The American Civil War has always provided a dramatic backdrop for historical films and miniseries. One does not have to look far to see the various movies and television productions that have been produced in just the past twenty or thirty years. Theatrical films such as Glory, Gettysburg, Gods and Generals and Cold Mountain have received acclaim and some box-office success. On the smaller screen, the war has provided the backdrop for several melodramatic miniseries, such as “Beulah Land,” “The Blue and the Gray,” and “North and South,” and low-budget telefilms such as Ironclads, The Hunley and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln. But with all these productions that have been made, none of them have been successful at capturing both the brutality of the conflict, and the dramatic stories of the real men who fought in America’s deadliest war. But all of that is about to change, as production is moving ahead on a brand new miniseries covering the events of the American Civil War, entitled “To Appomattox.”
The man behind this monumental eight-hour miniseries is Michael Frost Beckner, who has written several episodes of “CSI,” as well as movies such as Sniper and Spy Game. He is best known for his work on the CBS television series “The Agency,” which ran from 2001 to 2003. Mr. Beckner has been working on the project for nearly a decade, and it is now coming to fruition. He has written all eight episodes of the program, and will serve as Executive Producer along with Thomas Augsberger (Mr. Brooks) and Mikael Salomon. Mr. Salomon will also serve as director for the miniseries. Anybody not familiar with his work should view episodes three and ten of the miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Not only does he have a good eye for character, but can direct a major battle scene as well!
Mr. Beckner calls the series “’John Adams’ meets ‘Band of Brothers.’” Although pivotal battles will be depicted, the main focus of “To Appomattox” will be the characters that fought on both sides of the conflict. The tone of the series will be somewhat somber, as the show will focus on those characters that became good friends at West Point, and fought together in the U.S.-Mexican War, then find themselves on opposing sides of the Civil War. The film features over 50 prominent speaking roles, but the four main characters the show will follow will be: Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Robert E. Lee and James “Pete” Longstreet. For these and other roles, the producers are assembling a top-notch cast. Among those cast so far include:
Michael C. Hall (Showtime’s “Dexter”) as Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s memoirs will cover half of the miniseries;
William Petersen (“CSI,” Manhunter) as William T. Sherman;
Will Patton (Remember the Titans, “Falling Skies”) as Robert E. Lee, and;
Paul Giamatti (HBO’s “John Adams,” Sideways) as James Longstreet.
The cast will also feature “Band of Brothers” alumni Damian Lewis, Jason O’Mara and Richard Speight, Jr., and country music singers such as Trace Adkins, Kix Brooks, Dwight Yoakam and Laura Bell Bundy. Patrick Gorman, who Civil War buffs will remember as General John Bell Hood from Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, joins the cast as Union Officer Charles F. Smith. Bill Paxton, Noah Wyle, Walton Goggins, D.B. Sweeney, Nick Searcy and Powers Boothe will also feature prominently in the miniseries. The producers are also in discussion with other prominent actors and actresses for key roles in the series.
The soundtrack for the miniseries is being produced by country music artist Rascal Flatts’ members Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay Demarcus, who will also portray characters in the film. Demarcus will provide the orchestral score for the program, while the band will provide contemporary and modern musical numbers. Other artists joining Rascal Flatts on the soundtrack include: Dwight Yoakam, Laura Bell Bundy, Kix Brooks and Jon Ondrasik of Five for Fighting.
A number of historical advisors are coming aboard to make sure that the program is as historically accurate as possible. Among them is Ed Bearss, legendary historian and Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, award-winning authors Thomas Fleming, Gordon Rhea and J. David Petruzzi, among many others. They will make sure that the series stays true to the history of this monumental conflict in American history.
Pre-production is set to commence in February 2012. The producers are looking at several states, including Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to film the series in, and are currently in discussion with several cable channels and networks interested in airing the program. Credible sources say that Sony Pictures Television may be involved in producing the series. The producers are also looking to recruit Civil War reenactors to not only provide soldiers for the series’ epic battle sequences, but to also help train the actors in their roles. The plan is to air “To Appomattox” over the summer of 2013, to coincide with the 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
As both a student of the American Civil War, and a lover of film and television, I have not been this excited about a film project since Gods and Generals was announced in 2001. The producers are devoted to presenting the story of the American Civil War as accurately as possible, and treating the men and women who lived through these events with the reverence that they deserve. This is possibly the most important Civil War-era production to date, and the cast and crew are committed to getting it right, so that future generations will look at this series, and have a better understanding of the tragic events of the war, and the lives of the men who fought it. As soon as there is more to report on the program, I will write about it here at Civil War Diary.
Steven Hancock, Civil War Diary
I would like to thank a member of the “To Appomattox” production team for offering insight into the writing of this article. Their help is greatly appreciated.