History and Hollywood Meet: The 25th Anniversary Screening of “Gettysburg”

It was a cool, overcast morning on Saturday, October 13th, 2018, as my Dad, my friend and fellow filmmaker JD Mayo, and myself packed the car for the seven-hour drive from Greensboro, North Carolina to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to attend the 25th Anniversary screening of the classic Civil War film, Gettysburg. For JD and me, this is the film that got us interested in history, and eventually led us to become filmmakers ourselves. Director Ron Maxwell, and several members of the cast and crew would be in attendance, giving us the opportunity to meet some of the people who were a part of this landmark film about the bloodiest battle in American history. For both of us, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up!

We arrived in Gettysburg around 2 PM and got to our hotel room. We originally planned to relax for a little bit before heading out. However, Frank Beachem, a Civil War reenactor who we both worked with on JD’s films Our War and Fire in the Forest, told us that parking was already getting crazy in town, and to get their asap! So, we put on our best dress clothes, and were quickly out the door! Anybody who’s been to Gettysburg know that the worst thing about being there can be the traffic getting into downtown. I’ve heard some say that Gettysburg is the “busiest small town in the world,” due to the number of visitors who come to visit the battlefield. Well, they weren’t lying! Still, despite the traffic, we were able to find parking, and get to the Majestic Theater around 3:30, well ahead of the 5 PM start of the event.

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Majestic Theater in Gettysburg

On the drive up, JD kept up with the Facebook posts about the screening. Ron Maxwell posted that the event was sold out, bringing 800 people to see the film. Within an hour of arriving, that estimate seemed accurate. We were among the first to arrive. But by the time they started seating us at 4:30, hundreds of people were crowding into the theater lobby. Several reenactors who were part of the filming of Gettysburg back in 1992 were there, dressed in their uniforms, representing their units at the screening. Our first sighting of an actor happened about half an hour after arriving, when Patrick Falci, who portrayed Confederate General A.P. Hill in the film, arrived in his uniform for the event. Even 25 years on, he still looked the part of the General (He would reprise the role in Gettysburg: Three Days of Destiny, the 140th Reenactment Video). As we got our seats, and started to settle in, we started looking around. The only one we recognized at first was Brian Mallon, who played General Winfield Scott Hancock in both Gettysburg and its prequel, Gods and Generals.

The event began at 5 PM, with Bill Sellers, the President of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Trust, giving a few remarks, before introducing the Allen C. Cuelzo, who offered a few comments on the film’s historical significance, before he introduced the film’s director, Ron Maxwell. During his opening remarks, Mr. Maxwell talked at length about some of the experiences of making the film. His longest piece was about the great moment in the film where Confederate soldiers are cheering for Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) prior to Pickett’s Charge. He stated that the scene was not planned but was a spontaneous moment that was thankfully caught on film. Maxwell stated that the scene took place on a hot, demanding day. To boost the morale of the reenactors, he asked Mr. Sheen, who had a rare day off from the production, if he would sit through the 90-minute makeup process and ride out on set as Robert E. Lee. He agreed to do so. Less than two hours later, Sheen rode out on set as Lee, and the men, seeing not the actor, but Robert E. Lee himself, the men cheered wildly for the man, and the crew were able to get the cameras rolling to capture it on film.

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Director Ron Maxwell at the screening.

The most surprising part of his opening remarks, and the most fun part, was when Mr. Maxwell played a trivia game with the audience, where he would quote a line from the movie, and the audience would say which character said it. Many people didn’t miss a beat, including myself. With each quote stated, somebody in the audience had the answer within just a second or two. Toward the end, Mr. Maxwell, a big smile on his face, stated that he “couldn’t stump this crowd.” Afterward, he introduced the cast and crew in the attendance that night. One by one, they all stood up: Brian Mallon, Patrick Gorman, Olivia Maxwell, Bo Brinkman, James Patrick Stuart, Patrick Falci, Stephen Lang, Andrew Prine, and Composer Randy Edelman. We looked around as they stood. We sat near the back, right in front of the projection screen. We looked to our right, and just twenty feet away were Mr. Lang, Mr. Gorman, Mr. Falci, and Ms. Maxwell. People who had been in a movie that impacted our lives, just twenty feet away! JD and I did fanboy just a little bit, haha!

Ron Maxwell then introduced Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson, alumni distinguished professor of Virginia Tech, to introduce the film. Dr. Robertson is a historian I have admired for over a decade now. He wrote the seminal work, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, considered by many to be the definitive work on the Confederate General. He also served as a historical advisor on Gods and Generals. In his terrific introduction to the film, he spoke about the importance of the film; how Ron Maxwell adapted Michael Shaara’s novel “The Killer Angels” for the screen, while also correcting some of the historical errors the book made. He also addressed the current move by groups to remove monuments, and by those trying to rewrite the history of men like Robert E. Lee. It was a powerful introduction to the film.

Following his remarks, the film began. I won’t go into too much detail about the film itself, as much has been written about this film, more so than many others in the genre. The one thing I will say about the film was the amazing restoration done on it. Before the screening, Ron Maxwell said that we would be the first audience to see the “newly-restored Director’s Cut.” When the 271-minute extended cut of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, there was quite a bit of criticism of the picture quality presented. Mr. Maxwell did state that this was not the version he would have released. But, thanks to the support of Warner Bros., he was able to go back and do a full-on digital remastering the film. And let me tell you, the version we saw that night looked and sounded amazing! I haven’t seen the film look that clear and amazing since the DVD release from the early 2000s.

In a way, this screening of the film, my first time seeing it on the big screen, brought me back to that time in 1994, when at 10 years old, I watched it with my Dad for the very first time. Even at four-and-a-half hours, the film remains moving, fascinating, and exciting, the powerful performances and terrific writing keeping the movie rolling along at a fast pace, never becoming dull. Such is the testament to Ron Maxwell, and the cast and crew, who made a true classic of the historical genre, which remains powerful, even twenty-five years later.

During the intermission, we were able to meet, and get photographs with, Patrick Gorman and Brian Mallon. When I introduced myself as Steven “Hancock,” Mr. Mallon said: “Ah, Hancock! That’s a good name.” I talked a little bit with Mr. Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood in the film, and got my photo with him as well. I returned to my seat and waited for the second part to begin. JD came back a few minutes later, saying that he got his picture taken with Olivia Maxwell as well. Despite the event running late into the evening, the excitement we felt going in never waned through those several hours.

With Patrick Gorman and Brian Mallon

Unlike most screenings like this, where the cast and crew stand come up during the end credits, Mr. Maxwell wished for us to sit through the entirety of the film’s closing credits, so the reenactors in the film could see their units listed toward the end, and cheer for them. Although neither of us were a part of the production, we still cheered when Dad and I saw our reenacting unit, the 49th North Carolina Troops, listed amongst the units who took part in filming. Following the screening, which ended around 11 PM, Mr. Maxwell and the cast and crew went up for a proper curtain call, and each member of the cast and crew introduced themselves to the excited audience. They all took a bow, and afterward, we were invited to come back out to the lobby, for autographs and pictures with the stars.

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Curtain Call with Cast and Crew. L to R are: James Patrick Stuart, Andrew Prine, Patrick Gorman, Bo Brinkman, Brian Mallon, Patrick Falci, Olivia Anne Maxwell, Stephen Lang, Randy Edelman and Ron Maxwell.

Dad and JD each brought their copy of the Collector’s Set of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals to sign. For myself, I brought my Blu-ray digibook edition of Gettysburg to have signed. Without intending it, this provided a little bit of amusement to the proceedings. First to sign was Brian Mallon, who looked for a spot where he could sign his name above a picture of him and the Union officers in the film. Next to sign was Patrick Falci, who I had sign the inside of the front cover. Andrew Prine and Olivia Maxwell signed there as well.

The next two in line were Bo Brinkman, who portrayed Major Walter Taylor, one of Lee’s aides in the film, and Stephen Lang, who portrayed Confederate General George Pickett (And would give an equally-great performance as “Stonewall” Jackson in Gods and Generals). I opened the book up to a picture of the Confederate officers in the film, in which Mr. Lang and Mr. Brinkman are featured. When I handed it to Mr. Brinkman, he flipped through the book.

“I haven’t seen this version before,” he said. “When did this come out?”

“Came out the same year the collector’s set came out,” I replied.

“That’s awesome,” he said, before signing his name. He then handed it to Mr. Lang, who looked through it as well for a second.

“That’s pretty cool,” Mr. Lang remarked, before signing his name. It next went to James Patrick Stuart, who portrayed Confederate Colonel E. Porter Alexander in the film. Mr. Stuart had the same reaction that Mr. Brinkman had to the digibook, before signing his name next to a photo of him with Tom Berenger as General Longstreet (Who sadly was not in attendance that night).

Next, Mr. Gorman signed his name in the front. “What is your name again,” he asked?

“Steven, with a V,” I replied. He then signed it with the message: “Steven, thanks for coming, Patrick Gorman. J.B. Hood.”

Last, but certainly not least, was Mr. Ron Maxwell. The man who devoted fifteen years of his life to getting Gettysburg made, and created a film that has withstood the test of time for 25 years. I had him sign his introduction to the film and booklet. He looked through the digibook for a second. “I almost forgot about this one,” he said. He then looked at the picture of him with Mr. Sheen and Mr. Brinkman.

“Almost didn’t recognize myself for a second,” he said, as he signed below his name.

“That comes with age, I’m afraid,” my Dad remarked.

I almost felt embarrassed for a moment, before I heard Mr. Maxwell chuckle. I had hoped to have a few moments to talk with him about his films, and how they inspired us to become both historians and filmmakers. But given the lateness of the hour, I just thanked him for making the movies, and got a quick photo with him, before we departed.

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With Director Ron Maxwell (R)

My one regret from the night is I didn’t get photos with any of the other actors, including Mr. Lang! But, JD was able to snap a photo with him, and you could see the top of my head in it. So, I was in a photo with Steven Lang, haha!

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JD with Stephen Lang. My head can be seen over JD’s shoulder. Bo Brinkman sits to Mr. Lang’s left, about to sign my Blu-ray of the film.

It was after midnight when we got back to our hotel. We were exhausted but had a great time at the event. The staff of the Majestic Theater did a great job of organizing the event with the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Trust. It was a night that none of us who were there would ever forget. Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time and getting to meet some of the cast and crew who worked on this amazing piece of cinema, was a truly memorable experience. And the weekend was just starting, as we would be visiting the Gettysburg battlefield the following day. But, that’s another story…

ADDENDUM: Ron Maxwell said at the event that the version of the film we saw that night will be available digitally very soon. So, keep a look out on Amazon and other streaming devices for the fully-restored version of the Director’s Cut!

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IN THE WORKS #1

A new series looking at Civil War-era books, film and television projects in the works. For the first addition, we have two film projects to look at.

Field of Lost Shoes (Theatrical Feature, Tentative 2014)

Field of Lost Shoes is a new Civil War film currently filming in Virginia. The $5 Million project tells the dramatic story of the Battle of New Market, and the role played by the Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute in the May 15th, 1864 battle. The title comes from the field on which the cadets charged, which was so saturated with rain water, that the boys lost their shoes in the thick mud. Directed by Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer), the film will star Lauren Holly (Any Given Sunday, “NCIS”), David Arquette (Scream), Tom Skerritt (M*A*S*H), and Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Harry Potter Franchise) as Confederate General John C. Breckenridge. The producers are calling this a “kids film” in the fact that the Cadets who the story will follow were young boys thrown into the maelstrom of an adult world. No official release date has been announced, but expect to see it sometime in 2014 (the 150th Anniversary of New Market).

Sherman: The Final March (Television Miniseries, Tentative 2015)

Recently announced, Sherman: The Final March will tell the story of William T. Sherman and the final months of the American Civil War. No word yet on cast, production team, or when filming will take place. Stay tuned for further info on this project.

CIVIL WAR GAMING: Possible Return of PC Game “Civil War General” in the Works!

The first article in our newest section, Civil War Gaming, which will look at past, current, and up and coming games inspired by the American Civil War. The first is a look at a game currently in development, and how you can help get it made.

The original game

The Original Game

Back in 1996, I was walking around our local Best Buy store when I came across a game called Robert E. Lee: Civil War General. I didn’t know much about the game, but being an avid student of the American Civil War (Even at the age of 12), I was very intrigued by the idea of a Civil War Strategy game. And since I had enough from my allowance to get it, I purchased it. Turned out, it was a great buy! Although I did not get to play it much (My Dad hogged the game from me! He was more addicted to it than I was, LOL!), I thoroughly enjoyed playing these great Civil War battles, and trying my best to defeat the enemy (Which I rarely did).

The game became a classic for us, and as it turned out, for many others as well. The game was the best-selling Civil War Strategy Game of that year. Two years later, the sequel to that game, Civil War Generals 2: Grant, Lee, Sherman, was released, and was even more fun than the original, encompassing even more battles and scenarios than the previous one. Like its predecessor, CWG2 was the bestselling Civil War Game of 1998. Since that time, many have hoped that a third game in the series would be released. Now, it looks like that may become a reality, as a group of people are working to develop the long-awaited game. But first, the game makers need to raise the funding to get the game made. And this is where you can help!

The game, simply titled Civil War General, is currently in development by Jean Marciniak. It will feature all of the elements that made the first two games in the series so popular. However, the new game will feature cool and exciting new campaign elements, such as initiating political policies, engaging in diplomacy, using railroads, and conquering cities, and cutting off an enemies’ line of supply. The designers hope to have the game out in 2014, and available on PC, Mac and iPad. But first, the designers need to raise the budget for the game. And to do so, they are turning to Kickstarter for help.

The developers are hoping to raise $100,000 through the campaign. This will allow them to get the game created, and released to the general public. By doing this through Kickstarter, all the money raised will be done so through private contributions. For those who donate to the project, there will be great incentives for donating at various levels. But time is running out, and the developers need to raise the $100,000 needed within the next 37 days!

For more information on this project, visit the Official Kickstarter Page for Civil War General. Please consider contributing to the Kickstarter Campaign, and helping to get this long-awaited sequel created!

Help Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC!

For those of you who support historic preservation, here is an opportunity to help support an historic site in North Carolina that is in danger of losing a good portion of its funding!

A View of Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC.

A View of Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC.

Located in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte, Historic Latta Plantation is one of the state’s most treasured historic sites. Built in 1800 by James Latta, an Irish immigrant, the site was purchased by William Sample in 1853. The site has connections to the American Civil War, as several of Sample’s sons joined the Confederate Army as part of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry. In the 1970s, Latta Place, Inc. began to secure funding to restore the plantation house. The site opened in the later part of that decade. The site was then transferred to Mecklenburg County. Today, Historic Latta Plantation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the site’s rich history.

Today, the site is hosts over thirty different events, and several summer camps for children. Between 12 and 20,000 school children visit the location every year. The site also hosts an annual Civil War Reenactment, which draws hundreds of visitors each year. In addition, the site provides one of the most tranquil places you could ever visit. Except for the Visitor Center and the occasional airplane flying over, you would scarcely believe that you are in the 21st Century.

But now, Latta Plantation is in danger of losing its funding from Mecklenburg County due to proposed budget cuts. The site has only a handful of full-time staff to run the site, and has already had its funding cut drastically. If the county does go through with its plan to cut funding to the site, it would greatly hinder the site, and its continued programs.

A petition has been started to encourage the commissioners of Mecklenburg County to not cut its funding to Latta Plantation. I encourage everybody who is interested in saving this valuable piece of history to sign the petition. The link to the petition can be found here. And for more information, you can visit the official website to learn about the Latta Plantation, and why it is important not only to North Carolina history, but to overall American history as well. Please, do not hesitate. Help support this beautiful historic site today!

Thoughts on the Trailer for Ron Maxwell’s “Copperhead”

On June 28th, the weekend before the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Ronald F. Maxwell, the acclaimed filmmaker who gave us two of the greatest Civil War epics ever made (1993’s Gettysburg, and the underrated 2003 prequel Gods and Generals), will release the film Copperhead. With this film, Mr. Maxwell returns to the Civil War era with a smaller, more personal film that takes a look at the price of dissent during the nation’s deadliest war. And today, Yahoo! Movies released the first theatrical trailer for the film. I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss the trailer. But before I do, here is the trailer for you to view:

From the very outset, it is clear that this film will be different from any film yet made about the American Civil War. While the war is clearly felt in this small village in New York state, the battlefields and armies are far away from this tranquil town. It is definitely more of a character-driven film. Based on the trailer, the film has more of an intimate feel to it, unlike Mr. Maxwell’s previous Civil War films, which were epic in their scope. For the most part, the cast for the film looks very authentic, and the setting of the film is very idyllic, though the fraction between the neighbors is certain to become a bloodbath as well.

There are two small quibbles I have. One is with the trailer, and one is about the film itself. Although powerful, the trailer does seem to have an abrupt ending to it. Just as it seems to continue to build up to an exciting climax, it ends just like that. As for the film itself, it does appear that Lucy Boynton, the British actress who is portraying Esther Hagadorn in the film, seems to have a somewhat difficult time with an American accent. During a couple of moments, she seems to slip into her natural British dialect. However, I am aware that this is just a two-minute trailer, and the clips used might not give the whole picture.

Overall, I am very impressed with the trailer, and it definitely leaves the viewer excited to see the film in its entirety. Once again, it appears Ron Maxwell has created a finely-crafted film that will tell a unique chapter from the story of America during her bloodiest war.

What are your thoughts and opinions on the trailer? I welcome all to comment.

MOVIE NEWS: Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Bio-pic Gets November Release Date!

Daniel Day-Lewis and his Lincoln appearance.

We have often discussed the film Lincoln, the $50 Million project from Director Steven Spielberg, on this blog and the To Appomattox blog. But today, we finally have confirmation of the film’s release date. Although a December release date was rumored, the film is now scheduled for limited release on Friday, November 9th, according to ComingSoon.net. The film will then go wide on November 16th, a week later. The film stars Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, who is supported by an all-star cast, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. It is based in part on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

This is one that a lot of us history lovers have waited for, and now we have less time to wait than originally planned. When the film is released, a review will be posted here. So, stay tuned!

Museum of the Confederacy Opening New Museum in Appomattox, Virginia

Image of the New M.O.C. Building at Appomattox, VA

The Museum of the Confederacy is set to open a new museum in the town of Appomattox, Virginia on Saturday, March 31st. The first of three new locations planned (the others will be located in Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads, VA), the grand opening of the new museum, located just a few miles from the site where Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met to discuss the terms of surrender for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, will include special ceremonies including living histories with Civil War reenactors, actors portraying Generals Lee and Grant, and a keynote address by acclaimed historian James I. Robertson, Jr. To learn more about the event, click here.