History Channel's "Gettysburg" is major disappointment

Civil War aficionados are disappointed that The History Channel flubs the Civil War in Tony and Ridley Scott's

VIENNA, Va, May 31, 2011 — I understand from friends that I deserve a commendation medal for lasting through the full two hours of the much-touted “Gettysburg” on the History Channel last night.

Many civil war buffs did not last more than twenty minutes before tuning out.

Gettysburg was the site of the 3-Day war (Gettysburg Cyclorama)

Gettysburg was the site of the 3-Day war

It’s a major indictment of a supposed documentary when the best part is the GEICO caveman commercial of his buddies playing Civil War re-enactors, complete with crocs and socks and modern technological pocket devices.

One can start at the top and go through it, itemizing the inaccuracies and second-rate acting and staging of “Gettysburg.” Suffice to say that Tony and Ridley Scott should go back to the entertainment movies they produced (“Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “Top Gun,”), as well as the current TV show, “The Good Wife” on CBS, and forget trying to manage a Civil War documentary.

We can skip comment on the screw-top canteens, the erroneous insignia on hats and uniforms, the white haversacks and free-swinging cartridge boxes – all of which could have been avoided by consulting any of a number of books available on the subject of uniforms and accouterments.

The film obviously was filmed nowhere near Adams County, Pennsylvania, much less at the battlefield. The terrain was totally incorrect, the woods too heavy (remember a lot of the real place was farmland) and the “town” scenes looked nothing like the actual place.

One wit opined that it must have been filmed in Albania, with locals playing the soldiers!

Then, we get to the totally gratuitous and constant violence, most of which was out of context: the same man’s skull was split in half three different times. And, while Sgt. Amos Hummiston was in the battle and did die there holding the ambrotype of his three children, that’s ALL that is known of his life or wartime activities, in contrast to the bayonet wielding scenes in the program.

A map showing Pickett's Charge, the most famous skirmish of the battle named after the General forgotten by The History Channel's program.

A map showing Pickett’s Charge, the most famous skirmish of the battle named after the General forgotten by The History Channel’s program.

The characterizations left a lot to be desired, and only Gen. Dan Sickles came through with any degree of accuracy. There was no mention of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, who was one of the main protagonists those three days; Gen. Robert E. Lee was only “pictured” once, looking like a bad impersonation of himself, and riding a WHITE horse!!

Traveller, as most people are aware, was a gray or roan.

And, it was at this time that commentator, Hari Jones, intoned something about “Lee’s CALVARY not having arrived yet.”

The two main characters were Union Col. Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisc. Regiment, Iron Brigade, who wore the same expression of bewilderment every time he was shown, and Confederate Gen. William Barksdale, who was part of General Longstreet’s Division, who charged Sickles’ position, resulting in the loss of 50% of his troops.

Yet—Longstreet was never even mentioned! Another notable for his absence was General George Pickett, as in Pickett’s Charge, characterized three times as an “epic” moment in the battle, but its leader was never shown.

Most of the commentating “experts” were from museums or organizations far north of the Mason-Dixon Line, which may account for the lopsided treatment of the battle. One of the few well-done aspects was the computer graphics animations of the various artillery components, explaining and showing how the pieces actually worked to inflict the most damage and greatest killing effect, in this, the “largest artillery barrage in the Western Hemisphere.”

Image from the Gettysburg Visitor's Center Cyclorama


The Confederates brought 160 cannon to the battle, in a line said to be two miles wide across the landscape, the Union having 100 of the mammoth killing machines. Some of the charges coming from Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill were impressive, but it was in the tight shots that inaccuracies and anomalies prevailed.

To someone viewing the documentary that knew nothing about the battle, they may have ended up with a slight glimmer of its importance. To any true Civil War devotee or reader, it was a waste of two hours.

I can hardly wait to see the next segment on “Lee and Grant,” Heaven help us all. It’s just sad that in an attempt to spotlight a major battle of the civil war, a program like this comes across as merely a dim bulb.

Follow the blog on Face Book and LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email it’s MBoltz2846@aol.com

-cl- 5/31/11

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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