Sunday, November 02, 2008


Think of Gettysburg, a made for TV movie, as the things learned from ROTC during its heyday. It certainly made me asked why military strategists and generals kept soldiers in neat formation in an era of muskets and cannons is just stupid. The result was more than 50,000 Americans dead, making the Battle of Gettysburg the bloodiest in the American Civil War. This was 1863 and it would be two more years before the war was over.

ROTC and all it’s marching, falling in line and rigid formation is so yesterday even in the 19th century.

Though the movie has an enormous amount of military jargon and talks on strategy, the point of Gettysburg is the American Civil War: all its detail and all its tragedy.

The entirely American cast gelled remarkably. Everyone felt realistically in character, maybe because a large part of it was due to the fashion of the period – thick beards. Though the actors were not masks with those beards – and the costumes and sets of course – I really got lost in the story and saw them only as either a Union or a Confederate soldier. I forgot the actor if I minded who he was at all.

But that is not to say the acting all relied on facial hair. Tom Berenger was excellent as Gen. James Longstreet one of the most reliable division commanders under the General Robert E. Lee who in turn was played by Martin Sheen. These two officers provided much of the point of view of the Confederacy as they occupied the top positions in the Southern Army.

And that view was that there were major disagreements on Southern strategy at least from the point view of Gettysburg, that it shouldn’t have been fought. Longstreet favored redeployment and it was an advice unheeded by a higher ranking Lee. It was overconfidence and lack of control over events that drove the southern commanding general to what turned out to be a mistake. Lee, the best general on both sides, was fallible.

C.Thomas Howell and Jeff Daniels played Union brothers Lt. Thomas Chamberlain and Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain respectively. Brothers in war and in the same unit too; it was not an ideal situation for a parent or wife if the unit were to fall into bad luck. Every time the brothers showed up it was to tackle the rationale of the war, which means the issue of slavery and freedom for every citizen.

The tragedy of a civil war was best illustrated in the battle scenes especially one that involved Gen. Lewis Armistead (Richard Jordan), a Confederate officer under the direct command of Gen. George Pickett (Stephen Lang), and Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock (Brian Mallon) a Union officer. Armistead and Hancock were dear friends but has had the misfortune of fighting on different sides. For many scenes they always wondered how the other is doing, perhaps even in dread if the orders they give will cause the death of the other.

Brother against brother was a tragedy felt by all in fact, and not just of Armistead and Hancock. It was one American Army after all before the Civil War. Every character had some weariness in them that they should continue fighting without animosity or total disagreement with the enemy.

That’s the entire drama of the story and its most important point, the tragedy of a civil war; anything else tackled besides that was military strategy. I doubt anyone could have followed dialogues on strategy and terms like corps, slopes, divisions, brigades, muskets, and cannons. It was amusing to watch it sometimes. I have always found it strange that war could be seen almost literally as one big chess board.

Anyway studying 19th century tactics would be pointless in an era of tanks and automatic rifles but it still could be important to get a view of history and the understanding of the basics if you were to say start building an empire. As if that’s going to happen. 

At the very least if you watch this and college still requires you to march every Sunday, ask why and what for.