Four score and seventy years ago: Two important minutes

Today marks the 150th anniversary of an event, where roughly two minutes of “a few appropriate remarks” by President Lincoln became American history and myth. Though memorized by several generations of schoolchildren, the Gettysburg Address was just part of a larger commemoration of the final resting place of soldiers killed fighting to preserve the Union. The event was a dedication to the national cemetery that still remains as a solemn tribute to sacrifice for a nation and its ideals, with one of the nation’s premiere orators, Edward Everett, delivering a two-hour speech.

The inclusion of Lincoln placed him in a minor roll within the larger ceremony, compared to Everett. Though his speech was secondary to the main oration, Lincoln was able to encapsulate the whole of American history and the momentous occasion of the Civil War and its importance in preserving the Union, while dealing with the big issue of equality, ultimately allowing the nation to live up to the principles of the Founders and the Declaration of Independence that he referenced. In 272 words, the President stressed the importance of the sacrifice of the soldiers buried there to the larger aim of securing the Union, while also referencing the new aim of the war, the ending of slavery. He also used the Address to show how the nation was changing and the hope that the idea first put forth by the founders in 1776 would endure forever.

The remarkable thing about Lincoln’s speech was that while it was viewed in sharp contrasts by the media and nation, falling largely along partisan lines (sound familiar) between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning papers (media bias is nothing new), who either viewed the speech as “silly” or a momentous oration that was quite fitting for the occasion, that the Gettysburg Address has become one of the best examples of oration in American history. Lincoln’s short remarks represent one of the finest uses of the English language around, as he was succinct in his remarks and made every word command power.

Though 150 years later, the Gettysburg Address is still worth remembering and commemorating. It is hoped that we still live up to the ideals of Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks.” With that, I leave you with some cool sites related to the Address.

Library of Congress online exhibit

Learn the Address (a Ken Burns project)

PBS site for Ken Burns’ The Address (coming in 2014)

Chamberlain medal to be returned to Brunswick

From The Times Record (Brunswick, ME)

After being discovered in the back of a book in Duxbury, Mass., the original Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Col. Joshua Chamberlain has taken a long and circuitous route back to Brunswick.

In July, shortly before the town’s annual Chamberlain Days celebration, the Pejepscot Historical Society received a small package from a donor who said he wished to remain anonymous. Inside the envelope was the medal, with the donor’s wish that it be returned to Brunswick and authenticated “in honor of all veterans.”

Historical society director Jennifer Blanchard was skeptical.

After all, she knew that Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor — redesigned in 1904 and re-issued to Chamberlain in 1907 — was safely displayed just up the hill in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives at Bowdoin College.

Continue reading Chamberlain medal to be returned to Brunswick.

150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Given it’s still July 1 here in the Central Time Zone, today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle has been the subject of much discussion and several movies, including my favorite Gettysburg (1993). It remains one of the largest battles in North America, with over 50,000 casualties. With this anniversary and the benefit of new technology the folks at ESRI produced an amazing interactive map of the battle, including three-dimensional animation related to the troop positions. I encourage you all to check it out at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Cutting-Edge-Second-Look-at-the-Battle-of-Gettysburg.html.

I have been following some of the internet coverage of the 150th anniversary reenactment held this past weekend and it looks like, for the most part, the event went well, though some unfortunate reenactors suffered heat injuries. My good friend Stuart Lawrence is returning home from taking part in the event and hopefully will share an after action report and pictures. Now, I am going to take a bit of time to watch the portions of Gettysburg related to the first day. More to come in the next two days on this momentous anniversary.

A record shattered on visitors

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.

Review of the film “Gettysburg” that premiered on History tonight

Well, my attempt at live blogging was interrupted by the weather, but I wanted to try to sum up my feelings on the movie, some of which were covered here and here.

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.

My thoughts on the History film “Gettysburg”-Part II

Continued from Part I

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.

9:00 PM

*** Live blogging interrupted by tornado warning, will update soon.

9:40 PM

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.

My thoughts on the History film “Gettysburg”-Part I

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.

8:15 PM

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.

8:30 PM

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.

8:45 PM

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.