Gettysburg (1993)


Introduction

Gettysburg is a 1993 American epic war film about the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.

Written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, the film was adapted from the 1974 historical novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

It features an ensemble cast, including Tom Berenger as James Longstreet, Jeff Daniels as Joshua Chamberlain, Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee, Stephen Lang as George Pickett, and Sam Elliott as John Buford.

Gods and Generals (2003) is a prequel.

Outline

The film begins with a narrated map showing the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee, crossing the Potomac River to invade the North in June 1863, marching across Maryland and into Pennsylvania. On 30 June, Confederate spy Henry Thomas Harrison reports to Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commander of the First Corps, that the Union Army of the Potomac is moving in their direction, and that Union commander Joseph Hooker has been replaced by George Meade. Longstreet reports the information to General Lee, who is concerned that the army is moving “on the word of an actor”, as opposed to that of his cavalry chief, J.E.B. Stuart. Nonetheless, Lee orders the army to concentrate near the town of Gettysburg. At the Union encampments near Union Mills, Maryland, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine is ordered to take in 120 men from the disbanded 2nd Maine who had resigned in protest, with permission to shoot any man who refuses to fight. Chamberlain speaks to the men, and is able to persuade all but six to take up arms.

In Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. John Buford and his cavalry division spot elements of Henry Heth’s division of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps approaching the town and recognizes that the Confederate army is approaching. Buford recognises that, with precedent from previous battles, the Confederates will arrive at Gettysburg first and entrench in strong positions, forcing the Union to charge them and suffer heavy casualties. To prevent this, he opts to stand and fight where he is, judging the terrain to be “lovely ground” for slowing the Confederate advance. Buford sends word to I Corps commander Major General John F. Reynolds to bring up reinforcements. Heth’s troops engage Buford’s cavalry the following morning, 01 July, with Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps moving in to flank them. Reynolds brings his corps forward, but is killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. The Union army is pushed out of Gettysburg to Cemetery Ridge, and Lee – rejecting Longstreet’s suggestion to redeploy south of Gettysburg and go on the defensive – orders Ewell to take the Union position “if practicable”. However, Ewell hesitates and does not engage. The armies concentrate at their chosen positions for the remainder of the first day. At Confederate headquarters at Seminary Ridge, Major General Isaac R. Trimble angrily denounces Ewell’s inaction to Lee, and requests another assignment.

On the second day, 02 July, Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade from the Union V Corps is deployed to Little Round Top, and Vincent places the 20th Maine at the end of the line, warning Chamberlain that he and his regiment are the flank, and that if they retreat, the Confederate army can swing around behind them and rout the Union forces. Lee orders Longstreet to deploy his two available divisions to take Little Round Top and the neighboring Big Round Top. As Longstreet’s corps deploys, Major General John Bell Hood, commanding one of the divisions, protests to Longstreet; with the Union holding the high ground, he would lose half his forces if he attacked as ordered. Longstreet, despite his own protests to Lee, orders Hood to attack; Hood is later wounded fighting at Devil’s Den. At the summit of Little Round Top, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine fight off wave after wave of advancing Confederates, and begin running out of ammunition. Colonel Vincent is mortally wounded, and none of the other three regiments in his brigade are able to provide support. Chamberlain orders his men to fix bayonets, and charge in a right wheel down the slope against the attacking Confederates, which Chamberlain describes as “we’ll swing it down like a door.” The attack successfully drives the Confederate assault back, and the Union flank holds. That evening, Stuart finally arrives, and Lee reprimands him for his being out of contact. At the same time, Longstreet’s remaining division, under Major General George Pickett, arrives on the field.

For the third day, 03 July, Lee decides to send three divisions – Pickett’s, Trimble’s, and J. Johnston Pettigrew’s – to attack the centre of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet expresses his belief to Lee that the attack will fail, as the movement is a mile over open ground, and that the Union II Corps under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock is deployed behind a stone wall, just as Longstreet’s men had been at Fredericksburg. Lee nonetheless orders the attack to proceed. Longstreet then meets with the three division commanders and details the plan, beginning first with Colonel Edward Porter Alexander’s artillery clearing the Union guns off the ridge, before deploying the men forward. Despite heavy Confederate fire, Alexander is unable to make an impact upon the Union guns. When Pickett asks to move forward, Longstreet simply nods. The Confederate divisions march across the open field, and Hancock is wounded as he commands from the front line. One of Pickett’s brigades, commanded by Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, makes it over the stone wall, but Armistead is wounded and captured by Union troops. The Confederates rout or retreat due to high casualties. Lee asks Pickett to send his division back out, but he replies “General Lee, I have no division”: Pickett’s Charge ultimately fails. Meeting with Longstreet that evening, Lee finally decides that they will withdraw. The film ends with the fates of the major figures of the battle.

Cast

  • Confederate:
    • Tom Berenger as Lieutenant General James Longstreet.
    • Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee.
    • Stephen Lang as Major General George Pickett.
    • Richard Jordan as Brigadier General Lewis Armistead.
    • Andrew Prine as Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett.
    • Cooper Huckabee as Henry Thomas Harrison.
    • Patrick Gorman as Major General John Bell Hood.
    • Bo Brinkman as Major Walter H. Taylor.
    • James Lancaster as Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle.
    • W. Morgan Sheppard as Major General Isaac R. Trimble.
    • Kieran Mulroney as Major Moxley Sorrel.
    • James Patrick Stuart as Colonel Edward Porter Alexander.
    • Tim Ruddy as Major Charles Marshall.
    • Royce D. Applegate as Brigadier General James L. Kemper.
    • Ivan Kane as Captain TJ Goree.
    • Warren Burton as Major General Henry Heth.
    • MacIntyre Dixon as Major General Jubal Early.
    • Joseph Fuqua as Major General J. E. B. Stuart.
    • Tim Scott as Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell.
    • George Lazenby as Major General J. Johnston Pettigrew.
    • Graham Winton as Major General Robert E. Rodes.
    • Ted Turner, the owner of the film’s production company Turner Pictures, has an uncredited appearance as Colonel Waller T. Patton.
  • Union:
    • Jeff Daniels as Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.
    • Sam Elliott as Brigadier General John Buford.
    • C. Thomas Howell as Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain.
    • Kevin Conway as Sergeant Buster Kilrain.
    • Brian Mallon as Major General Winfield Scott Hancock.
    • Buck Taylor as Colonel William Gamble.
    • John Diehl as Private Joseph Bucklin.
    • Joshua D. Maurer as Colonel James Clay Rice.
    • John Rothman as Major General John F. Reynolds.
    • Richard Anderson as Major General George Meade.
    • Billy Campbell as Lieutenant Andrew Lewis Pitzer.
    • David Carpenter as Colonel Thomas C. Devin.
    • Maxwell Caulfield as Colonel Strong Vincent.
    • Donal Logue as Captain Ellis Spear.
    • Dwier Brown as Captain Brewer.
    • Herb Mitchell as Sergeant Andrew J. Tozier.
    • Emile O. Schmidt as Brigadier General John Gibbon.

Ken Burns, who wrote and directed the 1990 documentary The Civil War portrays an aide to Hancock. Civil War historian Brian Pohanka makes an uncredited appearance as Brigadier General Alexander S. Webb. The character Sergeant Owen is portrayed by Mark Moses. Matt Letscher, who would later appear in the 2003 prequel Gods and Generals as Colonel Adelbert Ames, makes his film debut as a 2nd Maine soldier.

Production

The producers originally pitched the project to ABC in 1991, as a TV miniseries. ABC initially agreed to back the project, but when a miniseries about George Armstrong Custer, Son of the Morning Star (1991), got low ratings, ABC pulled out.

For the first time, the National Park Service allowed the motion picture industry to recreate and film battle scenes directly on the Gettysburg Battlefield, including scenes of Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. However, much of the movie was shot at a nearby Adams County farm. Thousands of Civil War reenactors from across the country volunteered their time to come to Gettysburg to participate in the massive battle scenes.

The score was composed by Randy Edelman.

During filming of the battle scenes on Little Round Top, Bradley Egen, an extra playing a Union soldier, was unintentionally struck in the head by the butt of a musket and suffered a severe concussion.

Release

The miniseries was set to air on TNT, but when Ted Turner saw part of the film during post-production, he realised it was much bigger than a miniseries and decided to release the film theatrically.

The film was distributed by New Line Cinema which Turner had just acquired. Only released to 248 theaters at its widest release and limited to just one or two showings per day because of its length, the film still managed to gross $12,769,960 at the box office.

It would go on to become an all-time high seller on the VHS and DVD market, and has become a staple of classroom history lessons. Its June 1994 broadcast TV premiere, on TNT, garnered over 34 million viewers, a record for cable TV.

One of the longest films ever released by a Hollywood studio, Gettysburg runs 254 minutes (4 hours, 14 minutes) on VHS and DVD. A Director’s Cut, 271-minute (4 hours, 31 minutes), with several extended or added scenes, was produced and sold as a part of a special Collector’s Edition released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, to coincide with 150th commemoration of beginning of the Civil War in April 1861.

Prequel

Gods and Generals, a prequel based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Jeff Shaara, was released in 2003.

It was also written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell and featured many returning cast members, including Jeff Daniels as Joshua Chamberlain, Kevin Conway as Buster Kilrain, and C. Thomas Howell as Thomas Chamberlain.

Stephen Lang also returned in the role of Stonewall Jackson after scheduling conflicts prevented Russell Crowe from taking the part, and Billy Campbell, who portrayed Andrew Lewis Pitzer in Gettysburg, replaced Lang as George Pickett.

New cast members included Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee, replacing Martin Sheen.

The film received negative reviews from critics and was a commercial failure, grossing $12.8 million on a $56 million budget.

Trivia

  • Originally filmed as a miniseries for TNT, Gettysburg received a limited theatrical release from New Line Cinema under the direction of Ted Turner, who owned both entities.
  • At 254 minutes, it is one of the longest films released by a major film studio in the United States.
  • It received positive reviews from critics and grossed $12.7 million on a $20 million budget.
  • A prequel entitled Gods and Generals was released in 2003, also directed by Maxwell and featuring many returning cast members.

Production & Filming Details

  • Narrator(s): W. Morgan Sheppard.
  • Director(s): Ronald F. Maxwell.
  • Producer(s): Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz.
  • Writer(s): Ronald F. Maxewell.
  • Music: Randy Edelman.
  • Cinematography: Kees Van Oostrum.
  • Editor(s): Corky Ehlers.
  • Production: Turner Pictures, Esparza/Katz Productions, TriStar Television, and New Line Cinema.
  • Distributor(s): New Line Cinema.
  • Release Date: 08 October 1993.
  • Running time: 254 minutes.
  • Rating: PG-13.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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