Tag Archives: Gettysburg
Check out Gary Gallagher’s list of five overrated Civil War officers (with a tip of the hat to John Fea). One of them is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, not because he was a poor commander but because fiction and film have elevated him into the stratosphere of popular memory.
I call this the Velociraptor-Chamberlain effect. It happens when a work of fiction or film sends a previously obscure subject into the stratosphere of popular imagination. There were plenty of brave and talented field officers at Gettysburg, but only one got top billing in The Killer Angels and the movie adaptation.
Likewise, up until the 1990’s, Velociraptor was just one of many little carnivorous dinosaurs that rarely got any press. And with good reason—other than its svelte form (the name means “quick robber”) and formidable claws, there wasn’t anything particularly impressive about it.
Then Michael Crichton came along. Dinosaur artist Gregory Paul had assigned a larger relative, Deinonychus, to the genus Velociraptor, and Crichton adopted this classification in Jurassic Park. The raptors in his book were therefore substantially bigger than their real-life counterparts, and formidable enough to take on his human characters.
Steven Spielberg evidently thought that even the beefed-up raptors in the novel were too puny for the big screen, so by the time the raptors made it to Hollywood they were about three times as tall as they had been in the fossil record. Ironically, after the book came out, scientists identified yet another large relative of Velociraptor, as big as the ones in Spielberg’s film.
I’ve drifted off-topic, haven’t I? Sorry; I’ve got this thing for dinosaurs.
Anyway, the point is that works of fiction often have a much greater impact on the way people remember the past than the interpretations of the people who study it. How many monographs on Gettysburg do you think it would take to equal the impression made by Shaara’s novel? I’d say quite a few.
The other thing that struck me about Gallagher’s piece is the reaction it elicited from readers. Take a look at the comments; some readers assumed that because Gallagher takes issue with certain evaluations of a few Confederate generals, he must be politically correct and have an anti-South agenda. Never mind that he included Union commanders in his list, and never mind that he didn’t say one word about the Confederacy itself. Perhaps the online defenders of True Southronness should set aside the Confederate flag; a doctor’s reflex hammer seems like a much more appropriate emblem for them.
The AP covers the trials and tribulations of the female Civil War reenactor in an interesting article:
A century and a half ago, women weren’t allowed into military service; masquerading as men was the only way in for those who weren’t satisfied with supporting the war effort from home or following their husbands’ military units around. As the country marks the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, some female re-enactors still cling to secrecy — not just for historical accuracy but because uniformed women aren’t always welcome in the male-dominated hobby.
My personal opinion is that a few women in disguise aren’t a big deal when we’ve got hordes of hefty, middle-aged privates in the ranks.
In any case, a recent incident at Gettysburg suggests that living historians should stop worrying about gender roles and start worrying about divine wrath.
In other Civil War news, iPhone users will now be able to enjoy a handheld, GPS-enabled guided tour of the Manassas battlefield, complete with audio and video.
The website gives history buffs, Civil War enthusiasts, and those who care about the preservation of Gettysburg’s Civil War significance a wide array of interactive features including:
- Photo sharing of ancestors who fought in the Civil War or a recent visit to Gettysburg.
- Essay sharing to upload Civil War stories passed down through the generations or an observation about the battlefield.
- Park ranger’s preservation blog.
- Historical blog, “This Great Task Before Us” profiling Union and Confederate soldiers.
- Gettysburg Rewards, a perks program offering discounts around Gettysburg, PA.
- Registration for members-only events.
- Member announcements from the Rupp House.
- Online store to purchase Civil War apparel, books…
- And more.
The Gettysburg Foundation’s Chief Development Officer, Jerry Moore, said, “Stage of Life delivered a totally unique experience for our members… we’ve received nothing but positive feedback.”
Since its launch, the interactive website has hosted over 10,000 visitors.
Eric Thiegs, CEO of Stage of Life LLC, added, “We’re honored our firm was selected to develop this project. It’s a chance to help preserve our nation’s history.”
If you’re not already a supporter of the Gettysburg Foundation, then these exclusive new website features should offer some added incentives. There are plenty of other perks, too, including free admission to visitor center programs, discounts at the park’s bookstore as well as other Gettysburg establishments, and a subscription to the newsletter. It’s a fine organization that does some very good work.
I see I’m not the only one who was less than impressed with The History Channel’s Gettysburg documentary. Check out the reactions from Eric Wittenberg and Kevin Levin, and then read the comments at Brooks Simpson’s blog.
I wasn’t really sure what the producers were trying to accomplish here. The promotional material seemed to indicate that the program would give us some type of insight into the common soldier’s experience of the battle in order to demonstrate that Civil War combat wasn’t a romantic or glorious affair. That’s not a bad idea for a documentary, and indeed the program did zero in on a few individuals and followed them through the course of some of the action. But those individuals included high-ranking officers like William Barksdale and Dan Sickles, which effectively turned these sequences into conventional battle narrative. At the same time, many important aspects of the battle just got skipped over entirely. The program was therefore neither fish nor fowl—not comprehensive enough to be a good overview of the general flow of the battle as a whole, but not focused enough to provide a good discussion of what was going on among the rank and file.
As a stylistic matter, the gritty, modern war approach to filming the reenacted sequences just didn’t work for me. With all the handheld shots, dramatic slow-motion, and running through the streets and over terrain hither and yon, I felt like I was watching Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. The combination of nineteenth-century gear and modern-day combat camera work was a little too jarring. Furthermore, it didn’t seem that the high-speed zooming along the pathways of bullets and through the CG maps really added anything to the explanation of what was happening.
As a final note, while I’m no expert in the kind of minute details that make up a good reenacting impression, it appeared to me that an unhealthy amount of farbiness managed to make it in onto the screen. What was with all the long-haired Confederates?
Somebody associated with
The History Channel has asked me to inform you of an upcoming program which premieres at the end of this month. Since it’s a show about honest-to-goodness history, I think it deserves your attention:
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.
The Scott brothers are both exceptional filmmakers, and this looks like it’s going to be a high-end production. Have a peek.
Gettysburg premieres May 30 at 9:00 EST. It should be well worth watching, so check it out.
They also offered me some t-shirts, notebooks, and messenger bags to either keep or pass along to you guys as reader giveaways, but I did the virtuous thing and said no. Given all the snark-ridden vitriol I’ve written here about
The History Channel, it just didn’t seem right to take their stuff. I do have some scruples.