape.
A recent episode of TLC’s Little People, Big World inspired this post. The episode noted how Matt Roloff, the dad, brought two of his children to Paducah, Kentucky with him, as he was there for a speaking engagement. The kids visited Civil War related sites and met reenactors, who allowed them to handle their equipment. The episode mentioned the kids’ interest in the Civil War and history and it got me thinking about the many wonderful memories I have visiting battlefields and other Civil War sites both with my parents and while in college.
Over the years, I have visited the following battlefields (some more than once): Parker’s Crossroads, Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Stone’s River, Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse. I visited the sites in the Western Theater on two occasions. The first time was about ten years ago, when my parents and I took a trip down south from Illinois to Nashville. While on the way to Nashville, we stopped at (actually, we stumbled across it) Parker’s Crossroads, which has a personal connection, as one of my ancestors (my relation to him is uncertain) died as a result of wounds suffered in the battle. We then went to Nashville and visited Opryland USA and the massive Opryland Hotel (Nashville is a great city by the way). We then headed towards Vicksburg, but stopped at Shiloh along the way.
While at Shiloh, my dad and I enjoyed ourselves, as this battle is one of our favorites because it cemented the career of that great, formerly drunken, general who took the fight to the South, as opposed to some of his Eastern counterparts, Ulysses S. Grant. My mom merely tolerates my dad and I’s fascination with history, but even my dad did something on this trip that surprised me. We stopped by the Sunken Road and my dad decided to walk down it, while mom and I ate (nowadays, I would probably join him on the walk, but I was much younger at the time). We ended up waiting around, wondering where he was only to find out that he walked to the Hornets’ Nest to “commune with the ghosts of the past”, as he put it.
After Shiloh, we spent a couple of days touring beautiful Vicksburg, Mississippi (if you ever have the chance, please visit this city, as it is quite beautiful in the spring and summer). Mom spent time either in the hotel or shopping, while dad and I visited the battlefield and the museum to the USS Cairo (pronounced kay-ro), a Union gunboat sunk by a Confederate mine (they used the term torpedo then), which was salvaged and now serves as a floating museum.
My second battlefield trip was during Spring Break 2004. While most college students go to the beach and party hard, several fellow history enthusiasts, Dr. Jim Davis (I will get you to write for this site sir), and I toured the South, visiting Vicksburg, Corinth, and Shiloh (we attempted to convince Dr. Davis to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery, but that was not to be). We had a blast, as we enjoyed good conversations with Dr. Davis as well as interesting sites, including the gentleman in northern Mississippi who filled his gas tank next to our van with a lit cigarette in his mouth. A couple of the sites we visited were the courthouse in Vicksburg, as well as the monument to Illinois soldiers.
After visiting Vicksburg, we headed northeast towards Corinth. Along the way, we stopped in beautiful Oxford, MS, home of Ole Miss. Oxford had a really cool square and was geared towards the university. We enjoyed visiting a local bookshop and dinner at one of the local restaurants. The next morning, we toured Corinth and visited the national cemetery located there and saw the construction of an interpretive center for the battle. We then headed to Shiloh and had a wonderful time visiting the site. Here are a couple of pictures of from Shiloh.
My last battlefield trip was while I was on a 15-day research trip to Washington, DC with Dr. Davis and several other history students in summer of 2004. We visited Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse both on the way to and returning from DC. Time and weather limited our visits to The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse, but we made the best of it.
We spent more time at Antietam and Gettysburg, which was great. I could have spent days in Gettysburg, as there are all sorts of unique stores, including reenacting stores. We toured the battlefields extensively. At Gettysburg, we visited the town as well, taking in the shopping and other sites. Of course, what trip to Gettysburg would be complete without walking Pickett’s Charge. Though it was a hot day, I had a great time at Gettysburg and hope to go back someday. Here are a couple of pictures, one from Antietam and the other at Gettysburg.
Overall, I have wonderful memories of visiting all these sites with friends and family and it is something I hope to pass on to my children someday. I encourage everyone to take a lesson from the Roloffs and I and take your kids on trips to historical places, as they are wonderful opportunities to bond and teach your kids about where we come from. I would also encourage families to check out or buy books on the subjects and places of family trips. For serious history buffs and scholars, I encourage you to purchase Staff Ride guides or battlefield guides published by historians, as they provide a more in-depth look at the sites. So get out there and travel, and most importantly, have fun.
Well, this last week has sure been interesting. I had a new site request to join my Civil War History web ring, which I encourage all of you that have Civil War related websites to join up. This new blog is off to an interesting, but promising start. Wig-wags is a blog created by Rene Tyree, a graduate student in military history with an emphasis on the Civil War. I am curious as to what program she attends, as she does not mention this. Rene, plug your program, as we want to know where you go, as some of us may be interested in it. Overall, Wig-wags is an interesting site worth keeping an eye on.
In addition to this event, I am currently designing my research poster for my Military Geography directed study course, which will focus on Military Geography in the Civil War (I will of course post it here when it is complete). However, there is more to this week besides my work, new blogs, and turkey. Monday commemorated the 144th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, an organization I belong to, held its annual activities in Gettysburg to commemorate the event.
Thanksgiving Day also has Civil War relevance, as Abraham Lincoln issued his proclamation in October 1863 establishing our holiday of Thanksgiving for November. Here are the words to the proclamation (digital images of the manuscript itself is available here, courtesy of the National Archives):
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
The text for the proclamation was found at http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm
Well, that is all for this week. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, safe travels, and happy times with family and friends. Please be sure to say a prayer (everyday, but especially this time of year) for the men and women overseas in our military who will be unable to spend the holiday with their loved ones.