Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The History Channel Presents "Gettysburg"

A new documentary by the Scott Brothers

A film still from Gettysburg which depicts Culp's Hill.

The good folks at History were kind enough to send me some promotional materials regarding their upcoming documentary Gettysburg - a two hour film narrated by actor Sam Rockwell that adds some cinematic flair to the battle's interpretation - though I hope in an accurate and realistic fashion. The film's press statement notes:

"Gettysburg kicks off a week of History programming commemorating the 150th 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."

I am glad to see the History Channel returning to its roots in some degrees. I long for the days when Civil War Journal, Civil War Combat, Wild West Tech and related quality documentary programs were a staple of the History Channel's regular programming. Gettysburg is certainly a step in the right direction as the nation begins to commemorate the conflict's sesquicentennial. Knowing dozens of Gettysburg historians, I will be anxious to see their reactions as well as those of visitors as I begin another summer as a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg. Furthermore, I remain hopeful that such programming will pique the interests of general viewers and encourage them to further explore and visit the sites associated with this pivotal event.

Gettysburg premiers on History on May 30 at 9 p.m. EST. I will be tuned in. Also keep an eye out for my review of the film following its premier. Thanks again to History for sending me information and photos about their documentary. I hope similar programming will be coming to our television screens throughout the 150th anniversary.

A nice shot of Confederate artilleryman with their mud-caked gun. I'll be interested to see how artillery is represented in this film - especially the 300 cannon duel of July 3.

A photo of what I assume to be the famous Iron Brigade at night on Culp's Hill. The press release suggests that much of the film's commentary was taken directly from personal accounts. This too will be interesting in seeing which soldiers and officers are depicted.

I am going to estimate that these are Confederate troops scaling the fence along the Emmitsburg Road during Longstreet's Assault. I am willing to overlook the inaccurate Confederate flag (this one was not used by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia) if the film draws people to the battlefield and nurtures an interest in the past. Still, going by the documentary's trailer, the visual effects and cinematography look impressive. I, for one, will be tuned in on May 30th with anticipation of the end product. Hope you will too!


  1. I hate to be negative, but it doesn't take much time to get the details right if you just ask the right people. This film smells of sensationalism and sloppy homework. I'm not holding my breath.

  2. I second that. What I see in the last still is six poorly-paid extras pretending to charge over a fence, one of them punished for wearing a modern style of hat by receiving a fake wound. After watching the preview I can't work up much enthusiasm for another History Channel take on the Civil War, even one helmed by the Scotts; I've just been burned too many times.

  3. I hope your resurrection of this well beaten dead horse has some stunningly new perspectives from these two high profile players---otherwise...yawn.

  4. Nice website, Jared! Thank you for your insight as I will be looking forward to your critique after the May 30th screening. I hope the Scott Brothers' portrayal of one of the greatest battles in world history will redeem Ted Turner's sappy, sanitized, and inaccurate (i.e. overweight Confederate soldiers, etc.)version, among many others. What Masters degree are you working on at WVU? Take care and all the best!

  5. The "infantry" scaling the fence in the bottom still are wearing yellow-piped cavalry frocks and shell jackets, and the downed officer's headgear is absolutely cliche gift shop quality. I'm skeptical.

  6. I'm studying American History for my Masters. Thanks for the interest!

  7. I watched about seventy minutes of History Channel's "Gettysburg" last night and was sorely disappointed. General Barksdale looked like Wolverine from X-Men, and I was expecting him to whip out that steel claw during his attack. Poorly written, poorly directed, and lacking in authenticity as far as looks go. Who the hang did the casting call for the leaders of both sides. The only one that looked authentic was the actor playing Sickles. I think the documentary would have been better if beards and moustaches of both sides fought one another, rather than the actual soldiers.