Gettysburg (1993 film)

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Gettysburg
Gettysburgposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell
Produced by Moctesuma Esparza
Robert Katz
Screenplay by Ronald F. Maxwell
Based on The Killer Angels 
by Michael Shaara
Starring Tom Berenger
Jeff Daniels
Martin Sheen
Narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard
Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography Kees Van Oostrum
Edited by Corky Ehlers
Production
company
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • October 8, 1993 (1993-10-08)
Running time

254 minutes

271 minutes (director's cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[1]
Box office $10,769,960

Gettysburg is a 1993 epic war film written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, adapted from the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, about the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. The film stars were Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen. Randy Edelman composed the score. It was Richard Jordan's last movie.

Plot[edit]

Opening[edit]

Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia are making an offensive through Pennsylvania to lure the Union Army of the Potomac into a decisive battle they hope will end the war. Confederate President Jefferson Davis has prepared a letter of peace to be delivered to the desk of Abraham Lincoln once the Army of the Potomac has been destroyed somewhere north of Washington, D.C.

Actor-turned-spy Henry Thomas Harrison, assigned to spot for Union cavalry, locates a major body of Union infantry and notifies Lieutenant General James "Pete" Longstreet, the senior lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and second-in-command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Major General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry, the “eyes” of Lee’s army, has gone off on raids without keeping in touch with Lee’s army. Meanwhile, U.S. Brig. Gen. John Buford and his cavalry division arrive at Gettysburg. Buford surmises that if Lee's army enters the town, the Confederates might easily take a strong defensive position that could destroy the Army of the Potomac. Buford decides to deploy his division along Seminary Ridge in order to obstruct any Confederate advance on Gettysburg from the west. The day ends with Buford writing a letter to Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, commanding officer of the nearby Union I Corps infantry, inquiring if he should hold his position.

Meanwhile, miles from Gettysburg, U.S. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine regiment is informed that his unit will be absorbing 120 men from another Maine regiment, the 2nd Maine. Unlike the rest of their unit, the transfers had enlisted for 3 years over 2 and were ready to desert at the prospect of returning to the battlefield. Orders state that it is within his power to have the rebellious men shot, if necessary. Chamberlain wins over all but six of the soldiers with an inspirational speech.

First Day[edit]

On July 1, Buford's cavalry engages Henry Heth's division of A. P. Hill's corps; Heth had intended to lead his troops to Gettysburg to restock the Confederacy's dwindling shoe supply. Believing the forces at Gettysburg to be local militia, Heth engages Buford without first informing General Lee.

Buford repels Heth's initial attacks, but Heth's superior numbers begin to turn the tide. General Reynolds and the I Corps arrive to reinforce the position. Lee arrives on the field but is hesitant to commit the whole of Hill's Third Corps due to a lack of intelligence on the Army of the Potomac's position, given Stuart's lack of contact with the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's only information on the enemy is what has been relayed to him by General Longstreet from Harrison's report.

Union forces retake Seminary Ridge, but Reynolds, while leading the Iron Brigade into battle, is killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. Soon after, Heth informs Lee that Union forces are being flanked by Lt. General Dick Ewell's corps advancing on Gettysburg from the north. Recognizing a tactical advantage, Lee gives the order for all forces to attack.

Union forces, out-manned and flanked, begin to retreat, but a decisive Confederate victory is compromised when Ewell fails to follow through with orders to take the crucial strategic location of Cemetery Hill, allowing Union troops to rally in a strong defensive position. Confederate General Isaac Trimble, attached to Ewell's command, but disgusted by Ewell's inability to take the high ground, reports to General Lee. Trimble asks to be removed from Ewell's command, but Lee informs the enraged Trimble that such action would not be necessary.

That night, one of Longstreet's division commanders, Maj. Gen. George Pickett, arrives at Longstreet's headquarters with his three brigade commanders, Gens. James Kemper, Richard B. Garnett and Lewis Armistead. The four meet with Gen. Longstreet and banter around the fireside with British Coldstream Guards Captain (and simultaneously Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army Arthur Fremantle, who has been traveling with Lee's army as an observer. Armistead discusses with Longstreet his friendship with Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and his desire to meet with him.

At the center of the Union position south of the town, Hancock congratulates Buford on a hard fight. Hancock reflects on Reynolds's death and Armistead's whereabouts, to which Buford responds that Armistead is serving in Pickett's division. Hancock states that he would hate to meet Armistead again while still on opposite sides. After a moment of recollection, he again congratulates Buford and instructs him that he should reorganize his cavalry. Later that evening, the commander of Union forces, General George Meade arrives. After commenting on the darkness of the surroundings, he is assured by Hancock that the area was a good location to defend against Lee's army.

Second day[edit]

Lee orders an attack on the Union left flank, to be led by two divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps. The primary focus of the attack is the treacherous terrain of Devil's Den and Little Round Top. John "Sam" Bell Hood, one of Longstreet's division commanders and a close friend, is tasked with flanking the Union forces. He pleads with Longstreet to allow him to bypass Devil's Den and Little Round Top in favor of the taller heights of the adjacent Big Round Top. Longstreet tells Hood that he has already made the same appeal to Lee, who will not accept an attack elsewhere on the field.

Chamberlain and the 20th Maine are deployed on Little Round Top as the furthermost left flank of the entire Federal line. Chamberlain addresses the six men from the 2nd Maine who chose not to fight, giving them one last chance to join the fight and not face court-martial. Three of them accept. When Devil’s Den falls, there is little left to protect Chamberlain’s regiment. The undersized 20th puts up a valiant defense, repelling numerous Confederate charges, but soon becomes short on ammunition. As Confederate troops form up for another assault on the hill, Chamberlain orders a bayonet charge. Expecting another hilltop siege, the sudden onrush of men streaming down between the trees catches the Confederates off-guard. The chaos leads them to retreat in confusion, many being taken prisoner.

Late that afternoon, Longstreet visits a severely wounded Hood in a field hospital. Longstreet informs Hood that they took Devil’s Den, but that they were unable to take Little Round Top. Hood takes this as irrefutable proof the Rebel attack should have focused on Big Round Top.

That evening in Longstreet’s camp General Armistead, believing he’s soon to see combat, gives a package to Longstreet to be delivered to the wife of General Hancock in the event of Armistead's death. The package contains his personal Bible.

Lee meets with Stuart, who had finally returned that afternoon, but not in time to give Lee an advantage. Lee scolds Stuart, who attempts to resign. Lee refuses to acknowledge this and orders him to never leave the army blind again, reminding Stuart that he is "one of the finest cavalry officers" he has ever known.

Pickett's Charge[edit]

On the third and final day of combat, General Lee believes that the Federal line is weakest in the center and could be divided in two. Longstreet protests, but Lee, now confident that the Army of Northern Virginia is invincible, places Longstreet in charge of a frontal assault on the Union position on Cemetery Ridge with General Pickett’s division forming the center of the assault.

Longstreet, suspecting the attack will fail from the beginning, orders for an extended artillery bombardment. However, the Confederates do not realize their guns are overshooting the Union defenses, and the bombardment does hardly any damage to the Union center. When the bombardment ends, Pickett’s forces begin their advance. Immediately they fall under fire of the Union’s long-distance artillery. They make it to the Union line where numbers are further decreased by canister and musket fire.

Armistead, whose brigade is at the rear of Pickett’s forces, sees General Garnett’s horse riding off away from the line, its rider having been killed by an artillery round. This prompts Armistead to thrust his sword through his hat and rally his fellow Virginians to follow him. His brigade manages to reach a low stone wall near the Union line (a location now known as the high-water mark of the Confederacy), but the small force is overwhelmed, and Armistead is mortally wounded. The Confederate forces that broke the line are either killed or captured. General Kemper is wounded and captured, but rescued by Confederate troops.

Thomas Chamberlain, Joshua's brother, encounters the mortally wounded Armistead, who asks to see his old friend Hancock. Chamberlain informs him that Hancock has been wounded as well. Armistead asks Chamberlain to tell Hancock that he sends his regrets and that he is very sorry. Chamberlain promises a dying Armistead that he will do as he told.

Lee rides out to the remains of the retreating Confederate forces and declares that everything is all his fault. He orders a distraught General Pickett to reform his division to prepare for a possible counterattack, to which Pickett informs Lee that he has no division.

The day, along with the battle, ends with a victorious North and Lee informing Longstreet of plans to fall back into Virginia beginning the next day, feeling that the Union forces would be unlikely to pursue on Independence Day. Joshua Chamberlain and his brother Tom meet and embrace in tears, knowing that they both survived the battle. The final shot is of three zouaves of the 72nd Pennsylvania with the Union flag against the sunset. Prior to the end credits, epilogue cards detail the lives of the main characters following the war.

Production[edit]

The film began life as a miniseries. The producers originally pitched the project to ABC in 1991. ABC initially agreed to back the project, but when the TV movie Son of the Morning Star about George Armstrong Custer received low ratings, ABC withdrew. Subsequently, media mogul and Civil War buff Ted Turner took up the project and filming began, helped considerably when the National Park Service permitted unprecedented access to Gettysburg Battlefield, including Devil's Den and Little Round Top. However, much of the movie was shot at a nearby Adams County farm. Thousands of Civil War reenactors from across the country volunteered to come to Gettysburg to participate in the massive battle scenes.[1]

When filming was completed, the miniseries was set to air on TNT. But during post-production, Turner, who made a cameo as a Confederate officer during Pickett's Charge, was so impressed by what he saw that he decided to release "Gettysburg" theatrically. The film was distributed by New Line Cinema, which Turner had just acquired. The film was only shown in 248 theaters at its widest release, and was limited to one or two showings a day because of its inordinate length. "Gettysburg" grossed nearly $11 million, but was still considered a box-office flop. However, the film became an all-time top grosser in the home-entertainment market, and has become a staple of classroom history lessons. Its TV premiere on TNT in June 1994 garnered over 23 million viewers, a record for cable TV at the time.

One of the longest films ever released by a Hollywood studio, Gettysburg runs 254 minutes (4 hours, 14 minutes) on VHS and DVD. A director's cut edition, with several extended or deleted scenes, sold as part of a special "Collector's Edition" on VHS and LaserDisc, which also included a book of Gettysburg paintings by Civil War artist Mort Künstler, an original Civil War lead Minié ball, stock photographs of key officers from the battle, and other items. Ron Maxwell's 271-minute (4 hours, 31 minutes) Director's Cut has been shown on Turner's TNT Station regularly and is now available on DVD.

The movie was released on Blu-Ray as a Collector's Edition on May 24, 2011 for the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War.

A prequel entitled Gods and Generals was released in 2003 based on the novel of the same name, written by Michael Shaara's son Jeff Shaara. It primarily focuses on the life of Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and the battles leading up to Gettysburg.

The PC strategy game, Gettysburg: Multimedia Battle Simulation was released by Turner Interactive in 1994. It contained 67 cinematic scenes from the film,[2] many of them outtakes.

Cast[edit]

Cameos[edit]

Civil War buff Ted Turner has a cameo appearance in the battle of Pickett's Charge as Colonel Waller T. Patton, who is mortally wounded. He would later reprise this cameo in Gods and Generals.

Former James Bond actor George Lazenby has a brief role as Confederate General Johnston Pettigrew, who, along with General Isaac Trimble and General Pickett, helps lead the final charge of the battle.

Ken Burns, who co-wrote and directed the epic PBS documentary The Civil War, portrays an aide to Major General Hancock during a massive bombardment that precedes Pickett's Charge. Burns can be seen saying, "General, please get down. We cannot spare you," to Hancock, to which Hancock replies with a famous quotation, "There are times when a corps commander's life does not count."

Civil War historian Brian Pohanka made a brief and uncredited appearance as Union General Alexander S. Webb.

Civil War historian Gabor Boritt is featured in the film as a Union soldier capturing a Confederate battle flag.

Actor and Director Brian James Egen appears as the "Cocky Lieutenant" just before the Confederate attack on Little Round Top. He makes the statement of "Colonel... seems to me the fighting's on that side of the hill."

Actor Matt Letscher, who later portrayed Union officer Adelbert Ames in Gods and Generals, appeared as one of the six hotheads of the 2nd Maine who later chose to fight again at Little Round Top.

Soundtrack[edit]

The score was composed by Randy Edelman. The soundtrack was released through Milan Records in September 1993 and features eighteen tracks of score.

  1. "Main Title" (4:36)
  2. "Men of Honor" (2:57)
  3. "Battle of Little Round Top" (3:57)
  4. "Fife and Gun" (3:03)
  5. "General Lee at Twilight" (1:25)
  6. "The First Battle" (2:41)
  7. "Dawn" (1:59)
  8. "From History to Legend" (2:56)
  9. "Over the Fence" (4:11)
  10. "We are the Flank" (2:15)
  11. "Charging Up the Hill" (2:23)
  12. "Dixie" (2:26) – traditional
  13. "General Lee's Solitude" (3:41)
  14. "Battle at Devil's Den" (1:46)
  15. "Killer Angel" (4:42)
  16. "March to Mortality (Pickett's Charge)" (3:18)
  17. "Kathleen Mavourneen" (3:17) – composed by Frederick Crouch
  18. "Reunion and Finale" (5:45)

Two related albums were subsequently released: More Songs and Music From Gettysburg and a Deluxe Commemorative Edition. The former includes popular songs from the time period and a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by Jeff Daniels; the latter contains previously unreleased tracks from the score.[3]

Reception[edit]

Gettysburg received an 88% positive rating on the film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 16 reviews.[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating, "This is a film that Civil War buffs will find indispensable, even if others might find it interminable." Ebert said that despite his initial indifference, he left the film with a new understanding of the Civil War, and that he felt Jeff Daniels deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance.[5] Ebert also gave the film a "thumbs-up" on Siskel & Ebert, while companion Gene Siskel gave it a "thumbs-down", saying that the film was "bloated Southern propaganda." He, however, also praised Daniels' performance and also recommended it should be nominated for an Oscar.

References[edit]

External links[edit]