I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed the movie Gettysburg yet. It was only the thing that got this whole historical obsession started in the first place. Fair warning – this is much less of a formal review and much more of an opinion piece since I am certain I have lost the ability to review this movie objectively.
… cuz stuff like this happens when I’m around …
Backstory: Back in 9th grade, the culmination of the unit on the American Civil War involved hiding in a darkened classroom for three days watching this film as a dramatic interpretation of everything we had just studied.
Afterwards, a classmate made an offhand comment about how it compared to the book, which got everyone’s attention because we hadn’t known the film was based on a book. So I had to read the book (Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara). Then it looked like Killer Angels was part of a trilogy, so I read those other two books (prequel Gods and Generals, after which the film was named, and sequel The Last Full Measure, both written by Jeff Shaara.) All three books gave a human voice to these players like nothing I had seen before. So I had to start reading biographies of everyone to see how their fictional selves compared to their real life selves.
And … it just kind of snowballed from there.
Day 2 began with a leisurely morning, breakfast on the go, and a return to the Court House site. This day was filled mostly with pictures and wandering around the town. Fortunately there were many interpretive signs scattered through the town to read and many people to watch/overhear/interrogate. In the back of the town was a sign that said “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Site” with an arrow, so naturally Mel and I had to go check it out, as our mutual affection and appreciation for Chamberlain brought us together in the first place. (It was a path that eventually led to the highway so it wasn’t very exciting.)
… or four and a half hours of my life I won’t get back.
The impetus for watching this film was actually inspired by St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a scene during the Battle of Fredericksburg where the Irish Brigade of fame, led by Gen. Thomas Meagher, attacks Marye’s Heights and meet the 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, or Georgia’s Irish Brigade. In the film, the Georgians are shocked and appalled both that their fellow Irishmen are fighting for the Union and that they are actively shooting their fellow Irishmen. When the Federals retreat, the Georgians send up a cry to honor their dead and retreating brethren. What a way to celebrate a day most everyone else takes as an excuse to drink excessively. The Irish love their misery, I guess, and my father, being 3rd generation Irish, made sure us kids knew the ways of his people.
Southern Irish: Fighting against a tyrannical government, which only makes sense from the States Rights Cause perspective. Because the British had been ruling Ireland for centuries, was extremely discriminatory against them, and had just allowed millions to die during the Great Famine, a tragedy which the Crown could have prevented.
Northern Irish: fighting against slavery and for a unified state, as generally the Irish were the lowest of the second-class citizenry in the UK, hardly better off than slaves. Also for the Union, and very American ideals that what status you’re born at doesn’t mean you’ll die there, that you can bootstrap yourself up the societal chain.
I’m one of those people who can’t just cherrypick a clip of a film. I have to watch the whole thing. And I did. I did not actively take notes, so what follows will be general impressions of this rewatch. Also, please note that I saw the movie when it came out in 2003, and this might be the first time I’ve seen it since. On principle, I generally don’t watch it. (The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazing.)
And so without further ado, Gods and Generals:
I am taking a break from losing the battle to Typography to wish everyone a happy Appomattox Day!
Question: What is Appomattox Day?
Answer: The day on which Robert E Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant’s forces at Appomattox court house in Appomattox county in Virginia.