Dozens assembled on Cemetery Ridge on Wednesday to commemorate the 156th Anniversary of “Pickett’s Charge” and the Civil War veteran events that followed.
The 4th of July, Independence Day, has special significance for all Americans, but it has duel significance for Civil War buffs. July 4, 1863 was the day after the Battle of Gettysburg and the day Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered after a 47-day siege. Many consider this the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favor. The angle in a stone wall where Confederates briefly penetrated Union lines in an attack on Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd is considered the “high water mark” of the Confederacy.
The National Park Service held a series of events for the Battle of Gettysburg’s 156th anniversary this year, July 1-3. I was able to attend on July 3rd, which focused on the Confederate’s culminating attack known as “Pickett’s Charge”. Park guides gave presentations on various stages of the attack, from planning, to the cannonade, to its repulse, and a sizable crowd of approximately 50 to 60 people turned out. Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.
As a Civil War buff, director Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg (1993) is one of my all-time favorite films. For the general public, it is the definitive depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg, an epic three-day struggle between the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia over the fate of the nation. Based on the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, its soundtrack is epic and performances by its cast are top-notch.
The more I read about the battle, however, the less historically accurate the movie appears. Race is one area where Gettysburg falls short. Despite multiple discussions about slavery during the 271 minute run time, only one African American character appears: a runaway slave used as a catalyst for a discussion between Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Sgt. ‘Buster’ Kilrain.
Would you be surprised to learn thousands of enslaved African Americans traveled with the Confederate Army on its invasion of Pennsylvania? Many Southern officers were slaveholders, after all. But by all appearances, the Confederate Army as depicted in Gettysburg was entirely white (the Union Army employed hundreds of freed black laborers at Gettysburg–a fact also omitted from this film).
Of course, slaves would not have appeared in battle scenes, but there were plenty of opportunities when it came to scenes of Confederate encampments and units on the march, where black slaves served a variety of non-combat roles. If the filmmakers were making a genuine effort to be as historically accurate as possible, how could they miss this obvious fact?
Monument to Col. John Stanton Slocum (1824-1861) in Swan Point Cemetery, 585 Blackstone Blvd in Providence, Rhode Island. Slocum commanded the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment and was killed on July 21, 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run. The 2nd RI was deployed in Burnside’s Brigade, which initially drove Confederate forces back during the opening phase of the battle.
This indie film based on a Civil War legend had potential but ultimately fell below the standards of a made-for-TV movie.
A Confederate surgeon invents a battlefield legend to protect a young woman from an intolerant society in Son of a Gun (2019), written and directed by Travis Mills. This indie production reels in its audience with an interesting premise but from the first scene to the last, falls short in nearly every category of filmmaking.
The year is 1863. Union and Confederate armies are locked in deadly combat near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Battlefield surgeon Legrand Capers (Miles Doleac) is pulled away from a wounded soldier to tend to a young woman (Jessica Harthcock) at a nearby farmhouse who was shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet. Months later, he returns to learn the woman is pregnant, yet she insists she’s a virgin. The stray bullet, passing through the soldier’s scrotum, must have somehow impregnated the woman! At least, that’s what an elderly Legrand Capers (Cotton Yancey) tells a group of old-timers at a tavern.
Things get complicated when the film unravels three separate versions of events, with different actors and actresses playing the various roles. Each version leads the audience further away from fantasy and toward the scandalous truth. Finally, as Capers is dying of tuberculosis many years after the war, he is confronted by the family’s former slave, Mamie (Nancy Lindsey), who knows what really happened.
Son of a Gun’s use of multiple perspectives and multiple casts to tell the story was unique and not as confusing as it sounds. The actor who played middle-aged Capers, William Shannon Williams, was subtly charming and fit the role well, as did actress Nancy Lindsey. For the most part, the performances were fine. It was the amateurish sound and editing that cheapened every scene.
At a time when American history is being fought over in the social and political arena, a sharp decline in visits to our national battlefields reveals a sad lack of public appreciation for our nation’s history.
To me, there’s something deeply important about visiting museums, forts, and battlefields, which is why I write weekly articles about historic sites and events. It’s one thing to read about a battle in a book. I’ve read dozens of books on the American Civil War, at least ten on the Battle of Gettysburg alone. But until you stand on the actual ground where those armies fought, you’ll never have a complete sense of what happened there.
Battlefields are more than just lifeless monuments and interpretive signs that tell a story. You are standing on the same dirt those armies trampled 150 years ago, that same soil over which men fought and died, whose wounds bled into that very ground. Standing on Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park, you can imagine the gray columns advancing through the smoke from the perspective of a Union soldier.
That’s not something you’ll ever experience in a classroom.
The first event was organized by the Fredericksburg Ladies Memorial Association and attended by approximately 50 to 60 visitors. It featured a cemetery tour that stopped at notable grave sites led by local historian Dan “BigFrench” Janzegers.
A lovesick woman dons a Confederate uniform to find her husband in this indie Civil War drama.
Written and directed by country musician Rory Feek (cowritten by Aaron Carnahan), Finding Josephine(2019) purportedly follows the true story of Josephine Robison, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Confederate Army to find her husband. In many ways it’s a typical love story, but the film tackles issues of gender and sexuality during the war, topics usually avoided in this genre.
Finding Josephine is framed by the director’s personal story about how love letters he allegedly found in a farmhouse in Tennessee led him to write a song that sparked the love between him and his future wife, who tragically died of cancer. The film was originally supposed to be released in 2016, but the death of his wife postponed it. Feek inter-spliced their personal story with the film, topping it out at 81 minutes.
The year is 1864. Josephine Robison (Alice Coulthard) works on her family farm, while her husband John (Mitch Eakins) is off fighting in the 3rd Tennessee Regiment. Unable to bear her loneliness, she disguises herself as a man and enlists in the Confederate Army, where she hopes to find him. Her journey takes her all the way from the back roads of Tennessee to the trenches around Richmond, Virginia.
Along the way, Josephine falls in with a small group of soldiers, including a gruff old man named Tally Simpson (Boris McGiver), a sadistic sergeant named Sturgill Marks (Jessejames Locorriere), and a boy named Whit (Matthew Alan Brady). Every moment threatens to expose her secret. Can she survive the war–and her fellow soldiers–to be reunited with her lost love?