Gettysburg (1993)

 

 

 

Director:     Ronald Maxwell.

Starring:     Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen, Sam Elliott, Maxwell Caulfield, Kevin Conway, C. Thomas Howell, Richard Jordan, Royce D. Applegate, John Diehl, Patrick Gorman, Cooper Huckabee, James Lancaster, Brian Mallon, Andrew Prine, Stephen Lang, Richard Anderson, Bo Brinkman, Kieran Mulroney, George Lazenby, Dwier Brown, Buck Taylor.

 

Story of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, highwater mark of the Confederacy.  Following the battle, it was all down-hill for the rebs to their surrender at Appomattox.

Ted Turner of CNN fame absolutely loves the epic movie "Gone with the Wind".  Southern conservatives often have a fascination with the Civil War and Turner is no exception.  The battle was filmed on the grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park using 5,000 Civil War re-enactors. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

Civil War Combat: The Wheat field at Gettysburg
The History Channel

Following the Union defeat at Chancelorsville, Lee decides to take the battle once again to the north (as he did at Antietam in Maryland).  Union General Hooker marches to the north. Hooker resigns and is replaced by George Meade.

July of 1863 -- 3 day battle.

Death of Major General John F. Reynolds on the first day. Commander of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac.

July 2; 3000 federal soldiers of 1st division of the II Corps moved out to Cemetery Ridge. They passed Reynolds' body being carried to the rear.

Under the leadership of Gen Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the II corps. He was replaced by Brig Gen John C. Caldwell. It would be Caldwell's chance to prove himself as commander of a division, this one the 1st division.

Under Caldwell were 4 brigade leaders:
Samuel Zuck -- from Pennsylvania
Col. John Rotter Brook -- candidate for promotion to brigadier general
Col. Patrick Kelly -- leader of the Irish Brigade
Col. Edward Cross -- epitome of fire and brimstone man At Antietam, Cross shouts to his men to put on war paint and the men put black powder on their faces. They then whooped and hollered like the Indians would have. Cross wore a red bandana on his head, partly to shield his bald head and partly to make him easier to find on a smoke filled battlefield.

This day he wore a black silk handkerchief on his head. Hancock came up to him and said "Col. Cross, this day will bring you a star." Cross said: "No sir, today will be my last battle in a grave, decided way and it shocked Hancock.

The Wheat field was surrounded by wood lots (pieces of forest).  The Confederate commanders of the troops hidden in the woodlots were:
1. Gen. Joseph Kershaw of SC -- had 2 brigades
2. Brigadier Gen George Anderson of GA

George Hilliard of the Anderson Brigade wrote about the battle.

This is the last chance the Confederates will have to win the battle.

Hours passed and tensions grew as the troops awaited. The union army III corps makes an unexpected move to the peach orchard under Daniel Sickles. Sickles does not like Meade or any West Pointer. He advances his corps on his own initiative.

Sickles had 10,000 men forward in advance where he was assigned. Meade comes to talk to him and Sickles says this is higher ground. What Sickles feared most at his first position actually occurred at his second. He became the main target of the Confederates. His troops were decimated. Sickles needed support and Caldwell's 1st division was needed. Col Cross led his men into battle.

Caldwell rushed the units ahead one at a time. Cross was outnumbered 2 to 1. He led his men thorough the woodlots. Artillery shells were landing near them. None of the men were actually hit. They came out into the wheat field. They could not see the rebs but they could see the bullets knocking down the wheat. Firef at by Kershaw's men. Cross's men almost exhausted their ammunition in 10 minutes.

Our men began to tumble. Confederate George Hilliard commented on how they had the advantage.

Col Cross knew the situation was critical. He was standing as wounded men passed him to the rear. He vanished amid the trees. In less than 5 minutes he was shot. He was rushed to a field hospital but died within hours, saying "I think the boys will miss me."

Nightmarish series of attacks and counterattacks. Caldwell now called on his other brigades.

The brigade of Samuel Zuch was send out now. Zuck was intercepted by a staff officer under Sickle's command and told to come to Sickle's aid. On the way Zuck was killed by a bullet. "It's all up with me, Fable."

Next. The Irish Brigade. They only had 500 men by now. Earlier in the day the chaplain of the 88th N.Y. gave the men absolution. He said anyone showing cowardice in the battle would be damned. They then rose to their feet and marched off to battle. But they were at a disadvantage; many men were equipped with the smooth bore musket which could only be accurate at close range. Kelly knew he had to get his men close. He spend as little time as possible in the wheat field and instead headed to Stony Hill, a part of the woodlots. Lt. St. Clair Mullholland said "There they are." We are on the crest among the enemy and run in among them. The men looked bewildered. I yelled confederate troops lay down your arms and go to the rear. This ended a scene that was becoming embarrassing. A larger number of Confederates became our prisoners.

Rebel reinforcements arrive. The Irish abandon their prisoners and run back through the Wheat field. Lt. Charles Fuller was wounded on the ground. He put a tourniquet on his own leg.

Decimated Irish Brigade.

Caldwell now only had 1 last chance. Fell on to 25 year old Col John Rotter Brooke. He heads into the Wheat field. Brooke realized he had to get out of this position. Brooke takes up the flag from a fallen man. They drove the Confederates clean out of the field. George Hilliard ran for his life. He said everybody realized the situation . They were outnumbered ten to one.

Gen Caldwell needed reinforcements for Brooke, but he had none of his own. He sought support from Col Jacob Schweitzer of the V corps. He sends someone to speak with Schweitzer. Schweitzer basically said Who are you? I'm not going to obey any orders from you. Caldwell then has to come up personally. Schweitzer said I can only take orders from Barnes. Caldwell found Gen Barnes, who gave his permission.

Schwietzer goes to the southern end of the wheat field. It took them a half hour and by this time Brooke had lost his position. The Confederate onslaught came from Brooke's right rear. Brooke's men had to fall back in an every man for himself situation. Brooke himself had a bad bruise on his leg and had to have two men help him limp off the field.

Union forces under Schweitzer were completely surrounded by the Confederates. 28 year old Col Harrison Jefferds of the 4 Michigan Infantry sees his regiment's banner fall to the ground,. The fight for the banner was one of the bloodiets of the day. Hand to hand combat.

3 hour fight. One final casualty. Sickle was hit in the right leg, shattering his calf, ankle, and foot. He was placed on a stretcher. He smoked a cigar as they carried him off. He was to loose the leg.

As darkness fell, men littered the ground of the wheat field.

4,000 casualties from both sides.

Hilliard went out to where a soldier was found and found the soldier's grave there.

Lt Fuller recalled the grim scene. About midnight he had heard no sound for awhile. Then a voice from Phil Comfort was heard. The lieutenant sent Comfort for help. Fuller survived, without his leg.

Aftermath of the Battle at the Wheat Field

Back in Washington Sickles starts spin control. He shows he is a good politician. In Washington he tells the press and members of Congress that if it had not been for him, Meade would have abandoned the position and thus he is the hero of Gettysburg.

Sickles' leg was encased in glass and put on display at Bethesda Medial center. Sickles had his photo taken by it. He later received the Medal of Honor for his performance at Gettysburg.

Caldwell became the target of a formal review of his conduct. It proved he had done the best he could. But he was a marked man. In 1864 he is without a command and behind a desk.

Legacy of the wheat field. It shows the confusion that can arise in battle when lower commanders disobey order from their superiors.

The wheat field was one of the most dramatic places of the Civil War. Longstreet said this is the civil war with its blood and guts in spades.


Civil War Combat: Little Round Top at Gettysburg
The History Channel

On the second day of the battle, the climax occurred at Little Round Top.

July 2, 1863 -- the opposing armies stand about a mile away from each other. Lee is along Seminary Ridge, the north along Cemetery Ridge.

20th Maine march into town from Hanover, PA, 15 miles away. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain still suffers from malarial fever and dysentery. Chamberlain had no training for what he did at Gettysburg. He had trained as a minister and a college professor.

Col William C Oates was at the head of 15th Alabama. It arrives after a 20 mile march. Oates came from a broken home, tough life, went to Texas, thought he was wanted for murder there.

Both men had been recently promoted to Colonel and wanted to prove themselves. They would meet each other that day.

150 feet high hill sitting beside a larger hill known as Round Top. Only Union signal corpsmen occupy Little Round Top.

3 p.m. July 2. Meade observes the Union left. With him is Maj. Gen. Gouvernor K. Warren. He asksWarren to ride over to "yonder hill" and if anything serious is going on, attend to it. Warren was 2nd in his class at West Point. He was the chief engineer of the army of the Potomac.

3:30 p.m. Arrives and finds it almost abandoned. He recognizes that the southern lines go far south of the union lines from whence the south could flank the north. Little Round Top was great for intelligence because you could see a great deal of the area from there.

Warren orders a captain of a rifle battalion to fire a cannon shot to see where the Confederates were. The confederates look up and Warren sees the glint of metal and bayonets. The discovery was intensely thrilling and almost appalling, said Warren.

He sends for troops. John Bell Hood wanted to go around Little Round Top and cause chaos in the rear. However, his orders told him to attack up the Emmettsburg Road. 3 times he asked Longstreet permission to reconsider. Longstreet follows Lee's wishes and denies the request. For the first and only time Hood disobeys orders. He sends his Alabama and Texas regiments to Little Round Top.

The 15th Alabama anchor the extreme right of Hood's line.

Oates and his men were dead tired and the day's fighting had not even begun. Col Oates sends a detail of 22 men to fill canteens. But before they could get back, the troops were ordered to move out. His younger brother Lt. John Oates was ill. The colonel orders him not to go forward but he would not remain behind.

Union Lt. Ronald Mackenzie one of the staff officers sent for troops comes across a federal brigade under the command of Col. Strong Vincent. He was 26 years old. He was a natural leader. People looked to him for leadership. Harvard graduate. Vincent assumes the responsibility and at 4:30 p.m. heads to Little Round Top. Among the troops were those of Chamberlain.

He places the troops on the southern slope of Little Round Top. Not at the top, but the slope. He meets with Col Chamberlain of Maine. He is put on the extreme left. Hold that ground at all hazards. This was the last word I heard from him.

To the immediate right of 20th Maine:
83rd PA
16th Michigan
44th NY
The commander of the NY troops, Col James Rice, says he wants to fight alongside the PA troops because they had been fighting side by side previously. He obliges. This was to prove a key to that defense in his brigade. He put the strength of his brigade right up front at the point of attack. They send out skirmishes to meet the rebs.

15th and 47th Alabama force the union skirmishers up Round Top. There they run into the canteen group and that group gets captured.

Oates's men are in desperate need of water.

Gen Hood has been wounded in the arm. Gen Law has assumed division command. His orders are to press on and capture Little Round Top.

4th Alabama and 4th and 5th Texas brigades reach the base of the hill; their advance is treacherous; hit by artillery shells. Rebs have 1800 men. But the union had the hill. It is a steep hill with a bald front (enemy could not sneak up on you) with lots of rocks and huge boulders.

At about 4:45 pm the Alabamians and Texans begin their assent. The boulders make it difficult for them. The boulders make it difficult for them to maintain their lines. Col Powell of the 5th Texas said the ascent was so difficult that it prevented the use of arms. Taking shelter around the rocks they strike at the NY and PA troops, the center of the line. The rebs have to withdraw. They advance a second time. Confusion in the ranks. The second advance repelled. But north needs reinforcements. Aide comes from the north slope of the hill. Aid comes from Captain Augustus B. Martin of the 5th Corp artillery brigades and one of his company commanders Lt Charles Hazlet. They meet with Warren who is troubled because the terrain prevents effective use of artillery. But Hazlet says never mind that. He says his six guns will be encouraging to our troops and disheartening to those of the enemy.

Put the 6 cannon on the crest of the hill, not an easy task. They unlimber the guns and they push, pull and lift the cannon up the hill. Even Warren lends a hand. They open fire. The sound rejuvenates the northern troops. A bullet grazes Warren's throat, not a serious injury. But he knows he needs more reinforcements.

Vincent's line has withheld two assaults. A third attack is launched along with the 15th Alabama along on the right. Discipline breaks down among the southern ranks, while Vincent's line takes heavy casualties and runs low on ammunition. Rebs persist and right of north line begins to crumble. A union officer blunders and tells the Michigan boys to pull back. Vincent rallies the 44th NY to be put into the gap. Don't give an inch he shouts. He constantly supports his men encouraging them and exposing himself to fire.

A bullet hits Vincent in the thigh and groin and it lodges in his body. For 5 days he fights with the wound but dies.

Col James Rice of NY now is the commander. The Texans succeeds in gaining a portion of the plateau and verges on capturing Little Round Top.

Warren responds and goes off for reinforcements. He comes across his old brigade and Col. Patrick O'Rourke and the 140th NY. A first generation Irishman who had lived in the very north of NY, he graduated first in his class, Custer graduated last. Warren says he is waiting for his orders from Brig Gen Stephen Weed, but Warren is insistent and says he will take the responsibility. The men head for the crest.

He went to the sound of the heaviest fighting. This was on the Union right. 44th NY was fighting. The new troops arrive. Down this way boys and they rush down the slope. O'Rourke shot in the neck and falls instantly dead without a word. Weed himself and the remainder of his brigade head down the hill. Weed is paralyzed from the shoulders down by a bullet that hits his arm and goes into his chest. I am cut in two, he says. He sends for his good friend Hazlet. But as Hazlet leans down he is struck in the head and dies. Both men die.

Now the danger moves to the extreme left where it's Oates versus Chamberlain. Rebs try to outflank the northern left wing. 500 men advance. Within 50 yards they are hit by a torrent of bullets that Oates will never forget. The line wavered like a man trying to walk against a strong wind. Oates loses some of his best men including his brother John. Col Oates is determined to drive the enemy from the hill and he prepares another attack. Chamberlain has 400 men and, anticipating Oates's next move, stretches them out in a single line. All around comes a strange mingled roar. They clash as many as 5 times but the position is not taken. Intense hand to hand combat takes the punch out of both sides. Chamberlain realizes his men may not be able to hold. He has lost one third of his men. They grab ammunition from the Confederate dead. Chamberlain is hit in both legs but still stands.

Chamberlain makes a bold decision. The men turned towards me. Fix bayonets! comes the order. 6:45 p.m. Chamberlain decides to sweep the confederates from the hill. They attack. Wheeling right. Chamberlain is at the center. The commanding officer fires a navy revolver almost in his face but misses. He then gives up his revolver to Chamberlain.

Oates had ordered a retreat just as Chamberlain troops descended. They drove them up the slope of Round Top. Col Oates said of his opponents: "There were never harder fighters than the 20th Maine then and their gallant colonel". After 2 hours of desperate combat the union holds Little Round Top.

10 to 12 thousand union troops were close to Little Round Top so even if the rebs took the hill they would not have been able to hold it.

Warren promoted to Major General. He led his troops to victory at Five Forks. General Sheridan thought he was too cautious in the field and so relieved him of command. The rest of his career was spent as an engineer and writer on military affairs. He died in 1882 in Newport, RI. He was the savior of Little Round Top.

William C Oates, in 1864 was transferred to the 48th Alabama, lost his right arm at Petersburg, served as state legislator, governor of AL and seven term congressman. Died in 1910 at Montgomery, AL.

Chamberlain is the most admired of all those who fought at Little Round Top. A college professor without training. He rose to Brig Gen and received the formal surrender of arms at Appomattox. At the end of the war he was governor of Maine, 1866. In 1871 he became president of Bowdoin College. In 1893 he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He died in 1914.


The third day of the battle was comprised of the Confederate assault on the Union lines, known as Pickett's charge. General Longstreet had advised Lee not to make the suicidal assault across open wheat field, but Lee was about to succumb to the fatal error of hubris.  Lee believed this his Army of Northern Virginia could take any objective he gave them. 

Actual events proved Lee wrong as only a few Confederate soldiers even reached the Union lines.  As least Lee had the humility to say to his returning, mauled troops "This was all my fault!"

The defeat forced Lee back into Virginia and, after a few more battles (the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor), into defensive lines around Richmond. 

 

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