THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Eve of Battle (Tuesday, June 30th, 1863)

Gettysburg1The day before the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be rather dramatic for the Confederate and Union forces. Both sides began to marshal their forces, but neither side was ready to risk a general engagement just yet. But as fate would have it, both armies would be marching along roads toward a small town in Pennsylvania, and into three of the most crucial days in the history of the United States.

For the Confederates, things began to turn against them from almost the very beginning of the campaign. The main problem stemmed from a man who, until this point, had proven himself capable as a Cavalry officer: Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Having been humiliated at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9th, Stuart took his cavalry on a “joyride” around Pennsylvania, causing havoc wherever they went. However, Stuart’s actions proved to be a problem. The cavalry had always been the eyes and ears of the army. But with Stuart and his troopers out of the picture, General Robert E. Lee, and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, marched through enemy territory blind.

Without Stuart’s cavalry, Lee was forced to rely on spies to obtain his information. In the last two days of June, Lee received word from a spy that the Federal forces were already on the move, and were moving faster than the Union forces had ever been known to march. With time already against him, Lee realized that the army had to concentrate, to face the Union forces. The troops would concentrate at a little town where several roads converged at one point: Gettysburg.

For Union forces, the campaign saw the placing of another officer at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Having lost confidence in Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker (Hooker had also lost confidence in his own leadership abilities), President Lincoln knew that another leader had to be found in a hurry. He originally offered command to Major General John Reynolds, who declined the command. One June 28th, command of the army was given to Major General George Gordon Meade. Having proven himself as a fairly capable commander, he was also known to have a short temper, and was not easy to get along with. His prickly demeanor earned him the nickname “Old Snapping Turtle.” With no time to lose, Meade hurried his troops north to face off against Lee. With the summer already hot, it proved to be a rough march, with many men falling due to heat exhaustion, with several dying. Still, the men pressed on. Once again, the will to win had returned to the army.

On June 30th, two Union cavalry brigades under command of Brigadier General John Buford arrived in Gettysburg. Confederate troops had already been through the town. They arrived to find the residents already worried about a possible fight. Receiving word from several scouts, Buford knew that the Confederates were concentrating in the direction of Gettysburg. With this information, Buford decided to place his troops on good ground northwest of the town, and hold out against any Confederates who came their way, until Union troops under Reynolds I Corps could arrive. It was a decision that would have great ramifications on the American Civil War.

In tomorrow’s article: A look at the unsung Union Cavalry commander who chose the grounds where the bloodiest battle of the war was fought, and helped change the course of the war for the Union…

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THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Impact of Gettysburg on the Individual

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once said that war was a “test of character” for the participant, and that “it makes bad men worse, and good men better.” When you look at all the wars fought throughout our history, that statement is certainly true. However, regardless of the character of the person, war impacts all people, sometimes in negative ways. For the individual who experiences combat, and sees the horrors and destruction that it can cause, life afterward will never be the same again.

Perhaps no battle has had a greater impact on its participants than the Battle of Gettysburg. And how could it not? In just three days of fighting, over 50,000 men were killed, wounded or captured. Anybody who went through that horrible ordeal, and came out of it alive, would remember the horrors, and the failures, of those three tragic days. For the Confederates, it would be the battle that signified their eventual doom. For the Federals, it was the victory that they needed to show the world that there was a chance at winning the war, restoring the Union, and ending slavery.

Of all the people whose lives were changed by the Battle of Gettysburg, perhaps no two were more greatly affected than the lives of Confederate General George Pickett, and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Both men went into the battle, and would come out of the maelstrom changed men.

Major General George Pickett

Major General George Pickett

For General Pickett, it was not a good change. Going into battle, the commander of a Division under General James Longstreet was almost boyish and charming. He was very exuberant, and sported a brand new uniform, and perfumed ringlets of hair. He was also hoping to get his men into battle before the glory was gone. On Friday, July 3rd, 1863, he got that chance when ordered to take part in the assault on the Union Center at Gettysburg. And in the charge that would bear his namesake, he would see his entire division virtually destroyed. And from that charge, his spirit would be forever broken. It was a loss that he would brood upon until his dying day. And he laid the blame of the charge at the feet of Robert E. Lee. After visiting Lee with another man a few years after the war, he said of Lee: “That old man had my division slaughtered.” Although he did achieve glory in the years after Gettysburg, the defeat at Gettysburg forever changed him.

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

As for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he went into the battle a relative unknown, and would come out of it with great regard within the army. As commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, his troops were placed on Little Round Top, at the very end of the Union left flank, on Thursday, July 2nd. There, his troops, along with the rest of the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent, held off assault after assault by Confederate troops. Finally, with ammunition running low and a number of his men killed or wounded, Chamberlain, who had never received military training prior to the war, did what possibly none of the West Point officers would have done. He ordered his men to fix bayonets, and charge against the attacking rebels. The charge was successful, and many claim that his charge saved the Union left, and possibly the battle itself (Though some claim that last statement might have been a bit exaggerated). By the end of the war, Chamberlain would eventually rise to the rank of Major General, and was chosen personally by President Grant to oversee the Confederate surrender ceremony at Appomattox Courthouse in April. In 1893, over thirty years after the battle, he would receive the Medal of Honor. After Gettysburg, the relatively unknown Professor of Rhetoric would rise to become one of the Union’s greatest officers thanks to his actions on Little Round Top.

These are just two examples of how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the lives of the participants, in both good and bad ways. Each man involved in the struggle had their own lives changed in different ways. But the examples of George Pickett and Joshua Chamberlain illustrate how the largest battle of the war impacted the lives of those involved. It is the impact of war on the participants that shows both the heroism that happens in war, as well as the tragedy of war itself. From these stories, we get a better sense of what happened in this horrific chapter of our history, and why it is important that we never go down that same road again.

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THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Introduction

Pickett's Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

Pickett’s Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

This past Sunday marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the American Civil War. This battle marked the first battle in a campaign that would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle fought during the conflict. This campaign and battle would prove to be a major turning point in the war. The Confederate tide in the Eastern Theater, having ridden high following the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, would begin to ebb, while Union momentum would finally begin to build toward ultimate victory. Lives would be changed forever, and nothing would be the same.

As we look back on this campaign over the next month, we cannot help but ask several questions about who fought in it, what took place, and how the events of that period helped shape the country we live in today. Not only would thousands of lives be lost in this campaign, but those that survived through it would not be the same. Men who were relatively unknown prior to the events of this period would soon become household names. Officers with boyish charm would become bitter, depressed men into their dying days. And local scenery such as Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, the Round Tops, and Cemetery Ridge would forever be etched into the annals of military history. But ultimately, this campaign would change the face of the war, and lead to ultimate Union victory during the war.

Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be looking at various people, places and events that shaped this campaign, and how they shaped the outcome of this campaign. All of this will culminate with a three-part series on the Battle of Gettysburg, which will be released on July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, respectively. We here at the To Appomattox blog look forward to sharing these stories with you.

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BREAKING NEWS: New FNYTSF Blog Discusses the Future of “To Appomattox.”

Greg Caggiano, my friend and colleague with whom I co-founded this blog in 2011, had a discussion with an unspecified member of the production team in regards to the future of the To Appomattox miniseries. Greg wrote some of the details of that discussion in the latest article for his blog From New York to San Francisco. The link to the article can be found below, but this is what was discussed in regards to the show’s future:

  • The production team has officially severed ties with Sony Pictures Television. According to the article, Sony was being more of a hindrance than a help in getting this series made.
  • The first episode of the eight-part miniseries is being re-worked as a 90-minute “backdoor pilot” for the series that will be filmed with the hope of generating interest in creating the full series.
  • A Kickstarter Campaign is being created to help raise a portion of the budget for the filming of the show’s first episode.

As soon as further information can be obtained, it will be shared here. For further details, please read the article linked below.

http://gcaggiano.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/sony-cuts-ties-with-to-appomattox-backdoor-pilot-and-other-changes-planned/

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The Power of Using Film to Tell Civil War Stories

Ever since I can remember, I have always had a love for movies and television. Nothing is better than sitting down in front of either the big or small screens, and seeing a well-crafted story come to life. And when the film media is used to tell important stories from America’s past, great things can be achieved.

I’ll never forget that weekend in the Summer of 1994, when I first saw Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg for the first time. The power of what I saw on screen, from the epic battle sequences, to the beautiful performances by the stellar cast, forever transformed my views on history. The subject was no longer relegated to books, with still black-and-white photographs and maps. It was alive, and it was real. I wanted to learn more about the time in which the movie took place, and have never looked back since. That is the power that film has. If a historical film is written well, cast perfectly, and stays as true as they can to the actual history, then people will be drawn into the story, and want to learn more.

Recently, our reenacting group, the Southern Piedmont Historical Reenactment Society (SPHRS) did our Unit Recruitment Film. Instead of doing your typical “this is who we are and what we do, please consider joining us” video, we decided instead to go for the “cinematic.” Several of us involved knew that, in order to get our target age range, we would have to do something that is both exciting, and will engage those who view it. That way, we can get younger people, the lifeblood of our future, interested. We feel that the final product does just that. Just to show how our final product came out (And to do some shameless promotion for the video and group), the video is imbedded below.

With Grant vs. Lee, the opportunity is there to create something that is exciting, dramatic, and historically accurate, and will draw viewers in to see the stories of the men and women who fought and lived through our nation’s bloodiest conflict, and how a stronger, freer United States came to be from the maelstrom of civil war. Like Gettysburg before it, it will draw people to learn more about our past, and lead to a new interest in the most important chapter in American history.

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Daily Mail Article on Rob Lowe Gives Possible Information About Network/Production Company for “Grant vs. Lee” (UPDATED)

On February 5th, the Daily Mail, a newspaper from Great Britain, published an article online about Rob Lowe, the actor currently slated to portray Ulysses S. Grant in the upcoming To Appomattox/Grant vs. Lee miniseries. The article mainly covers his recent surfing expedition, and his recent tweets about the Super Bowl. However, the article does include information about his upcoming acting roles. The last few lines of the article talk about the miniseries, and offer what many could consider a major announcement. The last few lines read:

[Lowe] is most excited about his ‘dream project,’ a Ulysses S. Grant miniseries called To Appomattox, which is awaiting the green light from Sony and Reelz.

“It’s something I’ve been attached to and wanting to do for a couple of years now,” said Lowe.

“[Grant] is a very underserved American hero and complicated, dark, flawed. When he died, America gave him the largest public funeral this country had ever seen. He saved the Union. I’m hopeful that’ll happen.”

So, according to this article, it appears that Reelz Channel is the network which will air the miniseries, which will be produced by the television division of Sony Entertainment. However, until an official announcement comes from Sony Pictures Television and Reelz Channel, take this information with a grain of salt. When the official announcement does come from the network, production company and production team, it will be announced here.

For the full-length article from the Daily Mail, click here.

UPDATE (2/8/2013):

Carroll Community College in Maryland, which currently lists upcoming Civil War programs on their website, has listed historian and Grant vs. Lee historical adviser J.D. Petruzzi. In his contributions section, the page states:

He has appeared in Civil War documentaries that have aired on PBS and the History Channel, and is the Historical and Technical Advisor for a Civil War miniseries, “To Appomattox,” which will air on Reelz Channel.

While this is still unofficial, this does seem to corroborate the Daily Mail article. But until the official announcement is made, take this info as “rumor” for now. The Carroll Community College Civil War agendas page can be found here.

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“Grant vs. Lee” Wikipedia Page

WikipediaLogo

The Wikipedia page for the miniseries Grant vs. Lee has appeared online. This will give viewers to the page information about the series, from cast and crew information, as well as updates. As with the IMDb page, the Wikipedia page should not be considered official, especially since almost anybody can get on and update it. But most of the information currently on the page appears legitimate, but for now, take the information presented on the page with a grain of salt. The Wikipedia page can be found here.

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