01 May 2009

Gettysburg: The Program That Changed the Battle

I finally got around to watching the Military Channel's special "Gettysburg: The Battle that Changed America".

Needless to say, the two weeks of anticipation I felt leading up to this were sorely mispent. I've seen inaccurate history documentaries; in this day and age, receiving a truly accurate lesson in history is a rare thing. But this is one of the more blatant episodes of historical revisionism I've ever seen. Not only were facts misrepresented, but the makers of this show saw fit to simply create events that never happened.

I could rant for paragraphs on end, but in my internet quest to find those of like mind, I stumbled upon a thoroughly incensed writer who seems to agree with me point for point. Thus, I'll save myself the time, effort, and negative energy, and simply post that here.


"Gettysburg - The Battle That Changed America"

Just got done watching it. "The Program That Changed the Battle" might
have been a better title.

This was one of those shows you watch not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
If I had to come up with a short description, the words "horrifyingly
awful" come to mind. Or may, just plain sad. Not to mention, all too

I counted at least one howler every three to five minutes. There were
probably more, but I started to loose count. Just as a sample of some of
the ones I can remember::

1. The battle starts when Union infantry comes running around a bend in
the road and start shooting up Confederate troops sitting by the roadside,
writing letters to Mother and talking about how they need those shoes in

2. News of the battle is delivered to Meade by a Brigadier General (didn't
say which one), who immediately asks him "Do you want to fall back toward

3. Lee learns of the battle while he's eight miles away. First thing he
does is pull out his binoculars and start looking that way.

4. The second day consisted of the Confederate attack on Culp's Hill,
followed by the Confederate attack on Little Round Top.

5. By the end of the fighting on the second day, there were 25,000 dead.

6. The next day, Meade pointed to the Copse of Trees, and said that's
where the attack would be.

7. Stuart's mission on the third day was to ride into the rear of the
Union line on Cemetery Ridge, at the same time Pickett's Charge hit it
from the front. The two big arrows on the diagram showing how this was
supposed to take place meet perfectly, right by the Copse of Trees.

8. Custer and a small band of Michigan cavalry (or words to that effect)
are patrolling off the Union flank, and spot Stuart's column riding down
the road toward the Union rear.

9. Custer shouts "Come on, you Wolverines!", and they go charging into
the front of Stuart's column, which gets backed up along the road like a
train (or words to that effect), after which Stuart retreats. Computer
graphics show exactly how it happened. Them poor rebels never stood a
change, all stacked up on the road like that.

(This nonsense in numbers 7, 8, and 9, BTW, is straight from the Tom
Carhart playbook, not surprising since Tom Carhart himself is there to
explain it all in person.)

10. Lee personally orders the cannonade to start, while, in fact, the
fighting at Culp's Hill is still going strong.

11. Wesley Culp is killed on Culp's hill.

12. The Union troops on Cemetery Ridge all flee in a panic when Pickett's
men break through.

13. The Confederates are forced to retreat when Stuart doesn't show up,
like the diagram referred to in # 7 says he was supposed to. Thanks again
Tom. Also for pointing out that Meade was scared during the entire

14. Despite 25,000 men being dead by the end of the second day, by the
end of the third day the death toll is down to 10,000. Maybe the other
15,000 got better.

The program itself was built around what might for lack of a better term
be called "reenactor based dramatization", which I've become convinced is
a very mixed blessing. Good, in that people show up in realistic looking
uniforms, with proper weapons and equipment. Bad, in that too many of
them are middle aged, overweight, and have gray hair. But I suppose they
work cheap. This is supplemented by computer annimation, of such things
as Cuters's patrolling band waylaying Stuart's maurauding column along
that road to the Union rear - it's just shocking how old Jeb let himself
be surprised out in the open like that - and Picket's troops breaking
through and driving off the panic stricken Yankees.

There was one special effect that was worth the price of admission all by
itself, though. Some poor Reb is standing there on Culp's Hill on the
morning of July 3, chatting with the soon to be dearly departed Wesley
while they get ready to storm the hill again. Which shouldn't have been
too much of a chore, since as I recall from Carhart's book (it got left
out of the program somehow, maybe he didn't have time to explain that part
of the plan), part of Stuart's job was to drop off some men to help
capture the hill while he was on the way to help Pickett. Since they
would have had "Enfield rifles with sword bayonets", it would have bene
practically a done deal. But anyway, they're just standing there BS'ing
with each other, just minding there own business, when the Union artillery
opens up and blows poor Wesley's friend away. And I mean, literally! Damm
shell comes flying in looking like one of those special effects meteors
from "Deep Impact" or "Armageddon" that take out the Chrysler Building,
or half of Paris, catches the guy right about in
the belt buckle, and he's just [i]gone[/i]. Looked like he was standing
in front of an 18" shell from the Yamato or something. All they needed to
really do it up right was to have just his shoes sitting there, with some
wisps of smoke coming out of them.

Frank Haskell was featured in the program, with a number of "quotations"
from his account of the battle. I say "quotations", because the program
writers alter and embellish what he wrote, when and where needed, to fit
the plot.

All in all, about as poor, and unfortunately, about as typical, as
anything I've seen lately.

The frightening part is, this sort of thing makes you wonder how much
mis-information and nonsense you're being fed, without even realizing it,
when the program is about a battle or event you may not have as much
personal knowledge of.

~Jim Cameron


Well said, Jim. As for you, Military Channel...for shame.

ps - Did I mention that despite the abundance of reenactors and living historians featured in the show, President Lincoln was represented by CGI. Awful CGI at that. Why, oh why?

1 comment:

  1. This is an eye opener. I have been a Civil War buff since I was 16, and it is very important to me that I know the truth about the battles. At least as close as historically possible based on the interpretations of the eye witnesses. I'm hitting the library again.