Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

"Gettysburg' Succeeds as Attempt to Probe Mysteries of Warfare

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

"Gettysburg' Succeeds as Attempt to Probe Mysteries of Warfare

Article excerpt

I approached "Gettysburg" with skepticism, expecting to be offended by the liberties so characteristic of historical docudrama. And four hours long? What did it think it was, "Gone With The Wind"?

I came away convinced that I had seen one of the better attempts to capture and probe, on film, the mysteries of warfare.

The fog of war, as Tolstoy and others have called it, is as old as war itself and is usually understood to mean that the whole is often eclipsed by detail. It has a figurative meaning in the remarkable fact that men will give their lives in struggles, large and small, whose significance is elusive or even completely obscure. More remarkably still, warriors once accepted the constraint of laws and usages of warfare that couple deadliness of purpose with good manners and brotherly feeling for the foe.

This was still the case when the Union Army of the Potomac met Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the hot summer countryside of Pennsylvania in late June 1863, in the famous three-day engagement at Gettysburg, a hamlet where 10 roads met. It was the epitome of the American Civil War - some would say its decisive encounter. Had Lee won, he meant to menace Washington itself. No other Union force would have blocked his path.

The movie is based on Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels," a gem of a novel, which the readers of American Heritage magazine ranked, in a recent poll, among the truly great works of historical fiction. Shaara's strategy for penetrating the fog of war was to focus on several decisive characters, not only Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, but the valiant Col. Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, a Bowdoin College professor of rhetoric and religion who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for directing his unit's defense of Little Round Top on the second day.

"The Killer Angels" and the movie based upon it offer a useful lesson that the dealers in historical schlock never learn. The book and the movie strive to be scrupulously factual. …

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