director and screenplay
author Ronald F. Maxwell (RM)
chief camera man Kees Van Oostrum (KO)
author and Pulitzer Prize winner James M. McPherson (JM)
military historian Craig Symonds (CS)
Version: Febr 17, 2014
(JM) In the winter and spring of 1863 the northern cause was at a kind of low ebb. In the eastern theatre Union forced had been humiliated at Fredericksburg. And then an effort by General Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, to retrieve his loss at Fredericksburg bogged down in what became known as the "mud march" in January 1863, and Burnside was relieved of command and General Joe Hooker took over. Hooker did a lot of bolsting about what he was going to do to Robert E. Lee in the spring of 1863, and then Hooker got humiliated and again the northern forces were beaten at Chancellorsville. In the meantime the initial efforts of union armys in the western theatre to capture Vicksburg, which was the main strategic objective in that theathre, had bogged down in what looked like a futility. In December 1862, Sherman, commanding part of Grant's army had assaulted Confederate defenders north of Vicksburg at Chickasaw Bluffs and had been repulsed. Cavalry raids in Grant's rear had forced him to retreat from northern Mississippi. Grant had come down to base his campaign against Vicksburg on the river. But through the early months of 1863 - January, February, March, into April, it looked like nothing was happening. Desease was taking huge toll union forces there. There was a lot of pressure on Lincoln to dismiss Grant as a drunk and a failure.
The northern war effort was at a low ebb in the spring of 1863, and after the Confederates victory at Chancellorsville, Lee decided to invade the North and got Jefferson Davis' approval - with several objectives in mind. One was to supply his army of the rich northern countryside. But more important, Lee was convinced that if he could win one more victory, it would so undermine the will of the northern people to continue the war and so strengthen the peace democrats, the Copperheads, that the Lincoln administration would be forced to give in to the demand for an armistice and peace negotiations, with would be turn a mark to a Confederate victory, because it would involve recognizing the Confederate independence and concluding peace. So Lee did invade the North in June 1863, the Confederacy was on a row. It looked like they had successfully frustrated Grant in Mississippi, they had neutralized another principal Union army in middle Tennessee - there had been a stallmate in that theatre for the past six months as well. So Lee invaded the north hoping to win a knockout blow.
(RM) Hi, I'm Ron Maxwell, the writer, director and co-producer of the motion picture "Gettysburg". Walking the battle field with Michael Shaara was a memorable experience. First of all being with him, because he was a powerful figure, and also to have the battle narrated by Michael Shaara through his taken the battle. If there is such a thing at hollowed ground, that's one of the places where you feel it. There is a tendgible connection between the earth and human beings, but especially at places where we know from shared experience that mometums of events have occurred, then Gettysburg is only one of those places, that figured very prominently of course, in our own national story as Americans.
(CS) My name is Craig Symonds, I'm an historian. I teach the American Civil War at United States Naval Academy. Well, the cavalry in 19th century army is - and particulary in American Civil War - was the fraze of the time the eyes the ears of the army. Obviosly this is a time prior to electronic easedropping and spy satellites and all every kinds that armies today would get their information. And generals depended very heavily on the information that could be brought to them by the cavalry. They got information occasionly from enemy newspapers they might lying around in camp. They got information from people that they pass from the road side who might be able to tell them, "Gee, yesterday 10,000 people marched by my house". Or they might getting their information from prisoners, who were more likely to tell them, "Boy, just wait 'till we meet you next time, 'cause there's only 5,000 of us right down this road and you're gonna be in trouble tomorrow." But the most important way to gather information, to prefessionally gather information was from the cavalry. And this was true for both armies. And that's why Lee, when he invaded Pennsylvania, made a deliberate decission to move over the Blue Ridge Mountains into what is now West Virginia, moving up to down the Shenandoah Valley, northward down the Shenandoah Valley and across the Potomac and into Pennsylvania, using the Blue Ridge in Virginia and its extension in Pennsylvania which was known as South Mountain, using that wall to screen him from the prying eyes of Federal cavalry. So when the Union army tried to find out where the Confederate army was, the best way, the most efficient way to do that was to send out cavalry patrols. And that's exactly what Hooker did and what Meade did when he took command. He'd send out patrols in several directions, and it was simply fate and circumstace that brought General Buford heading into the road hub at Gettysburg, as other probine elements of the Union army were sent out in other directions.
(KO) I am Kees Van Oostrum, I was the cinematographer at "Gettysburg". (to scene 12, Chamberlain dismounting on the march) This is typically a small town set and it really consists of some old farms that can be found on the road. Maybe at one point it was a small farm community, but out there in Pennsylvania you get a lot of these old buildings there still in groups together. And we found those, and pretending it was a town it was pretty good. (to scene 14, Buford riding into Gettysburg, the Lutheran Seminary in the background) Here is a set, that is a flat that be built in the field of the seminary, and it's about half the size of the real thing, but perspectively it looks like the real tall building. I liked it, the size that it was.
(CS) The basic building block of a 19th century army, a Civil War army, is the regiment. There's a scene in the film where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is talking to the mutineers from the 2nd Maine and he said, we started out with a thousand man and now we have 250. That was pretty typical for a civil war army in the 2nd or 3rd year of the war. A thousand man in a regiment is the putitive strength of a regiment. But almost no regiment at Gettysburg hat actually that many men. The reason being that biologically it was easier to recruit men into a brandnew regiment than it was to add them as replacements for a regiment that had been in the field for some months. They would come in as strangers, it would be difficult to acclimate. We saw the difficulties the men from the 2nd Maine had in adopting the 20th Maine as their new parent outfit. So what generally happened when more troops were needed, instead of reinforcing a regiment whose numbers had become depleted, they would raise an entirely new regiment. So by the summer of 1863 a regiment would number probably typically between 300 und 350 rather than a thousand, but that's the basic building block. And the cavalry could operate in units of regimental size of in brigade size, which is the next level up - when several regiments were brought together, they formed a brigade. And what Buford commanded at Gettysburg was a brigade of cavalry. Probably about 2,000 men was the number that cantered into Gettysburg on the morning of the 30th of June.
(RM) (to scene 14, Buford discussing the defense of the town) In this scene where General Buford deploys his cavalry to a dismounted defense, we in fact filmed sone eight miles west of the actual position, which today is marked by his statue. We needed open fields, free of roads and traffic. We filmed on a private farm and re-created the Chambersburg Pike für this whole sequence for the beginning of the film. Buford - I think we hit a bulls-eye when we cast Sam Elliot in that roll. Because Buford is the kind of men's man. He's actually a soldier that fought in the West before the Civil War, he had sought the theories out in the praries. You have the sense of him, this kind of professional soldier, who had a high standard of his own professional conduct, incredible courage and he - like many of the Civil War soldiers - was not gonna take a backward step unless he saw an tactical advantage in it. Very gutsy, very ingenious, and of course his actions on the first day dictate the way the whole battle would turn around him.
I wanted to call the film "The Killer Angels" because not only of it's literally padigree, but because it sums up in a title the whole paradox of the war, the whole controdiction of the war, that all these people were angels and killers at the same time. Ted Turner wanted it called "Gettysburg", and in the hind side I can't argue with this decission, because the movie only has a life now after the fact with that title. But "The Killer Angels" sums up all of these characters. All these characters were prepared to die for their country, and keep in mind that the Confederates thought the South as their country. In fact the Confederates thought of their states as their country. When Robert E. Lee in many of his dispatches and his letters referres to his country, he is talking about Virginia. It's a very strange notion for us 140 years later to grasp, but it was vers tendgible and very real for these people.
(KO) (to scene 15, Buford with his officers around him) Here's an interesting shot at Buford and his men. You know, I think it's so much about a keeper about the men and what I think a commander who is loved by his men and is very courageous. I mean, it's not a better way to show him than with this closeup with ten of those faces right behind him. It just gives a real sense of reality to it in drama, I think. I like to use wide-angle lenses, so that gives you a tremendous depth and width of - you know. And also I think a character piece like this do so much on people that are talking, you wanna show what's behind him as much of the world their're in it as you can.
(CS) "Pickets", the term comes from the French "piquet". Pickets are soldiers who are out in front, as a kind of given early warning system of the approach of the enemy. You took your turn doing this, you were all in the business of the same people, so it wasn't consideren necessarily heavy duty. Often you're out there by yourself, by only one other messmate, and the two of you would listen carefully and watch to see if anybody was coming in the middle of the night. It's a term still used in the military, even in the navy. You talk about picket boats that are put out in front of a fleet, or pickets out in front of a armed camp to give early warning of the approach of the enemy.
(on scene 15, Buford writing a situation note to Reynolds) This is supposed to be dusk, so we shot it at dusk. This is the real seminary again, carefully framed, so you don't see the modern buildings. I decided to it, and that works pretty good.
(RM) We had a fairly tight schedule. I think the total number of days was 55 of 60 to shoot this in. So we basically had to do our workload every day. And as you can see on some of these images, it's not only an actor that you have to get ready. It's for those of all the extras, the horses. For one thing, I mean, they're only to be brought in and fead, they just don't walk in on their own. So there is a lot of trailers, a lot of peoples who handle all of this.
(on scene 16, Lee and Longstreet in camp discussing not to fight here if possible) This is the first scene we did with Martin Sheen. I remember it well. It's kind of interesting, when you do a historic peace like this, and especially surrounded by these reenactory, who are so aware of every historical fact. When you portrait a character like General Lee, it brings a lot of myth with it. And I remember, this was very tense, because here is the first scene with Lee and he's an important character also, an important man in our history. And everybody around him, the reenactors sort of got a cold to shove, because here is this man that they have only seen in pictures, and here is sort of a living embodyment of that.
I tell you what did make it easy is reenactory in general, because you only have to tell them once what you're doing and they understand fully and they don't do anything that wouldn't pass the reality check, because they know what to doing. I mean, they're very very good. When we a shot like this, it's a dialog putted on track somewhere, we moved to a whole encampment, so while this is all going on, you get a real impresson of how this unit encamped, how they proceed by the orchestra and the tents, you get a good sense of it. And I'm gonna think that was one of the things I liked talked about a lots, because you've got to walk away from this, feeling like you'd been there, like you'd been in the middle of it all.
(JM) My Name is James McPherson. I teach at Princton University. I tought here for 35 years. My field is the history of the 19th century Amerika with a special concentration on the American Civil War, and so I've ritten a number of books on that subject. I'm probably best known for the book "Battly Cry of Freedom - The Civil War Era". The Gettysburg campaign demonstrated an interesting reversal of the usual superior intelligence, so forth as the Confederates had, expecially in the first half of the war. When mist of the fighting was in southern territory, in Virginia, of course the South was fighting on it's own ground, it's own turf as it were. So it had better knowledge of the roads, civilians would tell the Confederates where the Yankees were up to, spies operated a lot better in ones own territory than they do in enemy territory. But also in the early part of the war, Confederate cavalry was just the main intelligence-gathering arm of the Civil War army. Confederate cavalry was much better than Union cavalry. By 1863 Union cavalry was catching up with the Confederate cavalry. And of course once Lee got into Pennsylvania, he was operating in the enemy's territory, where gathing the intelligence is much more difficult, and the Union army was operating in it's own territory. But there was a special quality about Lee's invasion and cavalry intelligence took place in the Gettysburg campaign, wich was that as the Confederate army entered Pennsylvania, Stuart with the three best cavalry brigades of the Confederate cavalry had taken off on a raid around a rear of the Union army, and thus for nearly two weeks was cut off from any contact with the rest of the Confederate Army in Pennsylvania, because the Union army was between Stuart - who was raiding near Washington, actual Rockville, MD - and the Confederates who had invaded through the Shenandoah Valley and crossed the Potomac there. And the Union army was between Stuart's cavalry and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, so Lee was effectivly operating blind für several days, almost a week.
Here is, where General John Buford and his cavalry division ran to a real service to the Army of the Potomac, because they did have accurate information about where the Confederates were and where they were heading. And Buford sent this information back to General John Reynolds, who was commanding one wing of the Union army and who in turn sent back to Meade. And it basically because of Buford's intelligence and his recommendation, that the best place to make a defensive stand was on the hills around at Gettysburg. That's where the battle was fought.
(CS) For a hunded years and more, weaponry of an infantry soldier was the shoulder-fired musket. And it was loaded by the muzzle. You see in the film solders taking a paper cartridge out of their cartridge box, tearing it open with their teeth, pouring black-powder down the muzzle, dropping the ball down on top of it until it literally drops down the barrel and sits on top of that black-powder. Then they would wrought up the paper in which they were contained, put in the barrel as well and shove the whole thing down with the ram rod. Then they would pull back the hammer to half-cock, put on a percussion cap - a little brass about quarter inch size peace of hardware fill the formunated mercury - over a little nipple right above the hammer, pull the hammer back to full cock, pull the trigger. The hammer would strike the formunated mercury, that would explode the black-powder and the ball would fly out the end of the muzzle.
Then in the mid 1850th a frenchman named Minie invented a conical ball, a cylindical shaped ball with a hollow base, that would drop right down that muzzle sit on the black-powder so that it could be loaded quickly and easily. But when the black-powder exploded, the hollow base on that bullet would expand, engage the rifling inside the muzzle, and therefor exit with a spin and carry a true projactury for instead 100 or 120 yards 300 or 400 yards. This dramatically changed the whole tactics of the battlefield. So that every officer knew now in the American Civil War, that frontal assault were as previously you could march up to the enemy line in a solid rank, probably to within 60, 80 yards, before you began taking serious casualties, fire one round with a volley and then charge with the bayonet before the enemy had an opportunity to reload. And those tactics would work - until 1855. Come the American Civil War, you begin taking heavy casualties at 300 yards, 400 yards. And to cover those 400 yards in the open field against an enemy that could load and fire three times in a minute, you're taking dozends of rounds before you cross that open ground. So now frontal assaults become much more dangerous.
Lee's whole purpose in invading Pennsylvania was to engage the Army of the Potomac in a showdown battle. And so he had different divisions of that army scattered over much of the Pennsylvania countryside.Jubal Early's division was on the Susquehanna River, Heath east of York, PA, part of Ewell's division was south of Harrisburg, and one of Lee's goals was to burn the Pennsylvania railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. So I think that's it quite possible, that Heth's probe towards Gettysburg was again a part of this attempt to find, fix, and then engage the Army of the Potomac.
(KO) Certainly our case went astron when I went into the screening rooms and spent times looking at the big, spectacle scenes, with the crossovers, the action sequences. What works, what doesn't work. 'Cause even in crossover, even in the masters sometimes things don't work. And the last thing we wanted to do is re-invent the wheel. Wer were in an area where great films had been made, medioque films had been made, awful films had been made, you know the area of the historical epic. Let's not make the same mistakes, and let's not pretend we're inventing some camera move when it's been done 20 times before or a hundred times before. But the best thing to do is look at the work of the masters, attory scholer of the living film makers, Betron Tabernier, John Houston, looked at "The Red Badge of Courage", and just not again, not to copy but to just embue it - have it in our bones, have it in our blood stream, and having their film making experiences internallized and carried with us onto our set.
(CS) This is a war that takes place right at a divert point at the development of technology. There is telegraphic communication from city to city. But on the battlefield, communication from commander to subordinates had to take place one of two ways. Either the general or more likely his aide-de-champ would scribble out on a peace of paper some orders, hand it to a courier - usually a staff aide, often a lieutenant, most often a captain -, who would gallop with that message in hand, reign up in front of the subordinate, "Complements of General Lee" or "Complements of General Meade, and here are your orders, Sir". More frequently, especially in the midst off battle, when scribbling orders down on a peace of paper would waste precious seconds, the army commander would simply turn to that aide and say, "My complements to General so-and-so, tell him I need his army to move to right" or whatever the order might be. The courier would gallop off and give those instructions, so that a captain, a 22 or 23 year old young captain - still wet behind the ears - would ride up to a two-star general and he would speak with the authority of the army commander, "Sir, General Lee's complements. He wants you to do x y or z." And those orders were binding. "Yes, Sir." and off they went.
(KO) (on scene 19, when Buford is again on the lookout on the semimary) And that is a met shot. This is the real seminary, and then everything around it is painted. All around there was high way modern buildings. It wouldn't be spout out with a McDonalds out in the shot somewhere.
(CS) (on scene 19, when Buford is again on the lookout on the semimary) We see Reynolds riding up onto the seminary ridge with Buford up on the tower of the seminary, and he sees him coming, and here is this giant blue flag, almost as if to say, "Here the general, here's the prime target for some Confederate sharpshooter." And it seems odd to us. But again recall, that Civil War occupies that turning point between kind of chivaulric wars of the late middle ages and the modern wars of the 20th century. And partly it is a legacy of that experience. It was not unusual for general officers to be marked in their location by a guidon bearer who would stand near him. And less we think that this derives solely from provado on the part of the general, it has a very specific battlefield funktion, to let his subordinants know where the commander is. If battlefield communicaion takes place by courier, the courier riding about a smoke-filled battlefield - and remember, they're firing black-powder so that the battlefield is covered with white smoke - and it's noisy, it's loud, and finding a general quickly under those circumstances is difficult enough. So a guidon was generally assigned to stand near the commanding officers of brigades, divisions, corps and even the army, to let subordinates and especially couriers know where he is so they can find him. So it is not unusual to find a general being accompanied by his staff aides, his aide-de-camp and a guidon bearer with a great big flag saying, "Here comes the general".
(JM) (to scene 21 Lee meeting Heth) There is some dispute among historians about wether the request for shoes in Gettysburg was really the reason why that leading division of A.P. Hill marched into Gettysburg. It may have been the case. Certainly there were rumors in the Confederate Army that there was a cash of shoes in Gettysburg. Those rumors were on true. In fact, Jubal Early's division of Ewell's corps had been through Gettysburg about a week before on their way to York, PA and to the Susquehanna River and any shoes that had been in Gettysburg had been cleaned out by Early's Division. While there was in fact probably a rumor in the Confederate army that there were shoes in Gettysburg, there were no shoes. That may have been why Heth's division was marching towards Gettysburg, but some historians have expressed a certain amount of scepticism.
The film and the novel that it's based on shows three key portions of the battle of Gettysburg to portrait, one on each of the three days. It portraits the morning of July 1st, when Buford decides to make his stand to two cavalry brigades and holds off the advancing Confederate army until the Union infantry arrives. That's very dramatic, it's crucical in determining the fact, that the battle was fought at Gettysburg and that the Union army decided to stand and fight. Gettysburg was what military analysts and historians call a "meeting engagement". Before July 1st, nobody planned to fight at Gettysburg, and the battle just built up there because the advance units of the Confederate army - Heth's infantry division - met the advance units of the Union army - Buford's cavalry brigades -, and each side summon reinforcements and the battle built up from there. And it was basically the decision to stand and fight rather than to pull back, retreat, move back toward Maryland where the main body of the Union army was. Buford's decision, backed by General Reynolds - who'd sent him a message from 10, 12 miles south just across the Maryland border where they had encamped the night before - that "We'll join you, hold on as long as you can at Gettysburg" So that is portrait I think very well and very accurately in the movie.
(CS) When the Civil War broke out the word went out in the Union, "We're looking for volunteers to suppress a combination of individuals too powerful for the local constabiliary forces to deal with." And so, men flocked to the colors. In the South, by the same token, "Volunteers to defend ourselfes from invasion." And the fundamental organizing oversite unit was the state. All of these regiments were initiated by the state affiliation, the 20th Maine, the 16th Michigan, the 44th New York. It's not the 1st United States. Later on of course there are some nationally identified units, even at Gettysburg there is the 1st United States Sharpshooters for example, individuals who were selected from various states because of their ability to handle weapons with accuracy over great distance. But in large the state is the organizing authority. And the state also clothes them, armed them and sent them to the front. When these regiments were originally organized, often the men got together and said, "Well, look, we'll give ourselves a special name. We're not only going to be the 1st Minnesota, we'll be the Wildcat Rangers" or some such name. "And we'll have blue uniforms with red piping and yellow hats." And that was fine. Because once they were armed and sent to the front, the national government accepted them on behalf of Washington and gave them their orders to go to the front.
(to scene 25, Reynolds being shot dead) There's an interesting scene during the battle, when Buford's men are holding the ridge line and Reynold's men arrive, General Reynolds is shot and falls to the ground. Among the soldiers who rushed to is aid, were a number who were wearing what seemed to be odd little hats, little killbox hats with a little bullseye on the top in red, and they're wearing red pantaloons und short jackets, and what the heck is this? These are zouave uniforms. The zouaves were french elite troops serving in North Africa and got a reputation in the decade before the American Civil War for being perticularily tough fighters. So when some of these regiments were organized, they got together and said, "Let's be a zouave unit, we'll have red pantaloons, yellow shirts, blue jackets and a fez". And as odd as that sounds to us today, that was not unusual - especially in 1861, a little bit more unusual in 1863, but again there were several zouave regiments at Gettysburg, perticularily on the Union side.
After the Civil War, there were about half a dozen southeners that each of them claim that he was the man who shot General Reynolds. He had a whole story to go woth it. One of them claimes that he was in the McPherson barn when he fired the shot. Anotherone said he was in a tree in Herb's Woods, the McPherson's Woods. None of these can verified, of course, and end up by the claims by those who made them. Most scholars today believe that the bullet that killed General Reynolds was in fact an overshot from the infantry fight that was going on at that moment in Herb's Woods, what is sometimes called McPherson's Woods on McPherson's ridge. So it's possible that he was killed by a sharpshooter, but I think most scholars believe that it was simply a stray shot.
(JM) Lee's success on the first day was in part a result of his ability to improvise, but I think in greater part the result of good luck on part of the Confederates. On the morning of June 29th, after Lee had received information from James Harrison, Longstreet's spy, that the Union army was at the positions just south of the Pennsylvania border that Harrison laid out for them, he sent our couriers to the units of his army, that were near Harrisburg, the units of his army that were east of Harrisburg and east of York, saying "concentrate either at Cashtown" - which is in the gap with South Mountain - "or Gettysburg as quickly as you can". And the reason why Gettysburg became the point of concentration for the Confederate army and to some degree for the Union army is if you look at the map, the village of Gettysburg - just a town by then with about 2,500 people - looks like as at the center of a spider web of roads. There are roads coming into Gettysburg from literally every point on the compas, they count up to a dozen roads. So it's a place where armies can concentrate quite quickly. So it's partly a matter of luck that the road system brought in the Confederates. And they had superiour numbers there. On the first day the Confederates got about 29,000 men there and I think the Union army only had about between 20 and 25,000 thousand who actually got there in time to fight.
(to scene 27, Lee giving orders to keep up the pressure on the enemy) Lee did improvise, and he wanted to continue the attack. He gave Ewell discretionary orders about to be four or five o'clock in the afternoon, after the Confederates had broken through on both flanks, to press the attack and to ceize the Union defensive position on Cemetery Hill. But those were discretionary and Ewell decided to use this discression not to attack, and of course that's one of the most controversial aspects of the battle from the Confederate point of view.
Ewell's indecision, his hesitation, Lee's disappointment with Ewell is pretty well portraited in the movie. And weather the scene with Isaac Trimble, saying, "I told the man, give me a division and I'll take that hill. Give me a brigade. Give me a regiment." and he throws down his hat, weather that ever acually happened is hard to say. We have Trimble's account of it, and something like that may have happened.
A very dramatic moment on the first day, the failure of the Confederates to follow up the victory with a final assault, now there is no certainty that such final assault would have succeeded. I think it's quite likely that if Jackson were alive and were in command of that corps, that he would have tried it. But there is no assurance he would have succeeded.
(CS) There is no more controversally aspect about the battle of Gettysburg than the confrontation between Lee and Longstreet about the whole issue about what ought to be done on the second and third days. Now when Michael Shaara wrote the novel on which this film is based, "The Killer Angels" - one of the great Civil War novels, maybe the greatest Civil War novels ever written -, one of the sources he relied on very heavily was Longstreet's memoirs. And Lee never wrote his memoirs - perhaps to his credit. After the war was over, Lee said, "Enough is enough. I don't wanna discuss it. I certainly don't wanna write about it." Lee lived only five more years and dies in 1870 as President of what was then known as Washington University, now Washington & Lee. But Longstreet lived to a ripe old age and did several things that did not endear himself to his fellow southeners. He became a Republican, a skullywag in the parlonts of the day, and even quite literally fought on behalf of the Republican administration, the Grant administration, suppressed sort of states rights movements in Louisiana. And even worse from the point of view of most southeners, he critized Lee in his post-war-writings. He made it clear that he believed that Gettysburg was lost because Lee made a strategic and tactical error in not accepting Longstreet's advice. You can get into arguments as many as you want with experts on the Civil War about if Longstreet was right or not. I think, most people have come down on the side that there were at least as many risks involved with persuming Longstreet's alternative strategy as there were with Lee's.
To look at this battle from Lee's point of view, Lee had the federal army in a meeting engagement. They talked about being entrenched, but neither army was really entrenched here. The Union took advantage of some very low stone wall already in place and piled up logs on Culps Hill, that's true. But by enlarge, these armies were unentrenched. Entrenched warfare doesn't really come in full blow in the Civil War until 1864. And he faced an opponent who was roughly equal in numbers to his own. The Confederacy always faced overwhelming numbers, not in their favor. At Chancellorsville for example, Lee was outnumbered better than two to one, and yet he won a victory by going on the defensive and doing the daring and unexpected thing. Here he found that opportunity in the North that he had been seeking. The enemy was coming up piece by piece. He was not entrenched, he was roughly at equal numbers. When would he ever have another opportunity as good as this one. You can make an awfully good argument that Lee needed to pursue the opportunity he had in front of him.
(JM) The second major part of the battle that is portraited is the attack on the afternoon of the second day by Longstreet's corps supported by one division of Hill's corps on the south end of the Union defensive line, the south end of Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. And here of course the key event as portraited by the movie is the defense of the left flank of the Union army at Little Round Top by the 20th Maine. And that was crucical in the battle and it's portraited as crucical in the movie, and again I think that is very accurately done, brilliantly done. I think it's the best part of the movie. I think, the fight at Little Round Top is quite accurately portrait as being crucical too, the ability of the Union army to prevent the Confederates from wolling up their flank. Little Round Top was key to the Union line, so it's a good choice to portrait that fighting and a good way to symbolize the failure of the Confederate attack to achieve any kind of a breakthrough or successful flanking attack on the second day of the battle.
(CS) Gettysburg was after all a meeting engagenemt. Both armies were coming up, one from the South and one from the North and West. And the irony here perhaps - one of the many ironies at Gettysburg - is that the Southern army was coming down from the North and the Northern army was coming up from the South. Then as they each approached the city, the confrontation was North to South. So when Lee sought to flank his enemy - again Lee's standard tactic against an enemy when he's on the offensive - is to swing around the enemy and attack on flanking rear. And that's what he had in mind for Longstreet, wo was to move out behind the screen of the trees and come up behind the Emmitsburg Road, sweeping over those two high hills - sometimes called Shugar Loaf, but more often today known as Big and Little Round Top -, sweep up over those hills and attack the Union army from South to North on it's flank and rear. By the time Longstreet executes that attack it's four o'clock in the afternoon, although Longstreet had been given his final orders about eleven that morning. Again one of the problems here is the time it took for Longstreet to get into position for communication to travel back and forth across the field. Clearly the circumstances have changed between the time that Lee drew it up in his mind and the time it's executed on the battlefield. So Longsteret is attempting to attack from the South to roll up that line over Little Round Top. When Lee gave the orders to launch that attack, Big and Little Round Top were unoccupied. And in fact as late as early afternoon, Big and Little Round Top were unoccupied by Union troops. There was a Federal signal team up there whig-whagning signal flags back and forth.
(KO) We couldn't shoot everything on the park because there was a trememdous observation tower which had been put up in the early sixties, and it impaired us a great deal, it was almost like a slice of a 360 degree pie. And you couldn't put your camera any given time. And another place which was nearly impossible to film on the Little Round Top, because Little Round Top is covered with monuments. So we know we had to replicate Little Round Top in the woods around Little Round Top nearby. And because we're in the same geological area to sum up topography, we were able to replicate that not far away, about four miles to the west of the national military park. Just west of the Eisenhower National Monument on private property on a farm we were able to find a hill with the same degree if incline, the same trees, the same stone formations, virtually the same positions what the 20th Maine would present on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg.
(CS) One of the most fascenating thing about this whole war is the bind logics of amateurs fighting amateurs. To be sure, West Point graduates on both sides took the vast majority of the leadership positions. There were major generals in both armies who were not West Point graduates, but they were relatively rare. West Point graduates got command positions. But once you got down below major general, the majority of bridagiers and certainly the colonels of the regiments, there are people who come into the army and learn on the job. I think, Michael Shaara did a very clever thing here in "The Killer Angels" in selecting Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as the example of the citizen soldier. He's a college professor, he doesn't have military training as military interrest, but he learned quickly. And he has good raphore with his men, as becomes very evident early in the film when he was talking to the mutineers from the 2nd Maine that here is a man that can communicate to people. Professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College, I mean he should be a good communicator. And he happened to be placed in one of the critical places on the battlefield, where his characteristics and his natural leadership as a citizen soldier has an opportunity to show how valuable it can be.
(RM) There were historians on the set with us all the time, we have historians who vetted the screen play long we went to the set, and then we had historians on the set, Brian Prohanka being the principle historian. And if he didn't have the answer, he was quickly on the phone to get the answer. So they helped us, and they worked not only with me but with the costume people, the production design team. The production design team was therefor able to dress that. Now you don't think of production design as other than back building sets, but part of what production design was at Gettysburg were to recreate the actual physical terrain, so the minor fortifications of the 20th Maine, or to recreate the stone wall of the bloody angle at Pickett's Charge, or to recreate the fence along the Emmitsburg Road. Tremendous amount of labor, we recreated that Virginian holm fencing of the split rail fencing, putting many many truckloads of dirt down, because there were all dirt roads in those days - there was no asphalt. This kind of things required tremendous efforts moving boulders, moving stones.
(CS) The whole problem of keeping soldiers in reserve in case of a crisis, either to exploit an opportunity or to plug a hole in case of a breakthrough, this was a problem that had do be dealt with at several levels. The army commander for his part would often try to keep an army reserve, perhaps a division, in Meade's case even a full corps. The 6th corps mostly played the role of reserve forces in this battle. But also for officers on the front line, even down as low as to regimental level, if he had his ten companies he might choose one or two of those companies to hold in reserve. Now Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain on Little Round Top chosed Company B, technically one tenth of his strength, and put it out on the extreme left flank as lind of a flank guard to let him know if the enemy is trying to get around his left. He would also keep one company in reserve in case of a breaktrough or to exploit an opportunity. So at every level, at the regiment, brigade, division, corps and even army level, officers would keep something in reserve if they could. Now at the crisis moment as he charged, Chamberlain had used this reserves. They were already in line, they lad nothing left, his ammunition was down, his men were wounded. He had no reserves which is why he made the desperate decision that he did to launch a counterattack.
Then we needed to store in the sets all sorts of things that were not the big historical crussions but for items having to do with protocol for instance, who salutes who; and them chain of command; who would have a hat on, who would have a hat off, weather they were in a tent, weather there was a civillian around; how are orders transmitted, how are messages transmitted; how do people get on and off horses; on what side do they wear their swords; there were endless paraphenallian details which needed to be addressed on a constant basis.
(RM) (to scene 43, the 20th Maine taking position on Little Round Top) See, the interesting part of this location too, and that's true to real life, is so soureign amongst those treaty, it is quiet, almost feels like a low island. You get a sense of the trees, the piece from as to posted to open field where people get slaughtered and killed. And the comradery is great here, it's sort of funny and nobody expects them to be even engaged in the war, because they kinda sent them away to... a place where they will never come to anyway. But then it happenes, of course. So here too in the whole style of shooting I wanted to show a group of guys, that's always into amongst the group, that's not a log of guys. In don't know how many they were in real life, but in our movie it's only about 75 or 100 people. But it was a small regiment at that time, too.
(CS) (to scene 43, Chamberlain placing the men for the first Confederate attack) The circumstances on a battlefield are organized chaos. It's lound, it's difficult to see, there's people all around you with the smoke is swelling about the hillside, the explosions are deadnaning in your ears, people a falling on either side of you. You remember your training, you go over to the load-and-fire drill. And you put in the ball, you ramm the ram in and you put your ramrod down, you pull back and you put for formanated mercury cap on the nipple, and you pull. But perhaps you forget to pull up to full cock it doesn't go off. Or perhaps you forget to put the formanated mercury cap on your musket. Or whatever might happen, and you can't hear that it hasn't gone off. The sound is so loud, there are thousands of weapons being fired. So you pull the trigger and you assume that you'd fired. Then you grab it quickly and you reload it again, while you put another round on top, and then another, and then anothers. So it did happen occasionally that muskets would fill up, litteraly all the way up to the muzzle with rounds. And it wasn't that the men won't firing, because they were reluctant to fire. It's then in the midst of this cataclysmic chaos they were unable to recognize that the first round had not in fact detonated, and simply poured more rounds in on top of the other.
(KO) In this scene during Little Round Top, as the camera tracks across the Yankees firing down the hill towards the Confederate positions, you notice that the muskets are being fired point blank into the camera lense. The camera lense was protected by a plexiglass plate, because at this range the blanks being fired could have been a lethal to the camera operator. And the camera was pulled on a trolley across the line of the firing muskets for this particular effect.
Now, approaching it from a camera point of view, I thought it was very important the sense of that little streched-up hill - because it was only a little hill that they had to take - and to create the repetition for one thing of the move that this attack always had, and also introducing to their sense of being there, the sense of fighting as up of that hill. So early on I had to concept that I wanted to shoot the whole battle from a moving camera but also with a camera that would go uphill or go downhill when they would go uphill, so constantly kind of be a comentary on the movement of the attacking group, at the same time moving behind the lines of the Northerners who were defending themselfes. Being behind the lines, you also see some of the drama that develops with some of the possible hitches and odd, if they're gonna make it or not. So I think it's a classic example of where movement becomes a third character in the interpretation of a piece of a film. Now that was once to guess the theorie. Then I went over to the key grip and I said, listen, this is what I wanna do. I wanna dolley up and down this hill for three days. And he looked looked at me and said, I got your mind. Then I said, I might have to figure out a way to do this. A dolley and two people on it weights about six, seven hundred pounds. So he came up with a very interesting solution, and it's what they call a pendulum dolley. You have two tracks, one with the real dolley and people on it, and on the other one you have a dolley with just as many people with much weight on it, and you link them together with a rope and a block. And so basically you become weightless on a hillside. And that's how we did that. For three days we went up and down the hill with weightless dolley. However still it was like three people taking turns every hour moving us up and down that hill, but it was an endless story of the camera moving down and up with the people, against the people. So it's a very interesting little construction to became the center piece of the whole work., shooting that whole battle of Little Round Top.
(JM) (to scene 43, Chamberlain redeploying his men after the second Confederate assault) In one of my most recent books, that is entitled "For Cause and Comrades - Why Men Fought on the Civil War", which is an exploration of their motives and their response to the pressures and stresses of fighting, I seperated what I called the initial motivation, sustaining motivation and combat motivation. Initial motivation is the reason men signed up. Most of the soldiers in the Civil War were volunteers, many of them flocked to their recruiting officers at the beginning of the war in 1861, and partly because of what the French called "rage militair", kind of upburst of rage, that the enemy has attacked us. Sustaining motivation I think was a very deep conviction that ranged all the way from simple patriotism to an ideological conviction that they were fighting to defend a way of life, a political system, an ideology of fredom - on both sides they used the ideology of fredom. The Confederates said, they were fighting for self-government and freedom from tyrannical government in Washington, that not represents their interrests, and Northern soldiers said that they were fighting to sustain the government based on the Charter of Freedom, the Decleration of Independence and the Constitution. Neither side at first felt that they were fighting for the freedom of the slaves, but as the war went on of course the North added the abolition of slavery to the sustaining of the Union as part of their war aims. Combat motivation I think was the same in Civil War as it was for men in all the wars, solidarity with your buddies, conviction that you do not want to let them down, personal honor - you did not want wo appear a coward in the eyes of your fellows -, and in case of Civil War regiments or companies raised from men all of the same community of county, they did not want to be known as cowards or skulkers back home.
(CS) After any battle in the Civil War, the tremendous impact of numbers of wounded and dead was nearly overwhelming. For every killed soldier, there were two, three, four or five wounded soldiers. And the wounds were horrible. One of the consequences of firing a minie ball - that is this bullet invented by the French Minie, that expands on explosion and engages the rifling so that it would true projectory for a longer distance - one of the collateral consequences of that was that in order to expand, the bullet was made out of soft lead. And the result was that when it hit the body, it had the same effect as a modern dum-dum bullet would have: it expanded. When a minie ball, a 58 caliber - and that's a large bullet - would strike a human bone, the bone did not break, it shattered. So that the surgeon on the battlefield, dealing with someone who'd been struck in the arm or the leg, often found himself with no other option than to amputate. There's a tendency of moderns to look back on American Civil War and say, "Well, medical science wasn't advanced very far in the mid 19th century." There's some truth to that. The gem ferious desease is only then being invented Louis Pasteur and desease was after all the number one killer in the Civil War more than bullets. But the surgeons were not the butchers often they're assumed to be. The piles of amputated arms and legs outside the field surgeon's tent was not because the surgeon had only one therapy for all wounds and that is amputation. It's because the minie ball so ruined human bones that amputation was often the only therapy that was available.
(JM) In the novel "Killer Angels" and the movie "Gettysburg" different individuals speak for these individual points of view on both sides. On Union side Colonel Josha Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine speakes for ideological convictions of freedom and union and what the United States stands for. The effection of character Buster Kilrain speaks for the resentment of an aristocracy that they see ruling the South and looking down on people who were not part of that aristocracy. Chamberlain I think also is a spokesman for the freedom of the slaves as a noble war aim, that by 1863 at the time of Gettysburg the Northern were also fighting for - Lincoln said at Gettysburg in the Gettysburg Address four months after the battle, "a new birth of freedom" adding to the fighting for the systems of the United States, that it "shall not parish from the earth". In the case of the South, various people are spokesmen for Confederate convictions, of what they're fighting for. Pickett in one passage in the novel and in the movie as well draws the analogy of a gentlemen's club. If you want to resign from it, you are to be allowed to resign from it, because you no longer get along with the people running that club. James Kemper, brigade commander in Pickett's division, says, the South's fighting for self-gouvernment, fighting for the right to determine it's own government. There are professionals on both sides. John Buford on the Union side, Longstreet on the Confederate side are fighting, because they are professional soldiers. They'd been trained to fight. They have chosen the side. They're going to fight for mainly because it's the region they come from. In Buford's case, he's fighting for the army in which he's been educated and had his career. Longstreet of course was educated and had his career in that same army, but he was from the south, and when his state went, when Robert E. Lee's state went, they went with their state, with their region. But they fought as professionals.
(KO) We had a lot of smoke in the sequences. Partially it comes from the real explosives that the... they're not real explosives, but they're explosives, unless movie explosives. But we also created a lot of smoke with machines because on a battle like that gets going it gets really smoky and foggy. To do a battle on a small area that you have to... it's like a small area in the physicallity area. The strategic physicallity is some important, so you have to underline that with whatever you can visually. And that's basically how the idea was born of dollying up and down the hill a lot for this scene. Like sometimes you go against the group, and sometimes you go with a person. Then you go against again. So with the going against it you get a feeling of loss to this people. When you go with them, they seem to be winning. And so much in this scene was about: we're almost there, and then we'd been beaten back, and we're almost there and beaten back again.
(CS) The advent of the rifled musket, which now made it possible for ranked filed infantry to fire rapidly and over great distances, obviously had a tremendous impact on tactics. For a long time, critics assumed that generals in the American Civil War had failed to adapt in a timely manner to the advent of the rifled musket, and they said, "Ghee, they're using tactics dated back in the Napoleonic aera, they're still advancing in this solid lines against an enemy force." It wasn't that the generals didn't understand the impact. They knew that the desirable response to having ridled muskets, defending an enemy position, was not to attack frontally but to attack on the flank, to move to the flank, put your own forces into a position where they could roll up the enemy line. If you attack on the right or on the left rather than frontally, you are going to endure far fewer casualties to begin with, and you're going to be able to attack the enemy from his weekest position. And flanking the enemy was almost always the tactical goal of the offensive army in most Civil War battles. But the defenders knew this as well. So the typical response to a flanking manouver was to do what we see Chamberlain ordering his subordinates on Little Round Top, and that is called, "Refusing the flank". That is to turn back your right or your left perpendicular to the main line, so that a flanking force would strike another defensive line. So you see a lot of this enemies moving around the flank, the flank being refused, and by the time most battles take place, the defender is usually in an arc position. Gettysburg ist famous for having seen the Union line in a fishhook position, that this is a half-circle position. But that was fairly representative for armies on the defensive, 'cause as they refuse their flanks they tend to be bent back into a curved defensive position.
(on scene 41, Chamberlain and Ellis launching the bayonet charge) Chamberlain was an articulate speaker and a gifted writer. Well, he left behind many examples of what had happened of Little Round Top. And over the years, as these stayed in print, Chamberlains own role in the defense of Little Round Top got a little bit different and a little bit larger each time. If you compare Chamberlain's memoirs with those of some of the officers that served in the 20th Maine, it seems more likely that the charge of the 20th Maine off of Little Round Top was partly a response to Chamberlains perception, that he could not defend, that he could not retreat, and that therefor the only viable option left to him was to attack. But it was also a response to circumstances that had become self-evident to every officer and perhaps to every man of the 20th Maine. Major Ellis, who commanded that attack - that swinging gate, that is supposed to charge off of Little Round Top was under the command of Major Ellis -, and he wrote afterwords, he never got any orders from Chamberlain about an attack swinging off the hill - that he heard Chamberlain yell "bayonets!" - as we see him do in the movie - and that every man in the unit knew what that meant, fixed bayonets and as spontainiously then they came charging off that hill. It's the topography and the terrain, that compelled it to become a swinging gate. Chamberlain had refused his left flank so that his unit position is now arranged in what we might imagine in our minds as a backwords J. His main line is facing South, but his refused left flank hooks back to the North. And as that refused flank swings down off the hill into the little swell of ground between Big and Little Round Top - which is pretty much the way they'd have to go, giving those terrain's features - and then chased the Confederates back up, over and around Big Round Top. So my best guess here is, that it's a combination of things that led to this. I think it's partly Chamberlain's determination, not to leave his position and do the only thing he had left that would allow him to stay there, but also the spontaneous and enthusiastic response and recognition of circumstances on the part of his subordinate officers, and particular Major Ellis.
(on scene 41, Chamberlain making prisoner from a confederate officer) It's interesting the role of prisoners at Gettysburg, though I mentioned earlier that Gettysburg - and the Civil War generally - is both the last old-fashioned war and the first modern war. Here's an element, a legacy of old-fashion war that survives into the Civil War. Once taken prisoner - Chamberlain tells the officer, "stay here", and the officer does. He's honor-bound to do so, he has surrendered, he has given his word. Even if the tide of battle virtually reverses itself, many officers in 1863 would consider their obligation - even if their own troops came up and rescued him -, to turn himself over to his capters, having given his word as a prisoner of war. "Your prisoner, Sir," he says, handing over his pistol but at first, to Chamberlain. And in other circumstances we see the soldier guarding Confederate prisoners with an unloaded musket. Again, those soldiers their fighting days are over, they have been surrendered. It's their obligation to move to the rear. Now this can be carried too far, of course. But in general, once captured, once you laid down your arms, that was your responsibility then to accept fate and be a prisoner of war. I can give a better example of the way this played out in the Civil War by mentioning, that one of the common practices of armies found themselves burden by large numbers of prisoners after a battle would be to grant them what was known as parole. That is to say to call for the senior officer and say, "I will parole your men under the following conditions", that they will pledge themselves, to go back to their homes and not to bear arms again in this conflict unless and until they're properly exchanged by due authority. And the officer would agree to that, then the parole ceremony and the officer would sign in behalf, and in some cases the members come forward and make their mark, their X in many cases or sign their name if they could, thereby pledging themselves... and they would just be released, "go home". And the remarkable thing about the Civil War is, that they did.
(JM) Some of the heaviest fighting in the battle of Gettysburg took place not only at Little Round Top, but at Devil's Den, at the Wheatfield, at the Peach Orchard, at the venues made famous by the battle. And they're mentioned in the novel and in the movie, but not really portraited. And I think that for dramatic purposes the choice of the 20th Maine, the defense of Little Round Top make a lot of sense. Cause there really was as much hard fighting and as much crucical fighting that prevented the Confederate breakthrough at these other places.
(CS) When Michael Shaara wrote "Killer Angels", I mentioned that he relied in part on Longstreet's memoirs to discuss the confrontation - that's the right word - between Lee and Longstreet. He also relied heavily on the many post-war writings of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Memoirs are wonderful things. There are a lot of memoirs from the American Civil War. But keep in mind, that most of these memoirs were written 10, 20, 30, 40 years after the events. And we're all after all the heroes of our own lifes, and as we write out memoirs we are the center of most events. So that these memoirs tend to be about the role played by that perticular person as remembered 20 or 30 years later. And an historian has to be careful in using memoirs as a primary source document, to filter those through those circumstances. I'm not suggesting that Chamberlain did not tell the truth as he remembered it. But he writes it down many many years later.
(RM) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is the American architype of the crusader. Chamberlain was an abolitionist. He was influenced by Harriet Beecher-Stowe, in fact he knew the Stowe's, he knew Professor Stowe from Bowdoin College. So you have to understand Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain fighting to preserve the Union and also for the abolition of slavery, which he regarded as a monstrocity in the American phyche, in the American character, in the American nation.
(CS) On the morning of the third day then, July 3rd, the decisive day of the battle of Gettysburg, Lee was determined to continue the attack. Longstreet was appearently nearly as determined , not to continue that attack. Longsteet believed that the failure of the assault against the Federal left on July 2nd would convince Lee to disengage and adopt Longstreet's preferred strategic manouver to the South. He was therefor very disappointed when instead Lee said to him, "No, we're going to renew this attack." And initially, Lee's idea was to renew the attack against the Federal left in the same position or near the same position as he launched the attack on the 2nd. But Longstreet told him, that Hood's division - now under the command of Lafayette McLaws with Hood himself being wounded - and McLaws division, the two divisions that had born much of the assault on July 2nd, that they were too used up to renew that assault. And Lee could not gain say to subordinate, he couldn't say to Longstreet, "Oh no, I think you're mistaken, I think they can". He had to take Longstreet's word for that.
And so what Lee did and so "We'll have to find other troops to execute this attack. We can use for example Pickett's brigade, he's fresh to the battlefield. We can put together Pettigrew's brigade that had fought on the 1st and which had rested on the 2nd, and we could put a third brigade together with elements from other forces that are still available." Now again this is acording to Longstreet's own memoirs and he's the only one who's word we have for it. Longstreet is supposed to have said, "General, I've been a soldier all my life..." Now weather he said that in more or less those words, it was nevertheless clear that Longstreet did mot want to make this attack. Lee however was determined to do so. He believed that the enemy was so close to breaking that one more good hard push, one more concentrated thrust would win the day.
The problem was, that instead attacking on the left flank, he would now have to attack in the center, not only because that was now the weaken point, but because the troops that were now available were located more to the center. And unless he was gonna delay another several hours moving those around to the right, they would have to be launched against the center. So not only did it change who would make the attack, it changed where the attack would be made, and it also changed the timing of that attack, because instead of renewing the assault early in the morning - what was Lee's original idea - it would now have to be delayed until early afternoon. And the great tragic consequence of that change is that Lee had previously indicated to Ewell over on Culps Hill, that there would be a morning attack, and to coordinate with that attack Ewell was supposed to charge up Culps Hill in the morning - which he did with great losses, because it would not coordinate with the attack in the afternoon.
So the difficulty that Lee faces is that he's got this huge battlefield with officers that he can communicate with only by couriers galloping about the battlefield with time delays. And finally you can see, that Lee sais, "perhaps if this attack takes place under my own control, takes place where I can see it, where I know I can focus and guide it into that one weak point on the enemy line, then maybe this attack will break through and prove to be decisive. Longstreet remains sceptical, it's clear. What about crossing that 1,700 yardes of open ground, a mile of open ground across the Emmitsburg Road and up the gentle slope of Cemetery Ridge? How will the men survive that? And Lee has an answer for him. "They will survive it because of the overwhelming massed artillery barrage that Lee would concentrate on that portion of the enemy line. And he has 160 guns that he's gonna concentrate.
(to scene 57, starting the artillery bombardment) From 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock these guns launched the heaviest artillery barrage ever seen in the North American continent. I have argues elsewhere and so far knowing this been able to disagree with me, that this may have been the loudest man made noise in the western hemisphere until the explosion of the atomic bomb at Alamogordo in 1945. So here, 160 guns going off like a giant fuse burning down from right to left, as they explode across the confederate front, all focussing in on that one point of the federal line. Is is a huge and overwhelming artillery barrage.
(RM) You cannot get close to a canon being fired, so the solution we came up with was the remote camera on a helicopter, which can do a penning shot in front of the cannons being fired without any risk to human being. A couple of those shots are in the film, and I'm glad they're in the film. You're not aware of that you in the helicopter. You're just in front of a lot of guns going off.
(KO) When these cannons went off, and we had heard cannon fire before in the movie, but when all 120 went off, it was unbelievable. You know it was just like your ear drums just gave out. And it was so interresting about this movie, I think, the fiction came so close to the reality, it was frightning.
(CS) The word "battery" like many terms in the American Civil War comes from the French. The word itself has a siggestion of it's meaning: you batter down the enemy's castle. In the 16th century, wen Voulban, the great French military engineer was designing by means what fortified positions would be taken, the role of artillery was to batter down the enemy's walls. So a battery was a group of guns. A battery was a unit like a regiment or a brigade in the infantry. And it could be as few as two guns, it could be as many as twelve, but it operated under a unified command.. So if he would say, "place the battery here" or "put several batteries there". Typically, a battery would consist of four, five or six guns. Four and six seemed to be the most common numbers for a battery. And they would try as often as possible to make sure that those batteries used the same kind, at least the same caliber of ammunition, although that did not always happen. Sometomes batteries would run out of one kind of ammunition and have to sit silent, even though other guns wound still have ammunition that wouldn't fit the bore of those that won't working any longer. So "battery" was simply a group of artillery pieces.
The number of man who would mann each gun within a battery - usually between six and ten, now you could make due with six, but usually there few extra - each had a described role. It was very carfully choreographed and you can see this in the film as well as with modern reenactors. The person who makes sure the previous round was swapped out - you don't wanna put a bag of black-powder down the barrel of the weapon still has burning embors down in the breach, so you'd swap it out and make sure it was clear. Then you'd put in a bag of powder and ram that home, you put in the ball and you'd ram that home, wading if necessary and ram that home. You would primer down the spouder or you'd have a lander you would set up the percussion cap. Then the captain of the battery, commander of the battery would do the siding, and you'd actually siding, lifting up the back of the gun and squivvel it physically by hand. Then you'd raise and lower it, make sure it was on line, then you'd stand clear, pull the lanierd and fired the weapon.
(JM) (to scene 61, Longstreet reluctantly ordering the attack, and scene 62, the Pickett's Charge) Part of the third day of the battle was the famous Pickett's Charge. Nearly all the Confederate army was there. Most of it's high ranking officers said, "this is it, this is the big one, this is the one we'd been waiting for, this is where we're going to win or lose it all." Longstreet's tha major exception to that. There had been some pretty heavy fighting at Culps Hill both on the evening of July 2nd and in the morning July 3rd, which was not portraited in the novel nor the movie. It's quite natural that they wood chose for the third day to portrait Pickett's assault, because that'll be the most famous single combat event in the whole Civil War.
(CS) The third day at Gettysburg was the day when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And this was not so much - you could argue - a failure of strategy and tactics as it was a failure of execution. The artillery overshot largely the Yankee positions; the defending soldiers were not pulverized; most of the ordinances fell behind the line and hit the supply train; the front line and Yankee troops were largely anscased; the Confederates simply hadn't enough ammunition to sustain that fire long enough; their aim is not coordinated well enough to make sure that the Federal counterfire is suppressed. And so when those men step out of the trees, 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and begin that one mile march across the open ground towards Cemetery Ridge, the Federal artillery is still active and able to respond.
(RM) After getting up very early in the morning at about 4:30 to 5 o'clock, we mustered the 5,000 troopss and positioned them in the pre-dawn light in the exact positions, as closely as possible from where Kemper's, Garnett's, Pettigrew, Pickett's troops were all lined up, as closely as possible. Now you may say, "for heaven's sake, Ron, why on earth did they have to be on this exactlious positions?" A number of reasons. Number one, because we have the information. And if you have the information, I believe it is somehow a kind of arrogance not to use the information. Because when you try to be historically accurate, all things flow from that. It embues everything you do in every term. And so, if you don't know something, then on the grey area it's more open to interpretation. But if you do know something, you should adhere doing it. And so later-on when people watch it, even though people who have not studied the film, they get a feeling that although it is imperfect, although we made mistakes - I was the last person to pretend, the film is perfect - but still I think the film conveys - I know it myself to be true and I've heard it enough from feedback from other peoples - the film conveys a feeling of authenticity. And even an audience that studied in the battle feels the fact that you'ge going the extra mile, they sense that this is to be taken seriously because you the filmmaker took it seriously. That's the first reason to make this efforts.
The second reason is because it embued the participants with a sense of authenticity and a sense of being there. And the 5,000 reenactors were in face 5,000 individual historians, who know the battle - probably each and everyone of them - better than I do. And with 5,000 on-the-set critics and on-the-set-historians, one had to be careful to get things right. They were embued with the sense of authenticity. So that no matter were the camera went, wether they were looking at 5,000 alltogether or weather they zoomed in over a collection of faces, two or five or ten faces, no-one seemed as if they shouldn't be there. You can get the camera right on top. These were not trained actors, these were not people who went study the method, these were not people who belonged to this actor studio.The reenactors were totally in the moment, totally believing in the moment. And this is what happens of you put people in the real situation that they know is to be true.
When we kicked off, when the sun came up and was high enough in the sky for it could look like the middle of the day on July 3rd, 1863, when Pickett's Charge occurred - and we were blessed with the same kind of blue sky day -, and we said: Action! then the confederate drums rolled of the caydons of the attack, and the bugle sounded, and the explosives that were pre-planned started exploding the ground, and they moved off with the confederate flag flapping in the breeze - In can tell you, it was absolutely one of the most emotional experiences I've ever known on a movie set. And I don't think it's an exaggeration to it that everyone else there felt the same way.
(CS) There still was a legacy of holding on Napoleonic warfare in the American Civil War. Some of the early tactical manuals had been based largely on Napoleonic warfare, but most of them had to be re-written with the invention of the minie ball. So the tactical manuals that were in use in 1860 were not the same as the tactical manuals that were in use in 1850. Nevertheless, the legacy of that remained. I think, you can over-emphasize the extend to which Civil War battles were fought in accordiance to Napoleonic tactics. I think, that's an oversimplification. The officers on both sides were aware of the technological changes that had taken place between 1850 and 1860 and adjusted accordingly. But it is true that many of the weapons, partically artillery weapons that were available were similar to those used by Napoleons - and 12 Pounder Napoleon cannon for example was a standard form of artillery for both sides at Gettysburg and at the Civil War in general. The reason it comes up at Gettysburg is because Lee having tried both flanks and nearly succeeding each time - I think it's easy to overlook the extend to which these early initiatives by Lee nearly did break through - having failed but almost succeeded on both flanks, he then saw the center as the weak point. And it is true that Meade did weaken his center to re-inforce his flanks. So Lee correctly picked the weak point in the line. But to get to that center, he had to cross that open ground. And the reason you often hear people talk on Napoleonic tactics is that Napoleon often did try to contrive his battles in such a way to strike on one flank, then on the other, and then smash through the center. And that seems to be what Lee tried at Gettysburg, although that is not the battle he had in mind from the outset. He really expected - and I think for some justification - that Longstreet's flanking attack to the south would be the decisive attack. And it nearly was.
(KO) In the big battle here we had an interresting visual problem to overcome. We knew we gonna have at least 3,500 people on the field that day, and Ron and I were talking about how can we show a shot with 3,500 people. That's hard to do, especially when they're lined up like they are in battle, because they just simply don't... by the time you have a show where you show all 3,000 you don't see many, because it's a resulution problem of the film. So we talked about how can we do this in 20 or 30 seconds shot. How can we show all those people, and an areal shot is of course the answer to that. I had just heard about this small helicopters that you can fly in a remote control. So we all got very excited about that, so I broght up the team this morning to shoot that 30 second shot by flying low over the whole army. Well, there's one specific problem with that, and that is that the range of the helicopter - you know, when you flying as a pilot - is only 200, 300 feet. After that you can't control that helicopter anymore because he looses visual contact with it. So we came up with the brilliant idea, we will put him in a car and we would follow the helicopter with that car. A car in the field following the small helicopter is very deceptive to move, and with the hands on the remote control, I think it was a little bit out of control. And the day got short, and there were a lot of problems, and I think in the ends the shots were in the movie, but I had certainly envisioned a more graceful way than we ended up getting it on film. But it was in a way the only way to shoot that many people in a shot.
(RM) When we got tempted to do those shots that I refered to earlier, we used them over the army marching. In that's when I wish the high insight they hadn't. But then you get into the twilight then and you feel you have to use it to justify the enormous expense.
(KO) Has it into bring attention to my own shortcomings and effecioncies on the stages, here is the shot that I'm referring to, the areal charge over Pickett's Charge. Then of course there's those kind of things watching any the second or third time right here, you'd become aware of, the tricks and tradors, or what person has done. But hopefully you're not aware the first time.
(RM) Shooting a battle is like being in a battle. In the middle of it, you can't change course. You have to go with your plan. And what I'm talking about is the big march, it's not of course not the whole shoot-out and everything. The battle was all done on our set again. You know, it's a huge scope of revealed battlefield. And again you couldn't cross the road because there's the black of the road, so we took it right up to wired fence at the road and that's where the march stopped. And then we moved into our set piece.
The set of the Southern side of this battle, not the Northern side, it was all shot in one day, because we had the one day from the park side to shoot on the real battlefield. This is done on the real battlefield, this is where you're facing about 3,000 people coming at you, this long long pen of this row for row for row of soldiers coming at you. It's very impressive.
(KO) This is the handheld camera that I did when I was in and amongst the group, and you got the real sense of being there.
(RM) Basically the only way to get the picture financed was to eventually find someone who shared the passion, who shared the interrest in the subject matter, in the particular literature, and who's interrest would lead the way with the expectation, that that kind of interrest and enthusiasm and passion prepares the way for an audience, if you make a good film. Of couse it took 13 years to find that person. But that person was Ted Turner, wo is a person in his makeup, who operates from the heart. This isn't to say, he doesn't look on all the economic considerations - sure he does in ways that I don't even know -, but because he don't get to be running an empire, a business the way he does without being very saggy in economic matters. But my insight into him - limited though it is -, is someone who leads with his passions, someone who starts out with a great enthusiasm for something, which I can relate to, because that's how I started out. I started out with a great enthusiasm and passion for the story, a deep desire, a personal desire to want to tell this story. And then I solved the economic problems, I solved all the production problems along the way, but it followed my enthusiasm not the other way around. So when I met Ted Turner, of course I could recognize that quality in him. And that's how this movie got finally got made over the objection of nearly all his executives who echoed the same tired logic that I'd heard for the prior 13 years, a) that no-one would be interrested in it, b) that it would be unproducable, c) that even if you made it, he would loose every penny because no-one would wanna watch it. Dispite all those trenuous efforts to persuade him from making the picture, he said, "I wanna make it 'cause I wanna make it." And thank goodness there are still some tycoons who can operate from their own passions.
We started filming July 20th, 1992 - that's 14 years after I'd read the book - and it came out more than a year leater in November 1993.
(KO) We were shooting the film in July and August in the middle of summer, and it was extraordinarily hot - 100 to 104 common temperatures and also very humid, which I think took a great toll not only on the crew but mostly on the reenactors who had to do everything in their wool uniforms. I think those people were going to the hospital about 10, 15 times a day just with heat exhausting. That was the only real accindent I thing we ever had to bother injured people on the movie.
You don't really rehersal battle scenes with camera. It's very close to documentary film making at that point. You have a regular battle meeting, as we say. You'll discuss the movements, will discuss the shots, and then you just do it. Like in the big battle scenes, you don't reherse them, you just do them. And that's why it's broken up in this big movements which are probably one of a kind. And then within that you have scheduled to shoot certain incidents that obvious pieced together. And though you can't do repeatavely, but if you have thousands of people in the field, you better just get it the first time around, 'cause that's not something you can move around.
(JM) The Civil War has always been the most written about and most in some way celebrated event in American history. The issues over what the Civil War was fought are still life issues even today in American society. Race, the balance of power between Federal government and local government, regionalism, North versus South, and today as we speak there're several reenacments going on in various places, every weekend throughout most of the year.
(RM) We got the word early on during the filming, might had been in a week or two prior to the filming, that Ted would like to have a moment in the film. It's wonderful to have a request from a studio executive, or in this case: the studio executive, that you can delightfully fulfill. And we put our historians to work, trying to figure out just who he could be. Because with the exception of Sergeant Kilrain, who was a fictional character that Michael Shaara created, every other character in the film and in the book it's based on is a real historical character. Now we found Colonel Tazwell Patton, the great-great-grand-uncle of the famous Patton of World War II fame. We researched his uniform, he had a uniform made to fit him, the exact uniform of Tazwell Patton. And basically he had one line, "Let's go, boys!", right after or in the same sequence when Armistead is up the fence on the Emmitsburg Road in the middle of Pickett's Charge, when Armistead says, "With me! Who will follow me?", he put his hat on his sword and he moves up toward the bloody angle.
The night before we would have filmed that scene - it was the week of Pickett's charge, it took us a week to shoot the 20 or so minutes that become Pickett's Charge on the film - needles to say the screen rational shot plummeld that week but it was because we had trememdous production values, explosives in the ground, cannon that really fired, muskets that really fired, extremely hazardous conditions on the set, real bayonets, thousands of soldiers, so we had to move with great deliberation, great caution, safety first, safety first, safety first. And the night before one of these big days of the Pickett's Charge, there was a little party that was held for the casting crew, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda attended, and Ted came in his uniform that he would wear at the next day. And I leaned over to him and I said, "Ted, now we could shoot your scene one of two ways." I didn't want to either appear or infect the profit we get with this ressources because we had a lot of scenes to cover. I said, "We could shoot your scene one of two ways. Wen can shoot you against the sky with the camera low, have about five or ten soldiers around you. Or, since we happen to have 4,000 soldiers on the set anyway, I can just lift up the camera and shoot them with 4,000 soldiers behind you. Now, it's your choice, being go it away." He understands, 'cause the one thing he can do in 15 minutes, anothers would take hours. He said, "I wanna do it the big way." Deciceive, you got it.
And the next day, that's what we did, and at best we had two setups we did for him. One was a tracking shot when he's just leaping through the guns explosons going off around him, and people are getting shot, and cannons are being fired, smoke machines the whole nine yards. There he is in the film, you can't miss him, especially on the big screen. If you're watching it on a motion picture screen, you know it's Ted Turner. And the second setup was a fixed setup where he has actually his "let's go, boys!" and he gets shot, where he has go get fixed with exploding squibbs on his chest. And we got it on take two. Take one wo minor things didn't go as perfectly as we liked. On take two we got it, and I said: "Cut, print!" And he said: "Just call me two take Ted." And this is it, this is the scene with Colonel Tazwell Patton at the Emmitsburg Road.
(KO) The most interesting thing to see from behind the scenes is these trains and the camera dollies on the same track. Because you expect them to collide any minute, but they have a way to be kept out of each other's hair. And they were all giving specific assignments. They were all a good fifty, sixty feet apart, one was following this one, wone was following the other one. They cannot travel all along all of the 500 feet with the army.
It's about a three hour re-set, four hour re-set. What they need to do is, they need to bury all the explosives back in the ground. We probably had an army of special effects people, I mean not that many but they may have been 50 or 60. So as soon as the troup marched through, they had to go back in and but all the charges back in with the wires and so. So it was a huge organization. And we knew we could only do it once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
(RM) Continuity in films is always a major concern , you know the sun is here, the sun is not there, clounds came out. And especially when you do an exteriour movie like this where the incident of an hour takes place over multiple days in shooting, it becomes a problem. However, we were lucky in this movie , or in battle movies in general, that we have a lot of smoke, and smoke masks sun and also when it's overcast it sort of blanks in, so a lot of the times we were safe by that.
I think, in the major battle especially, we had the big master plan. We know what we're gonna get that day with all the thousands of reenactors. And then we had a sub-masterplan where we dealt with less then 1,500, not more than a thousand extras. We probably had about a week or eight days with that group. And then we wheeled it down to about 150, 200 extras. It's like a regular shooting script, but in this case it's very much determined by the amount of people like you have available, and that determines also the scale and the amount of reputition that you can expect to happen
(JM) In and on itself as a town or as a piece of territory, Gettysburg was meaningless. This battle could have taken place in any other town in Pennsylvania, for that matter even perhaps in Maryland, and with a similar outcome, that would have a similar impact. It was a moral victory for the North as well as a physical and military victory, but mostly moral I think because it's impact on public oppinion. And it's reversal of the appearent momentum of the war in the direction of a confederate victory with Lee's invasion - or raid is a more accurate expression to it - in Pennsylvania had lead to another victory over the Army of the Potomac on scale of a Chancellorsville, which is what Lee was hoping for. It might have proved so demoralizing to the Northern people and even to the Army of the Potomac, that Lincoln would have been unable to continue to mobilize public support for the war. Even if at the same time Vicksburg had fallen, as it did, because most of the major media in both North and South were in the East - New York papers, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond -, and so they paid a lot more attention to what was going on in the eastern theatre. Most of the publicity upon this war focussed on these two armies, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac and their titanic struggle for four years. So if Lee had been as successful as he hoped, weather it took place at Gettysburg or somewhere else, the political and the moral impact on the North might have been devastating. That was certainly what Lee hoped for. And his failure, the fact that he limbed back to Virginia with an army that was more badly hurt than the Army of the Potomac and without having achieved the victory he was looking for, proved to be a shot in the arm of Northern morale, and to provide the basis what we know renewed effort to invade, conquer, occupy and subdue, what the Northern people called, the rebellion.
Lee is often been critizised for his offensive tactics at Gettysburg against a well-lead army in a good defensive position. But given what Lee knew at the time, given what he knew of the temperament of his own army, given what he knew of the logistical situation in Pennsylvania, maybe those were the right decisions, at least on the second day.
I once talked to Michael Shaara for a long time, I met him in 1986 or 87 at the Gettysburg Civil War Institute and had a long talk with him. I learned a lot more about him. He tought Shakespeare, he was a Skakespear scholar. And his inspiration for writing this novel was a desire to do something of American history like Shakespear had done for English history with his history plays, especially Henry V. and The Battle of Argencourt. So the inspiration was basically Henry V. and Argencourt. And he looked around and said, "Well, Gettysburg is the ideal evenue." And if you look at the structure of that novel, which gets reflected in the structure of the film as well, it's structured more like a play, like a three act play, than it is like a typical novel, with day 1, day 2, day 3. Each chapter has a title - Longsteet, Chamberlain, Buford, Lee -, it's like the shifting of a scene, and that becomes the point of view and becomes the chief actor in that particular scene. The Shakespearian overtones of this had made their way into the movie, and so I think, one thing to compare the movie Gettysburg to is to either of the two movies that had been made about Henry V. - the one that was made during World War II with Sir Lawrence Olivier using Shakespeare, and then the one was made more recently, about six or eight years ago.
(CS) Gettysburg is the biggest battle in American Civil War. The numbers of casualties which were variously estimated to be somewhere between 48 and 58,000, 53,000 being the number most commonly assigned to it. It's the bloodiest battle of that war. It's the battle that turned back the most ambitious Confederate offensive of that war. And it's the battle, that made Robert E. Lee appreciate for the most part, that he can no longer take the war to the enemy. He would still behave aggresivly in tactical situations, but he would not again argue that he should take his army north across the Potomac. The blood-letting there weakened his army enough that he recognized, I believe, that he would have to win the war by wearing out the will of the North to continue the fight indefinitely. And he believed, that was still possible.
After 1863 the war became a war of attrition. The question is, what would last longest, Confederate manpower or Northern will. And it turned out to be Northern will. The other thing that makes Gettysburg such an important turning point, is that on the very day that Lee threw the flow of his army at Cemetery Hill, John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg, a thousand miles away on the Mississippi River, sent a courier out of his besieged lines to Ulysses S. Grant, asking Grant what terms he would consider for the surrender of that city, which surrendered the next day, on the 4th of July. Those twin blows to Confederate hopes, the loss of Vicksburg on the Mississippi, the loss of Gettysburg and the 25,000 men substracted from Lee's army were phychological blows from which it was difficult to recover. But the Confederacy would fight on for two more years, and the losses in those two years would exceed the losses of the first two years. So the Civil War was by no means over. It wasn't even the beginning of the end, but it probably was the end of the beginning.
(JM) Ever since 1865, what came to be called the Lost Cause mentality has had a powerful impact in the South, effort by Southern whites to come to grips with the devastating defeat that they suffered, and their attempt to recosile their pride and their Confederate forbearers with the reality of defeat, has - I think - continued to gouvern the psyche of many Southern whites, as whitnessed most recently by the passion that debate over the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag in the South, which is still ongoing. The psyche of slavery and guilt-feeling that some whites may have about slavery, and feelings of both pride and humiliation that blacks might have about having been a slave but also having gained their own freedom by fighting for the Union army during the war, I think these issues still resonate and are still part of the equation in black-white relations, in North-South relations, in some of the cultural wars that go on in this country, they're still with us today. And that's one reason, I think, why so many people are contuinued to be fascinanted by the Civil War. These issues aren't dead. As William Falkner said, "The past is not dead, it's not even past." And I think, it's true. The Civil War is not past, it's still with us.