"Gods and Generals" is Good Hollywood -- Don't Go See It

Culture Watch

Mr. Rael is associate professor of history, Bowdoin College.

Gods and Generals, Ted Turner and Ron Maxwell's followup to 1993's Gettysburg, wants to be a quintessential Civil War epic. It succeeds. First of all, it is long, timing out at almost four hours (six hours for those with the stamina to make it through the DVD version). More to the point, though, "G&G" has everything Hollywood requires of its Civil War epics. It's all here: citizen soldiers, brother against brother, displaced families, meditations on war, inspiring speeches, officious bureaucrats, foolish generals, and remarkable generals.

Oh, and also slaves. Of course there have to be slaves, in some fashion. After all, wasn't the Civil War about slavery, or at least those with an interest in the "peculiar institution"? Of course, no one is quite sure how slavery should be dealt with in these films, any more than there is popular consensus on the relationship between slavery and the Civil War. The same could have been said about Americans during the period depicted in "G&G." As Abraham Lincoln conceded in his second inaugural address in 1865, everyone knew that slavery was "somehow" the cause of the war.

But, oh, what a range of possibilities Lincoln's evasion permits. Did slavery "cause" the war by offering Northerners a righteous cause to fight and die for? (Almost certainly not.) Or did it spark the conflict by symbolizing the struggle between burgeoning industrial capitalism and an older agrarian tradition? (Probably not.) Was it slavery, and slavery's expansion, that broke the back of the second party system, leaving armed conflict the only alternative to a political system in shambles? (Probably so.) Or, as an older generation of southern historians posed it, was it the mere presence of the barbaric African in the midst of the civilized Anglo-Saxon that led to what novelist Thomas Dixon called the "causeless conflict"? And then there are those who steadfastly, in the face of all evidence (even Confederate officials' own statements!), deny that slavery was somehow implicated in the start of the war.

What is indisputable, even by the most fire-eating Confederate apologists, is that slavery did become a facet of the war. From runaway "contrabands," to Congressional Confiscation Acts, to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the Confederacy's late-war dalliances with trading liberty for military service - slavery and its fate became a pressing concern for both Union and Confederate governments.

Popular culture, particularly film, has never coped well with this. The first feature-length American film, D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), portrayed the Civil War as a tragic conflict between brothers, during which white men across regions recognized their shared masculinity by acknowledging each other's heroic deeds. The Birth of a Nation reflected the political exigencies of its age -- a time when North and South were re-forging bonds sundered by the war, extended hands across a bloody chasm filled, unfortunately, with the bodies of African Americans lynched, segregated, or disfranchised by Jim Crow. It offered nothing positive for African Americans. Rather, former slaves were portrayed as black beasts, hell-bent on the violation of the white women, and politically empowered by the evil plan of the Radical Republicans to wreak vengeance on the war-torn South.

The movie was a huge hit. Audiences flocked to cinemas to see the new art form and the epic story of America it told. Not all concurred, however. Black scholars, such as W.E.B. DuBois, and civil rights advocates, such as the nascent National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), criticized the film as a shameful version of the past. More prominent voices, however, slandered the critics as a biased minority, stamping the film with the imprimatur of scholarly objectivity. President Woodrow Wilson, himself a former history professor and president of Princeton University, called the film "history written in lightning."

Few Americans today could watch The Birth of a Nation and consider it an objective and scholarly representation of American history. Some might have a problem, however, with the next big Civil War movie. Released in 1939, Gone with the Wind has made more money than any other film in American history, and regularly tops lists of personal favorites and significant films. Producer David O. Selznick built Gone with the Wind on the foundation of Margaret Mitchell's popular page-turner of the same name. He consciously softened the book's more virulent racial imagery (Mitchell considered Thomas Dixon, the author of the novel that became The Birth of a Nation, a hero and literary forebearer), making it more palatable for a new racial era -- one in which civil rights organizations were beginning to stem the tide of Jim Crow racism, and one which would shortly call upon African Americans to help fight fascism abroad. Instead of the black beasts of The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind offered us Mammy -- the loyal and asexual protector of "her" white folks.

It was almost half a century before Hollywood again tried its hand at the Civil War epic. Following World War II, few filmmakers essayed the large-scale Civil War film. There were some attempts, but these were often critical and box-office failures. Television also stepped into the fray, offering banal fare such as "The Americans" in 1961.

For some reason, though, the big Civil War battles piece did not work in the post-war era. Perhaps the Cold War, with its themes of domestic subversion and paranoia, shrunk the canvasses of films below the threshold required of Civil War epics. Films such as The Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon could use closed sets and dark tones to enlist the Western genre in their cause, but the Civil War -- with its grand sweep and Victorian sentimentality -- seemed too naive for the Nuclear Age. The '60s proved no more fertile a seedbed for Civil War films: the national self-searching provoked by the Civil Rights Movement, the generational tumult of the youth movement, or the gnawing discord over the Vietnam War -- all made for times unreceptive to the heroic themes of older Civil War films. When the era was treated, as in 1965's Shenandoah, it was invoked in a way that reflected the fierce domestic tensions of a crisis-laden generation.

Generally, though, instead of using the Civil War to grapple with concerns at the center of the American experience, the Civil War was moved to the frontier, where it became a staple setting for television westerns such as "Bonanza" (1959). It also hovered in the background of "Confederate Westerns" such as The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). These films partook of the late 1960s' and early 1970s' penchant for antiheroes - like Bonny and Clyde, their dark protagonists offered symbols of alienation from modern life and stressful times.

It was not until American culture had thoroughly washed away the Zeitgeist of the '60s that a different kind of Civil War film became possible: Glory, built upon a decade's worth of conservative reaction to the tumultuous '60s. During that time America re-wrote its narrative of national defeat in Vietnam (through "successful" interventions in Grenada and later Panama), and rolled the clock back on civil rights. At the same time, however, the liberals of the '60s became the culture-makers of the '80s, and the Civil Rights Movement quietly cemented its institutional gains.

Glory -- the story of an African-American regiment's struggle against racism at home and Confederates down South, was just the film for the era. On the one hand, it heralded the coming-of-age of African Americans as legitimate participants in the national story. On the other, it offered one-dimensional black characters who, despite persistent racism in their own army, "buck up and kick in" for the national cause. Somehow, in the end, shared masculinity and the pointless deaths it demanded were to have redeemed both African Americans and the nation as a whole.

Glory's thin veneer of racial liberalism pointed filmmakers into the future. Having tackled the difficult issue that had been impeding resurrection of the Civil War era in film, it permitted new movies that would not feel much need to reinvent its racial wheel. Instead, the path was clear to presenting what American audiences really loved: battles -- dirt-showered, ear-splitting, guy-loving battles. In 1993, Ted Turner produced Gettysburg, a tortuous and over-literal version of Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels (1973). Gettysburg profited from the popular interest and scholarly imprimatur of Ken Burns's well-received PBS documentary "The Civil War" (1990). More than anything, it reaped the dividends of decades of pop-culture's neglect of the nation's central story. Long in the bank, the interest finally paid off.

Now, ten years after, we have the "prequel" to Gettysburg: Gods and Generals.What does it mean? Since Gettysburg, the Civil War has become a legitimate if still risky topic for the American culture industry. Will Gods and Generals ratify its producers' faith in the American public's taste for history?

The prognostications for the film were not good. For one, the novel upon which the film is based sprang not from the tortured genius of Michael Shaara, but the crass opportunism of his son, Jeff. If the film is anything as clunky as the novel, forget it. For another, "G&G" clocks in at even longer than its antecedent, making it a true test of the Civil War's popularity. Will people spend eight bucks and an entire evening on it? With over $50 million sunk into the enterprise, much is at stake. We can only hope they got the beards right this time.

I saw the film last night, and they did. Gods and Generals turns out to be as long as advertised, but still an at-times compelling version of the Civil War from First Bull Run through the Wilderness. It is often scrupulously accurate on the minutiae, though some liberties have been taken with plot and character (witness Union General Winfield Scott Hancock's role as prophet of reasonableness in a world of bureaucrats, analogous to the part Buford played in Gettysburg). The film has clearly been put together with love and affection for the details of the campaigns, the gear, and the setting.

Make no mistake, though, it reprises many of the problems of Gettysburg, and adds a few new ones The script is often sentimental and epigrammatic. This could be excused in a historical film based on a generation that tended to express itself, well, sentimentally and epigrammatically. The direction does little, though, to breath life into this language or demonstrate that actual conscious humans said and meant such things. The blocking is amateurish, and the dialogue often has all the vitality of a high school history play, despite being delivered by some very professional actors.

Another criticism is that the film is pretty hard to penetrate if you don't already know a good deal about the cast and plot. Like The Lord of the Rings, it makes a whole lot more sense if you already know the story. Just as Peter Jackson made few apologies to the non-Tolkienites in his audience, so Ron Maxwell offers little for the casual movie-goer. This is a film for (and largely by) Civil War buffs. And this is a strange thing. Earlier generations' renditions of the Civil War appealed to a broad American audience, offering easily-digestible (if historically moronic and racially vicious) versions of American history. But "G&G" is an epic playing to a niche audience. Four and a half hours and we don't even make it to Gettysburg? Whereas the older films purported to teach Americans about their past (for the cynical, propaganda), "G&G" preaches only to the converted -- a narrow but eagerly-consuming slice of the market that knows what it wants. Ted Turner's not in the habit of making bad gambles; in trusting to millions of his detail-devouring fellow buffs, he will probably win again.

No, it's not in the details that the devil lives. It's in theme, sweep, and broad argument. Here it is largely moribund. The film lacks tension and drama; it builds little suspense, and wrestles with few of the themes it raises (see The Thin Red Line if you want a thoughtful war film). The engine that propelled The Killer Angels and Gettysburg -- the tension between Lee's military philosophy and Longstreet's -- is absent here.

"G&G" does have an intriguing central character, however, and it is not the Joshua Chamberlain who so intrigued audiences of the earlier film. This time, it is Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (played by Stephen Lang), the genius of the Valley Campaign of 1862 who kept Federal forces twice the size of his own befuddled and impotent. Jackson as a character has long intrigued Civil War buffs. A military genius, he was also an incredible eccentric, and pious to a fault. "G&G" packages him as a Confederate (and, somehow, national) hero.

In the process of lionizing him, the film submerges the very ambiguities that make him fascinating. The tension between Jackson's humanity (love for his wife, yearning for a child) and his ruthless battlefield efficiency offers the film its most promising avenue of exploration. But Maxwell and crew muff it, offering a Jackson who reconciles these two warring impulses. When Jackson cries over the death of a five-year-old girl he has befriended, his soldiers reason that in this rare display of grief must also reside his grief for his lost soldiers. Who says? Far more poignant and interesting for Jackson to have been capable of grief at the death of a girl, but not at the loss of a brigade.

Perhaps Jackson's anomalies are smoothed over because the actual Jackson was simply too unpalatable to be a hero of the sort the modern Civil War film is thought to demand: impassioned yet tolerant, intuitive yet reasonable (witness Chamberlain). Jackson would have made a great protagonist in a Civil War film made in the early 1970s -- a dark antihero who makes no excuses in fighting to enact a vision of the world in opposition to the status quo. In the modern climate, however, Jackson must be tamed, his excessive and dogmatic piousness bridled to the love of small girl -- a move of such melodramatic sentimentality that it could have been lifted from the pages of Harriet Beecher Stowe. For Maxwell, one suspects, Jackson's religion cannot be portrayed as a cause of his military prowess -- that would make him John Brown, an intolerant, fanatic, fundamentalist. Perhaps even a terrorist.

If Jackson's leading role does not provide grist for this history film's interpretive mill, what does? What has the film got to say about the war's causes and consequences? Let's face it, the barometer for any modern Civil War film's politics is its portrayal of slavery and race, and here the filmmakers trod the safe path they wore down in Gettysburg. The film speaks of the "peculiar institution" sparingly though self-consciously, weaving it into the script in dutiful homage to the racial liberalism its audiences expect. Joshua Chamberlain, the Union conscience of Gettysburg, again lectures on evils of slavery, reminding us that it is the liberties and rights of white men (as much as black) that are at stake. Southern officers convene over coffee, mentioning in passing that several popular generals support the idea of trading the slaves liberty for service -- an idea that was never seriously considered until the waning days of the Confederacy, and then only for the purpose of saving the Confederacy. (The proposal was defeated by high Confederate officials who declared that a Confederacy without slavery was not worth saving.)

We are also offered two African-American roles, one vaguely historical and the other fictional, that nonetheless echo the same theme. These are the characters of Jim Lewis, who was Stonewall Jackson's cook, and Martha, the house slave of the fictional Fredericksburg family used to anchor the plot. Both express their desire not to be slaves, but both are willing to make huge sacrifices to aid "their" white people. One remarkable scene portrays Jim praying with Jackson, asking God why He would suffer white people to keep slaves, while Jackson looks on approvingly. Um, Jackson did fight for the Confederacy, right? In another scene deeply reminiscent of Lost Cause mythology, Martha protects the home and property of the white family that owns her as property by pretending to be free. She claims their home as her property, but only until the Yankees are routed and "her" whites return.

These portrayals are a far cry from The Birth of a Nation's black beasts, but not so terribly far from Gone with the Wind's loyal slaves. In the old days, both black characters would have inveighed against Yankeedom in general and invading Union troops in particular. Not so here. While the Yankees who move into Fredericksburg initially seem menacing, they treat Martha with respect. And we know that the noble Chamberlain is back there somewhere among the Yankees, ready to quote Tacitus on man's inherent humanity. The consequence of "G&G"'s presentation of slaves is thus to minimize the actual conflict and animosity between Union and Confederate. In the older films, loyal slaves were made to speak such parts; in the new film, they are simply ignored, thus eliding the entire issue of sectional animosity. Aside from an important initial scene in the Virginia legislature (Robert Byrd gets a cameo here; he may have been present at the historical original), during which Yankee "aggression" is loudly denounced, the film remains remarkably moot on the divisive question of which side was wrong.

The point is not that the black characters in "G&G" are ahistorical, nor even that they are implausible. No, the point is that they are unitary and atypical. Of all the opportunities to portray African Americans and issues of race, why did the filmmakers choose these -- two characters who repeat the same theme of the loyal slave who would like to not be a slave? A film of this sweep and expense does not leave the sensitive issue of race unthought; no, the choices made here were conscious and meaningful. This, then, is how the filmmakers have chosen to negotiate the difficult terrain of race in this film. We are to see the blacks of the old kind of Civil War story (the loyal and helpful ones), but modernized a bit with of rhetoric so mild that it cannot even be called antislavery. Has history actually gone backwards? Remember "Roots," or "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"? Even Glory was more historically honest than "G&G."

Does this really help us understand what the war was about? It does not. Slavery is reduced to a troublesome plot theme that must be maneuvered around so that the "real" story -- of the fighting men -- can be told. That the history is mangled in "G&G" is of less importance than the film's sheer neglect of the actual role of race in the conflict. We are never even aware that the bulk of Confederate officers and a good many Union ones supported the institution of slavery. Nor are we witness to the vigorous policies of the Confederate government to buttress the slave regime (through provisions such as the "Twenty Negro Law"), nor to the Union government to sustain slavery early in the war (such as Lincoln's repeal of several field orders freeing slaves of Confederate sympathizers). We are certainly not enlightened on the crucial role played by the tens of thousands of African Americans who, by fleeing plantations and presenting themselves to Union lines, presented Federal policymakers with dilemmas that eventually brought about universal emancipation. Slavery as the root cause of the war is never addressed, nor is the troublesome outcome of the Civil War -- Reconstruction -- on the agenda.

The old movies, for all their horrible racism, at least thought that the story was incomplete unless the before and after of the war were told. The current spirit seems to be that the Civil War must be actively de-contextualized, taken out of its underlying causes and consequences. Those, after all, would bring up nasty issues that remain alive and kicking in American society today. I guess we can't have those intruding into our escapist fantasies of the past.

Of course, we can't be too critical of "G&G" for playing it safe. It's not as if Hollywood is in the business of taking risks. The big studios much prefer small independent studios to take on the perilous task of testing the public's taste; once a new genre emerges, the big studios pounce, repeating proven formulas until the profit well runs dry. This is exactly what happened with the African-American hit Soul Food (1997), which wound up with a ludicrously high cost-of-production to profit ratio, and brought Hollywood money pouring into later offerings, like How Stella God Her Groove Back (1998). Yes, it's to be expected that "G&G"'s writers and producers have yet again shied away from saying something meaningful, if difficult and challenging, about the Civil War. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. And it certainly doesn't mean we have to excuse it.

I suspect that such words will fall mostly on deaf ears. Perhaps Turner and Maxwell have given the people -- or at least the people who will want to see this film -- what they want: guns, glory, honor, manliness, femininity, loyalty, nationalism. But I'm not too cynical to think that there are many among us out here who wish for something a little more incisive. Too often, we throw up our hands at simplistic historical storytelling in films, cursing our movie-going brethren for possessing the mindsets that people like Turner and Maxwell allegedly cater to. I don't believe it. Better historical films don't get made -- not because the public doesn't want them, but because the movie-making industry is too risk-averse to represent the full spectrum of audience tastes. That is grounds for both concern and optimism. Concern, because our past has been taken over by profit machines with little actual interest in skillful interpretation, and optimism because we can do something about it. I say, vote with your dollar. Don't see Gods and Generals.

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Lori Simmer - 7/19/2004

I'm have a new interest in this particular time period and am curious as to where the first shot was fired to activate this whole Civil War - I've been touring various areas (just came home from Vicksburg, Mississippi) and have traveled to Fort Sumter - and watching Gods and Generals right now. I tend to concur with your critique but don't know too much about all of the facts yet. Can you give me a brief synopsis?

Lasanga - 1/10/2004

He said TRojan not TRoJan you idiot. I hate it when people come up with crap like that just to make the person they disagree with stupid. I hate it even more when they can't even get the facts right.

Josephine Lindsay Bass - 12/15/2003

I have the video, the CD and 3 pictorial books on this movie.

It is the most wonderful factual movie I have ever seen in my 69 years of life on Lincoln's War. It is even more wonderful because it comes at this time when liberals are bashing, hating, causing division constantly and blaming the South for all the hateful things they did up North.

Everybody knows the North and the West never wanted blacks in their states and did everything to keep them out - including holding them hostage in the South after the war - everybody knows the North invented the code laws of segregation to keep them out - the ten most segregated states in the USA as we speak are in the North. (see BET analysis)

Yes, I love this movie and thank you Ted Turner for providing the means to do it and Ron Maxwell for for being the great producer you are.

Everybody gets one for Christmas and we tell everyone we meet to buy it! A percentage of monies earned from sales goes to the Preservation of Battlefields!

Tom Keith - 10/21/2003

Heaven help Bowdoin College if Mr. Rael is an example of a their history department. I quote from his review of the film -

"We are also offered two African-American roles, one vaguely historical and the other fictional, that nonetheless echo the same theme. These are the characters of Jim Lewis, who was Stonewall Jackson's cook, and Martha, the house slave of the fictional Fredericksburg family used to anchor the plot."

What does vaguely historical mean Mr. Rael? Jim Lewis was wholly human and wholly historical. As far as I have been able to determine, based on what is known about him in the historical record, he is portrayed accurately in the film. Martha is NOT the house slave in a FICTIONAL family. She is a whole human being and wholly historical from a real family that actually lived through the battle of Frederticksburg as recorded in the Diary of Jane Beale, which is still in print. One wonders how much homework Mr. Rael did before his pontificating on the film. One wonders how much homework he does on anything. Pity the students at Bowdoin.

mike - 9/13/2003

its Trojan not TRoJan

Donna Roper - 7/25/2003

It never ceases to amaze me what impassioned discussions result from any mention of the Civil War-- and how far afield they get from the original subject. Sometimes I think it should be added to the list of "dangerous" topics of conversation alongside religion and politics. Always entertaining, though!

Randal Allred - 3/7/2003

Apparently, all that Maxwell heard in the all the criticism of Gettysburg was "get the beards right." Anyone with an eye could have edited 30 to 50 minutes out this without sacrificing a single word of dialogue or a single bit of detail.

Randal Allred - 3/7/2003

Amen to your comments and those of Chaney. I noticed that the richenss and scope of large armies was missing here, that the volleys were ragged and a bit thin (perhaps their powder budget was low), and that we keep seeing the same guys over and over again--like the Rebel with long blond hair and a beard who seems to be everywhere in F'burg. The Battle of F'burg was not accurate simply because, as you say, the slaughter was not convincing enough (if you have read any of the eye-witness accounts), nor any of the motivations in the battle scenes. We get more gratuitous gore and guts than we did in the film G'burg, but it is so tacky and self-consciously done. And I got tired of seeing geriatric and overfed reenactors, too.
The lack of plot continuity bothers me, too--to make a film about Stonewall and yet to neglect the Valley Campaign is inexplicable and undefendable. F'burg is emphasized in the novel because of Hancock, but he is a minor figure in the novel. And diminshing Lee is just absurd. This book might have made a great film, but Ron Maxwell has shown us--twice--that he does not have the gifts for it.
And keep Ted Turner out of the movie, for cryin' out loud.
Randal Allred

Randal Allred - 3/7/2003

Yes, the tension among the four characters and their vision of God and Life is in the novel--but it is largely subsumed (buried, nearly) under the endless and poorly edited Battle of Fredericksburg, and other reenactor-oriented showdowns. Hancock is a minor presence in this production, and Chamberlain nearly disappears. He is not in the picture long enough to make a contribution to the issue. This is mostly a Stonewall Jackson love-fest, and in spite of my admiration for Stephen Lang's performance of Jackson's paradoxical character, the deification (note all the Christ imagery) of this Calvinist Galahad was just a bit much.

Alec Lloyd - 3/5/2003

"Glory" comes to mind.

I suppose if there is a demand to see a movie documenting southern evils, it will be made. I never got around to seeing it, but I believe "Amistad" at least dealt with the evils of slavery.

"North and South" had something to say about slavery, thought it was a miniseries.

My point is that the evil of slavery is pretty much a given. Must every movie dealing with the period devote a portion of its screen time to slave beatings in order to drive the point home?

That seems to be the argument here.

Chad Chaney - 3/4/2003

This seems to be the pevailing sentiment amongst those of us who actually know a thing or two about history. However, joe (and Jane) Schmo on the street simply can't follow the Seven Days, Second Mannassas, Anteitam, etc. (don't even mention that there was a Western theatre with Shiloh, Vicksburg and Port Hudson) The infrequency (and blandness)of battles can be largly atributed to a lack of re-enactors. I believe that it took ten times as many to make Gettysburg. Ted Turner didn't have the recorces for this one, the result being a kind of aneimic attempt to represent the pre-Gettysburg years. clearly more recorces would be needed for a proper embelishment of that campaign.

Joe Dryden - 3/4/2003

You say that someone (who?) is trying to posit that "all Confederates were raving, foaming madmen, burning with the desire to harm blacks." Wasn't the point of the original review that there are actually very few films that actually present a negative picture of the Confederacy during the war? Are you saying that this is wrong?

Alec Lloyd - 3/4/2003

Perhaps, Mr. Saur, you would like to have Mr. Heuisler to take a loyalty oath?

From the posts, it seems that (as I said above) all Confederates were raving, foaming madmen, burning with the desire to harm blacks. Any movie about them must bludgeon the viewer over and over to remind him that 1. The South had slaves and 2. Was evil.

I have little sympathy for the Southern “cause,” but I am intrigued by the men that fought for it. They are, after all, my countrymen. Lee and especially Jackson, are enigmas. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Winfield Scott Hancock are far less interesting from a character perspective.

Is that so hard to accept?

Bill Heuisler - 3/3/2003

Such hostility. Happens when you're in over your head. You've become a stock Leftist - angry, delusional, egocentric and incapable of original thought. Can't figure out the original post on this site. A fine book and movie: Gods and Generals.

Oh well, Live Learn and Grow. You need to read more than Zinn, Chomsky, Foner, Wood and Marcuse. They tend to induce tunnel-vision and they use some of your favorite word-pictures too:
Cloaking rhetoric in funk; standing tall on bodies; examining bile; hallowing treachery. And gosh, how you hate ambiguity.
You've probably read Alex Haley, cover to cover, and think Sartre is a hoot. Face it, Mike, you couldn't discuss Shaara and the movie and you're becoming predictable. Write again when you've something fresh and interesting to say.
Bill Heuisler

Mike Saur - 3/2/2003

Oh, I see. You really do have too much time on your hands. Really like the art reference, VERY sophisticated of you. How silly of me, you make enough sly nods to a rudimentary education, and it's amazing, all content of what you said flies out the window (a Chagall window, perhaps?).
So, what are these "profuse hallucinations?" Care to name a few? I read your posts, have you by any chance? You citicize Rael's approach to the war's participants for "trying to politicize their stories." Guess what--people are political, people always have been, and if you want some white-bread model of apoliticized heroism, may I suggest a few comic books? Your childlike belief in the goodness, the "God and country" aspect of your favorite heroes is really adorable.
"Jackson was called the Cromwell of the Confederacy; he viewed life as a God-driven instrument suffering immutable fate. Lee was similar," you said. Besides sounding a lot like Bob Costas when he talks about baseball, you've given these guys some sort of religious icon status--they're martyrs now? Ever occur to you that Jackson might have been certifiably nuts, and Lee might just have been a first-class opportunist who made a bad bet? For somebody who likes to strut like a pragmatist, wow, you must be one internally conflicted soul. Really, Mr. Heuisler, are you that naive? You also criticize Rael for being "politcally correct," as if being knee-jerk politcally incorrect was somehow a more respectable approach. You're one of O'Reilly's "real Americans!"
I seek your "indulgence," the indulgence of some misguided pedantic? As to my "confusion" on the war, golly, I suggest you stay in the historical shallows. Confusion? I'm merely sick of southern apologists like Foote, Freeman, and Robertson who prop themselves up like academics. People such as these seek to make the war as non-controversial as possible--if history is dead, why study it? Well, I suppose one might if they have nothing else better to do.

Bill Heuisler - 3/2/2003

Mr. Saur,
HNN is interesting because of the different points of view. Every now and then, however, a kaleidoscopic world-vision is displayed like a Chagall window and all readers can do is blink and shake our heads in awe at the magnificent chaos. But reality is mundane. Readers of this site know the South lost. We know the South was wrong. This discussion is about a movie.

Recall the proverbial blind man who thought he'd found a tree while groping an elephant's leg. Your anger and confusion about the American Civil War is sad, but that's not the subject.

As to your artful chaos, the victim/oppressor archetype is terribly tempting so children and the less fortunate can explain the odd, ugly intangibles in life and history. My opinions weren't designed to threaten or frighten you. In fact, you have my sympathy. Profuse hallucinations might fascinate a forensic psychologist, but seem dislocated and didactic here on HNN. That you seek my indulgence and agreement is understandable, but to humor your fantasies would only encourage them.

Some dogmatics won't admit delusion until brown apples fall on their heads. Read Gods and Generals, Mr. Saur. Read preceeding posts. Embrace reality. Your suffering is painful to behold.
Bill Heuisler

Mike Saur - 3/1/2003

Mr. Heuisler:
The Army of Northern Virginia stacked its arms of April 12, 1865. Really, so help me God, they did (sorry if I lack the time to cite a few hundred sources). The barenaked truth is that the Confederacy lost--yup, lost on its own merits from an overbloated ego, bad generalship, rash political decision making, and an utter failure to develop a modern economy in a timely fashion. Is any of this making you upset? If it is, then I think you need to sit down and examine the inner motivations for your bile.
The traitors lost. Even prior to George W. Bush, taking up arms against your country was treason. You seem to cloak your rhetoric in a funk of general Americana, laid-on extra thick. You seem to be saying the Confederacy represented something pure and true in the American experience compared to the attitudes of those today. If I have pegged you incorrectly, by all means, join with me in saying that the Rebels were traitors who got off easy, people with a vicious political motive who used a pious outward demeanor to mask the ugliness of their real agenda. Please join with me in saying that the war was about slavery, not states' rights federalism (no war over nullification when Jackson was in office--that would have been the time to press that angle).
With this gauntlet down on the table, I figure you have about two solid choices. First, you can inform me that you have merely been playing devil's advocate or historical trivia master, great if you have some time on your hands. Second, you can tell me that from deep within your ideology, you support the Confederacy and what it stood for (standing extra tall on the bodies of thousands of Southern soldiers who never owned slaves). It's your conscience. I just say that it's time to call a spade a spade. As far as reciprocity is concerned, I am a northerner, I believe in racial and social equality, and I am angered that 300,000 of my people and countless Southerners (most of whom had no real stake in the Confederate cause) had to die to stop an aggrandized plantationesque country club from tearing the nation in half. There, now you know where I am coming from--gosh, how I hate ambiguity. Now, it's your turn. You've generated all of this fuss, and I think you owe it to those you've harrangued to let us know. We're waiting...
In the meantime, please do us a favor, and refrain from hallowing armed treachery, that is, unless you support the concept without reservation. Remember who won, and at what cost next time you see the stars and stripes.

Mark - 3/1/2003

I am a Civil War buff and I found this movie to be horrendous. I walked out half way through the movie and LAUGHED through much of it.

If TJ Jackson was the major "character" in the movie, why the selection of the first half material? Skip from First Manasas to the Battle of Fredricksberg, a battle that Jackson did almost nothing in? Robert E Lee is featured in the opening scene, then we skip to December 1862 (without mentioning this time shift) and there is Lee again?

The Battle of Fredricksburg battle scenes were laughable. First one brigade crosses the canal, charges up Marye's Height, fires a volley or two, then the brigade commander calls, "Fall Back". This sequence happens five times in a row, with no variance. It maybe historically accurate, but bad movie making and ignores half of the Battle of Fredricksburg.

Waste of time, waste of film.

Nathan Williams - 3/1/2003

It seems the public has silently concurred with Mr. Rael and voted with its collective dollar. Gods and Generals, which some sources estimate as costing nearly $90 million in actuality, has grossed less than $6 million in seven days of wide release.

It looks as if Mr. Turner won't be able to make good on that promised donation to the UN after all.

Bill Heuisler - 2/28/2003

Mr. Dryden is finally unmasked:
1) His facts:
"...with the tacit, and probably overt, approval of the Confederate high command."
"...It is probable that Lee, Longstreet, and their staffs knew..." Probably? Probable? Woeful scholarship.

2) His hapless conclusion:
"No degree of sophistry can conceal these facts..." What facts?

3) Lastly, the overheated rhetoric of an angst-driven Liberal:
"...merely fuel the myth and propaganda machines of those such as Heuisler. These perversions of the past are used to support their own right-wing agendas." Propaganda? Right Wing?

You don't know me at all, yet you presume to interpret motives and perversely (unwittingly?) project your ugly mirror-image. Mr. Dryden, you are exposed. All is not politics on a history site, but facts matter. And heat does not equal horsepower.
Bill Heuisler

Joe Dryden - 2/28/2003

In April of 1862 the CSA Congress authorized the official formation of partisan bands, among whom Mosby's and McNiell's numbered. Some free blacks kidnapped during both the Gettysburg and Antietam campaigns were taken by such bands, with the tacit, and probably overt, approval of the Confederate high command. Others were taken not by partisan bands but by CSA foragers attached to regular troops. We know this because a few of these kidnappees were released by Confederate officers. The vast majority of those taken were not so lucky, and wound up being returned to slavery. With the exceptions cited above, such actions were condoned by the Confederate officers on the field. It is probable that Lee, Longstreet, and their staffs knew this to be the case and condoned it.

No degree of sophistry can conceal these facts, Heuisler's pitiful backpeddaling notwithstanding.

Their significance is this: the Confederate Army, like the government it fought for, fought to defend the institution of slavery. The secession debates in the southern states, the Confederate Constitution, and Confederate officials such as Vice-President Alexander Stephens expressly defended the institution of slavery. It was the bulwark of the Confederacy, and its defense was the cause for secession. Confederate commanders, including the deified Bobby Lee, did nothing to eradicate slavery (Lee himself thought slavery was more a curse for whites than for blacks, and during the war refused to exchange prisoners who were former slaves).

Films on the CW that fail to acknowledge these realities -- indeed, that actively seek to hide them and distort them -- merely fuel the myth and propaganda machines of those such as Heuisler. These perversions of the past are used to support their own right-wing agendas. They do not constitute objective and rigorous history, and are shameful misuses of the past.

Bill Heuisler - 2/28/2003

Mr. Dryden,
Verbal abuse can reveal mental infirmity or disproportionate malice. Or are you having some trouble grasping the point?
Jeff Shaara, not Michael; Gods and Generals, not Gettysburg.
Mercersburg, not Gettysburg. Guerillas, not Confederate troops.
Or are you becoming increasingly desperate to connect Gods and Generals to sympathy for slavery? Nasty or pitiful? I wonder.
Remember, your namesake said, "The wretched have no friends."

Allow me to adjust your (enfeebled?) memory. During comments on Gods and Generals, Mr. Josh Greenland made a statement about Confederates trying to capture blacks in Gettysburg before the battle. The statement is false on all counts and completely irrelevant to the discussion of Gods and Generals. Now you try to defend this obviously false claim by angrily citing a letter from Greenwood Pennsylvania and a guerilla raid forty five miles away...a week prior to Gettysburg. The incidents have nothing to do with the subject. Why the reach? Why the anger? Why bother?

Mr. Dryden, are you ignorant of Civil War history or are you determined to muddle Bull Run and Antietam with Gettysburg - to mix up Jackson and Lee with a guerilla named McNeill - in order to make some point about correct racial attitudes? Do you know the difference? Do you know where Gettysburg is? Pull out a map and put your finger on the town. Now move that finger forty five miles west. To Mercersburg.

To Quote Dr. Philip Schaff of Mercersburg, "This guerilla band came to town on a regular slave hunt..." He refers to June 26th 1863. He refers to a group of non-uniformed irregulars called McNeill's Rangers. Read his journal.

Speaking of reading, have you read Gods and Generals, Mr. Dryden? Should Jeff Shaara have taken an editorial journey nine months ahead in time and north across the Maryland border to recount a slave raid on Mercersburg by McNeill's Rangers in order to conform to your jaundiced vision of America? Why don't you go see the movie. Why don't you stop wasting everyone's time with your ineptly irrelevent - and revealingly condescending - historical and contextual aberrations?
Bill Heuisler

Philistine - 2/28/2003

Folks, while you are busy arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it all boils down to Maxwell's script and directing. In the case of GETTYSBURG he used a good bit from Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize novel in the script. That book appeared in the 1970's. It took about 15 years for this to be filmed. I worked on GETTYSBURG and remember that Maxwell's Assistant Director, Skip Cosper, did most of the actual direction when I was there on set. Maxwell would occasionally come in to direct a scene or two.

Now comes GAG, covering about two years while the earlier film covered three days. It is being ROUNDLY panned by many Civil War reenactors as a lousy movie with a lousy script.I had nothing to do with GAG and many of the folks who were involved in GETTYSBURG decided to sit this one out too. Frankly, I was surprised at how tiresome this film was to watch. Someone dubbed it "Heaven's Gate in Wool". It is indeed that. The film had an opening weekend @ $4.5 million, and was outshone at the box office by HOW TO DUMP A GUY IN 10 DAYS. Turner's going to take a bath for this flop. Why it was released in it's present form is a mystery to me. Some have suggested it never went past a test audience. Let's not look at this film in history as much as in bad filmaking.

Joe Dryden - 2/28/2003

Obviously Heuisler does not bother actually READ the evidence others bring to bear in their arguments. The article I referred to is based not simply on Christian's letter, but on a variety of sources: the diary of Dr. Philip Schaff, a letter by Dr. Thomas Creigh, the diary of Rachel Cormany, a letter by Jemima Cree, the _mercersburg Journal_, and the diary of Charles Hartman.

I guess that when evidence fails, reactionaries like Heuisler turn to bluster. Once again, so much for his credibility. He's obviously a blowhard who selects his evidence as it suits his arguments.

Bill Heuisler - 2/28/2003

Mr. Dryden,
Check your source before questioning someone's credibility.
The article cited in the web site you referenced (and the article in US News) were both based completely on one letter written by a Confederate Officer, William Steptoe Christian, to his wife on June 28, 1863. The relevant portion is copied here:

"But though I had such severe wrongs grievances to redress, and such great cause for revenge, yet when I got among these people I could not find it in my heart to molest them. They looked so dreadfully scared and talked, so humble, that I have invariably endeavored to protect their property, and have prevented soldiers from taking chickens, even in the main road; yet there is a good deal of plundering going on, confined principally to the taking of provisions. No houses were searched and robbed, like our houses were done, by the Yankees. Pigs, chickens, geese, etc., are finding their way into our camp; it can't be prevented, and I can't think it ought to be. We must show them something of war. I have sent out to-day to get a good horse; I have no scruples about that, as they have taken mine. We took a lot of negroes yesterday. I was offered my choice, but as I could not get them back home I would not take them. In fact, my humanity revolted at taking the poor devils away from their homes. They were so scared that I turned them all loose."

The letter was written from Greenwood, Pennsylvania, near the Maryland line, at least a day's march from Gettysburg.
"Quite a bit of evidence", you say? Was this a great slave hunt as the original called it in the Civil War News? And Gettysburg? The geographic reference was wrong and the time was five days before any Confederates reached Gettysburg. The actual event is questionable at best and trivial at worst (in the context of a military campaign). What has this to do with Gods and Generals in either case? And why bring it up, except to smear defenders of the movie? When a Liberal lacks facts, he always slings mud.
Wash your hands, Mr. Dryden, and then address the issues.
Bill Heuisler

Joe Dryden - 2/28/2003

Why would anyone write otherwise? Because it's true. There is quite a bit of evidence that Confederate troops during the Gettysburg campaign captured free blacks in Pennsylvania and sent them south into bondage. So much for Mr. Heuisler's credibility.

Bill Heuisler - 2/27/2003

Mr. Greenland,
On July 1, 1863, at around 6:am, Pettigrew's Brigade was sent ahead of the vanguard of A. P. Hill's Corps into Gettysburg by Harry Heth, his Division Commander, to seize a supply of shoes reported to be stored in a warehouse in Gettysburg. Pettigrew withdrew immediately when his lead element encountered scouts from Buford's Federal Cavalry Division. Shoes. At 6 in the morning. The Rebs left immediately. The three-day-battle began. Those poor, barefoot, young Confederate soldiers could not have cared less about blacks, slaves or anyone. They wanted shoes.
This is well known information available to any cursory reader of Civil War history. Why would anyone write otherwise?

Odd that US News had such a clumsy and stupid agenda. Too bad you were temporarily taken in.
Bill Heuisler

Josh Greenland - 2/27/2003

".... slavery was not much of an issue on the battlefield, particularly in northern Virginia."

I read, I think in a recent article in US News & World Report, that the Confederate army at Gettysburg was rounding up free blacks there just before the battle.

"Robert E. Lee is a fascinating historical personality. How a man of such profound character (he remain the only cadet to graduate from West Point without a single demerit), patriotism and religious devotion could lead armies against his own nation is profound question."

Am I right in recalled that Lee once stated that the biggest mistake he ever made was getting a military education? I agree that he was a remarkable man. One wonders to what degree the war would have been shorter if he had not been in it.

Alec Lloyd - 2/27/2003

I find this debate instructive.

Apparently Mssrs. Moner, Rael and Boettger seem to think all of history’s villains must be demonized at all times.

All Confederate soldiers were raving racist psychopaths, and to depict them otherwise is to embrace Southern revisionism.

I have not seen the movie, though I enjoyed the book. If the movie is true to the book, it will not deal much with slavery because (though this must shock many “historians”) slavery was not much of an issue on the battlefield, particularly in northern Virginia.

As literary characters, Chamberlain and Hancock are rather dull. They are clearly Good Men, fighting for a Righteous Cause and helping to Free the Slaves.

Lee and Jackson are, of course, Bad People, Racists and Religious, meaning any scene showing their human side must be juxtaposed with a segment showing slaves being savagely beaten by Simon Legree.

Robert E. Lee is a fascinating historical personality. How a man of such profound character (he remain the only cadet to graduate from West Point without a single demerit), patriotism and religious devotion could lead armies against his own nation is profound question. I doubt the movie will do it justice (it is a Ted Turner production, after all) but I am interested all the same.

Oh, and for the record, I’m a Yankee. I have little sympathy of southern romanticism. However I have even less for self-righteous northern revisionism.

Bill Heuisler - 2/26/2003

Mr. Moner,
What is a "Confederate value". Name one. Then cite my defense of that "value". You write of my, "...frequent, impassioned, patriotic defences of Confederate values..."

Leftists without arguments reach for the mud, don't they?
And you use the word in your title...addressed at me.

Racism, Mr. Moner? Accusing me of racism unveils your lack of ethical parameters and shows you have no valid arguments.
Admit it, you hate this country; you constantly deride our history; you criticize defenders of the U.S. and create facts to support your status as one of Lenin's "useful idiots". Now you pretend to discuss a movie by accusing me of defending slavery.
The intelligent thing to do is read first and write later. Read my defense of Jeff Shaara and his fine work.

Your pathetic refusal to discuss the movie, Gods and Generals, signifies ignorance, stubbornness and malice. Which pretty much says it all for someone who marched with Elias Rash Mawi, Howard Zinn, Marshall Conway and other Workers World members.
Bill Heuisler

Gus Moner - 2/26/2003

Mr Heuisler's frequent, impassioned, patriotic defences of Confederate values on this service is as bewildering as it is admirable, admirable for their passion and the obvious depth of said feeling. Additionally, Mr Heuisler has defended that Southerners be left alone to sort out their historical issues, without northern or professor's intervention.

That he now defends these values whilst waving the US flag is the bewildering aspect. Does it follow then, that he believes firstly that the US actually represent these Southern values in this day and age, and secondly, for consistency, apply the non-intervention aspects of his domestic pronouncements to foreign policy as well ?

John - 2/25/2003

I have read the book and seen the movie. The book is not very good. Jeff is not much of a writer, though it seems to me he is trying to do something noble. It's just a book about 4 generals, however noble they may have been, just isn't the book we need about the Civil War. To do the Civil War justice we need more.

Gettysburg (ie, the book KILLER ANGELS) was closer to doing it justice, because it was richer (has anyone else noticed that G&G the book resembles the movie of Gettysburg whereas G&G the movie resembles KILLER ANGELS?). Maxwell recognizes this, hence, at least half of the film is written by Maxwell, and not in the book. He knows the Civil War deserves more than Shaara's book delivers.

Does Maxwell's movie deliver? It does not. The film, which I greatly anticipated, was profoundly disappointing. It is, and let there be no doubt, a very pro-Southern movie, without being explicitly pro-slavery. But, to endorse the south is to endorse a society structured around officially sanctioned and respected and enforced inequalities. While the Confederates who defended the south cared about other things, it was this that they sought to defend--that's what the war was about.

In the G&G fails because it only touches the surface.

Marc Bacharach - 2/25/2003

I find Dr. Rael’s analysis of the film to be both thorough and poignant.

Slavery was not only a principle cause of the Civil War, but one of most heinous crimes ever committed by the United States. To make a Civil War movie without mentioning slavery is possible, so long as the film is limited to a single and narrow issue (such as a specific battle, like Gettysburg). However, to make slavery seem merely like an awkward discomfort to blacks, and to portray those who tried to perpetuate their bondage as flawless is not only grossly inaccurate... I find it tremendously racist. Unlike General Patton, whose film left the image of a three-dimensional character with real strengths and real weaknesses, General Jackson becomes merely a clichéd hero, whose opinion of what he was fighting for was simply wrapped in the empty rhetoric of “state sovereignty.”

Bill Heuisler - 2/25/2003

Mr. Boettger,
Your opinion is meticulous and incisive. Comparing Nineteenth Century Southerners with Nazis is particularly delicious and adds immeasurably to any discussion of American History.
You wrote,("G&G is a complete whitewhash for all things the South stood for!!"). You obviously feel strongly about Gods and Generals and Southerners; two exclamation marks are impressive.

But might I ask, have you read the book? Seen the movie? If so, then you must know the subject of Shaara's work was not slavery.
Whether slavery was root or immediate cause of the Civil War is debated by better men and women than me, but there is more to the Civil War than the peculiar institution. Sparta enslaved the majority of their population; Timur built pyramids of skulls; Stalin starved millions of Kulaks. Should we burn all the books about Leonidas, Tamerlane and Stalin? Is anything about them worthy of study? Should I be censored for enjoying Shaara's work? Should the Southern States of the Confederacy be Nuked? Because Shirer's work on the Third Reich did not concentrate its considerable energy on the destruction of European Jewery, is his work unworthy? Along with your favorite causes, there are other movements, machinations, personalities - other gross depravities and magnificent stories history must address.

And thank you for your paranthetic explanation of Wehrmacht; we racist American commoners need direction and guidance.
Bill Heuisler

Joerg Boettger - 2/25/2003

Let's see, I would like to see a movie (preferably by Mr. Spielberg) that portrays the Wehrmacht (the German Army 1935-45)as the defender of Western Civilization against the onslaught of ungodly Bolshevism 1941-45. How's that for an apt analogy? G&G is a complete whitewhash for all things the South stood for!! This movie is a prime candidate for the "The Negroes-Never-Had-It-So-Good-Award"!

T. Russell Wingate - 2/24/2003

I have read all of the books by both Shaaras. (Not all deal with the Civil War.) I find them excellent as literature and accurate as history. Not only that, I find them uplifting. I do not find them representative of the mentality our universities are doing their incompetent utmost to inculcate. I am an historian (so says the University of California, twice). I am a poet. My command of English is phenomenal, and I am superliterate. I know good stuff when I come across it. Has it occurred to you that Homer's Iliad doesn't give us any background of the TRojan War either? The Iliad tells us the ninth year of a ten-year war. Homer leaves out the horse. Homer was a great artist who was NOT pandering to any public. Homer was not a professor. Shaara and son are not professors either. The deformation professionelle of the Ph.D.s drives the talented to flee academia and its execrable writing. The Shaaras know how to write, and half of the professorial resentment against them comes down to envy of what Orwell called "prose like a window pane." The Shaaras are doing the public more good than any five hundred history professors are. They LOVE what they do. And before you ask: I have loved the Civil War since I was about eight years old, which is 48 years ago. One professor my girlfriend encountered purported to be teaching U.S. history. Reading over her notes, I discovered that he stopped one lecture with the Dred Scott decision and began the next with Reconstruction. He was some sort of peacenik who thought wars uncleanly. I told her the SOB should have been flogged through the fleet for incompetence and stripped of his citizenship. Your delusion that if peacenik liberal films were made people would see them (in other words, that liberals are not a pathetic minority "given to strong delusion, wholly believing a lie" to quote Kipling and the Bible) shows how out of touch with your countrymen you are. Get this: liberalism is NOT where the future is. Constitutional issues and the LOVE of them are where the future is. The Shaaras are artists; they knew better than to try to become tenured hacks. They are wholly in literary continuity with each other; the rhetorical attempt to divide them by praising one and damning the other with faint praise is not going to work. You should be ashamed of yourself for urging us not to go see the movie. (I have seen Gettysburg the video at least twenty times and get strength from it each time. The scene of Lee in the rocking chair is among the best acting I have ever seen by anyone, due largely to the excellence of the script.) At the end of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume urges his readers to burn every book that doesn't fit into his narrow brand of empiricism. This should be considered one of the greatest intellectual obscenities of all time, but Hume, like Plato, is somehow considered a good man and a benefactor of the race. Your telling us not to see Gods and Generals is in the same category as Hume's attack on what he didn't like. It is a professor's place to stimulate thinking and assist thinking, not to preclude it lest its outcome knock him off his perch. One last point: my wife is a professor of creative writing (Ph.D.), so don't write me off as a yahoo. Floreat Mensa!

Bill Heuisler - 2/24/2003

Professor Rael,
Your slam at Jeff Shaara - a fine young author and more than worthy to follow his talented father - was unnecessary and gratuitous for a so-called scholar. "If the film is anything as clunky as the novel, forget it..." Then you tell us you saw the film last night. Cute. And unprofessional.

Gods and Generals is about four men, Lee, Hancock, Jackson and Chamberlain and how their concepts of God and their "Country" played such an important part in our Civil War. You diminish them - and yourself - by trying to politicize their stories.

Your essay takes the position that Gods and Generals is not worthy (or less worthy than it should be) because the book and movie were not sufficiently censorious in dealing with slavery.
The impression: movies made about the slave-era in United States history should center on the issue of slavery and be strongly condemnatory as well as racially "accurate".

In support of a more accusatory and more historically "accurate" version of our historical heritage you wrote, "Has history actually gone backwards? Remember "Roots,..."

Roots? How could a history professor have made such a terribly careless blunder? Roots was a plagiarism of an earlier novel. Haley paid a large settlement to the original author to stifle a law suit. Roots has been found to lack any historical accuracy at all. Maybe Roots is politically correct - and maybe that is most important to you - but your point falls far short of any serious scholarship. G & G is history. Roots is fiction.

But you continue what becomes an accusatory diatribe,
"The old movies, for all their horrible racism, at least thought that the story was incomplete unless the before and after of the war were told. The current spirit seems to be that the Civil War must be actively de-contextualized, taken out of its underlying causes and consequences. Those, after all, would bring up nasty issues that remain alive and kicking in American society today. I guess we can't have those intruding into our escapist fantasies of the past."

So many damn Americans are racists, right, Professor?

But you missed the real story. Jackson was called the Cromwell of the Confederacy; he viewed life as a God-driven instrument suffering immutable fate. Lee was similar. Chamberlain knew his God-fearing salvation lay in changing the future and somehow forging fate. That you see no tension, Professor, reveals your inability to discern how Gods and Generals is about great men viewing difficult situations through a prism we sophisticated moderns can only imagine. Gods and Generals at least tried.

Professor, trying to force Gods and Generals into a political box tells us more about you than about the book and the movie.
Bill Heuisler