THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: John Buford, Unsung Hero of Gettysburg (Wednesday, July 1st, 1863)

Some will say that the largest battle of the American Civil War was destined to be fought at Gettysburg in July of 1863. Because many roads led to the small Pennsylvania town, it was an ideal place for all the scattered divisions of the Confederate and Union army to converge. And since both armies were moving along those same roads toward Gettysburg, a conflict there did appear inevitable. However, it can also be said that the selection of the place that would become the bloodiest battleground of the war was done by a relatively unknown cavalry commander: Brigadier General John Buford.

Brigadier General John Buford

Brigadier General John Buford

John Buford came from a somewhat distinguished military background. His grandfather had served with Robert E. Lee’s father, “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, during the American Revolution. Graduating 16th in his class from West Point in 1848, Buford primarily fought against the Native Americans out west, until the outbreak of civil war. Although tempted to join the Confederacy (As a native Kentuckian, and from a slave-owning family), he chose to remain loyal to the United States and the Union Army. During the early years of the conflict, he served as assistant inspector general to the army, before being promoted to Brigadier General and placed in command of cavalry brigade of the II Corps of the Army of Virginia, under Major General John Pope. Under his command, the cavalry fought well at Second Manassas in August of 1862. Buford received a wound to the knee while personally leading a charge in the battle. The wound was not serious, and he returned to active duty, serving as chief of cavalry in the Army of the Potomac in the latter part of 1862, and saw action at Antietam and Fredericksburg.

When Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac in 1863, Buford was made commander of Reserve Cavalry in the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps. In June, he saw action at the Battle of Brandy Station, considered the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. But it would be at Gettysburg that he and his cavalry would play a crucial role in the campaign. Riding into town on June 30th, Buford learned from scouts that the entire Confederate army was concentrating in their direction, and that he would soon face a large force. Buford already saw the value of the ground around Gettysburg, and vowed to hold his men against an assault until the I Corps under Major General John Reynolds arrived.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 1st, Confederate troops under General Harry Heth of A.P. Hill’s Corps moved toward Gettysburg hoping to acquire some shoes for the men, many of them barefoot. He expected that there would be no resistance, except maybe for some local militia. Instead, coming down the Chambersburg Pike, his men ran into Buford’s two cavalry brigades under Colonels Gamble and Devin. The first assault was done with just one brigade, and was quickly repulsed. Heth then decided to deploy his entire division to attack them. Over the next couple of hours, the fighting was intense, and Buford’s men came close to breaking. However, before his men broke, Reynolds’ I Corps arrived on the field. As the infantry moved into position to face the Confederates, Buford and his men were able to fall back, knowing that they had held the field. For the rest of the Battle, Buford’s men would be responsible for guarding the supply wagons for the Army.

Following the battle, Buford continued to serve with great distinction. However, by December of 1863, it was apparent that the General was falling gravely ill, possibly from typhoid fever. He was at the Washington home of his good friend, General George Stoneman, when he died at 2 P.M. on December 16th. That same day, Abraham Lincoln promoted Buford to Major General for his meritorious service at the Battle of Gettysburg.

John Buford’s legacy is a great one. He may not have achieved the fame of men like Lee, Meade, Longstreet or Hancock, but his contribution to the war was just as vital. And if he is remembered for nothing else, we should remember this man as the one who chose to make a stand against the Confederates at Gettysburg. It was his decision to defend the ground there, and this decision led to Gettysburg being the site of the largest and costliest battle of the American Civil War. This battle served as a major turning point in the war, leading to ultimate Union victory not only in the battle, but in the conflict itself. For this reason alone, John Buford should be remembered as one of the greatest Union officers of the American Civil War.

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we look at the actions of one of the officers serving in the Wheatfield, and how his bravery won him the Medal of Honor.

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FILM REVIEW: “Copperhead”

Copperhead (The Film Collective, Swordspoint Productions, 2013)

Starring: Billy Campbell, Angus MacFayden, Francois Arnaud, Josh Cruddas, and Peter Fonda

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Film Rating: PG-13 for an Unsettling Sequence

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Filmmaker Ronald F. Maxwell is considered by some to be the foremost cinematic interpreter of the American Civil War. With his last two films, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, Maxwell has given us a glimpse at the heroism and sacrifice of men and women on the battlefields. With these films, he has examined how good, ethical, and moral people, could choose to go to war for what they believed in. Now, with his latest foray into the era, he has chosen to examine the opposite spectrum: how good people could choose not to go to war, or show support for the conflict. The idea of speaking out against war, even when it is not popular to do so, lies at the heart of his latest endeavor: Copperhead.

Based on the novel by Harold Frederic, Copperhead is different from about every other American historical film set in the era of the Civil War. The film is set in a small community in upstate New York, far away from the horrors of war. Yet, the conflict being waged far south is being felt here as well. The central character of the story is Abner Beech (Billy Campbell, The Rocketeer, AMC’s “The Killing”), a farmer who is against the war Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans are waging. He, along with his adopted son Jimmy (Josh Cruddas) and an Irish immigrant, are labeled “copperheads” for their stance against the war. His views alienate him from the community, including Jee Hagadorn (Angus MacFayden, Braveheart), a righteous man who supports the war, and abolition, wholeheartedly, and not caring about the thousands of men who are fighting and dying, as long as they achieve victory. As Hagadorn and the community turn against Abner Beech, his son Jeff (Casey Brown) begins a romantic relationship with Hagadorn’s daughter, Esther (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter), and ultimately decides to enlist in the army without the consent of his parents. The bitterness the townsfolk feel against Beech and the copperheads boils over into hatred, setting the stage for a tragic event.

Unlike his other Civil War films, which were epic in scope, and presented some of the major battles of the war, Copperhead is a film that deals with the impact of the war on a small community, and how differences in opinion can lead to violence and hatred. The film looks at the price of dissent in a time of war, when those who speak out against the it are considered traitors. The film delivers its story, and the message of why it is important to live together in peace despite political differences, in a piece that is very well-written and directed, and features a terrific cast. MacFayden nearly steals the show as Hagadorn, a man who is full of intense passion for the cause he believes in. Some will call his performance over-the-top, but he never overdoes it, and makes the character believable. The supporting cast does a terrific job of bringing this 19th-Century community to life.

But the film truly belongs to its lead actor, Billy Campbell. Fresh off portraying Abraham Lincoln in NatGeo’s docudrama Killing Lincoln, Copperhead features Mr. Campbell in a role different from the Great Emancipator. He infuses Abner Beech with a strong sense of right and wrong; a man who stands for what he believes in, even when others say he is wrong. Even if you do not agree with his views, you cannot help but understand why he has come to the conclusion. Beech is a man that is against war, not because it’s the cool thing, but because he believes that war is wrong, and brings nothing but death and destruction in its wake. He does appear stubborn at times, but also has a compassionate side that draws you close to him as a character. I sincerely hope that Mr. Campbell gets some recognition for his amazing performance in this film.

Bill Kauffman’s screenplay is constructed very well. Now, keep in mind, because Copperhead is not a war movie, it is a slower-paced film. But that is actually a great thing in this case. The slower pace gives us a chance to get to know the characters of the film, and understand their views, their hopes, and their beliefs. Any weaknesses in the script are made up for by the brilliant performances from an amazing cast.

One of the things that I always enjoy about Ron Maxwell’s films are the beautiful cinematography, and the music. And in both cases, the film delivers. Maxwell and his cinematographer, Kees Van Oostrum, do a fantastic job of capturing the beautiful images shot at King’s Landing in Ontario, Canada. The scenery is picturesque, and each shot in the film is beautifully-lit and photographed. The original score by Laurent Eyquem is very beautiful, and haunting. And at times, his music reminds you of the classic westerns, as villagers mill about the town in excitement. Both Mr. Oostrum and Mr. Eyquem should also be recognized for their work come awards season.

Overall, Copperhead is a powerful film that looks at a little-known, but just as important, chapter from the history of the American Civil War, and how politics can truly be damaging to communities in a time of conflict. If you enjoyed the previous films by Ronald F. Maxwell, or enjoy serious, thought provoking character drama and historical films, then I highly recommend you see Copperhead, which serves as powerful reminder of the price of dissent, and the need for civility in the realm of politics.

Grade: 9/10, or A-

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Eve of Battle (Tuesday, June 30th, 1863)

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The day before the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be rather dramatic for the Confederate and Union forces. Both sides began to marshal their forces, but neither side was ready to risk a general engagement just yet. But as fate would have it, both armies would be marching along roads toward a small town in Pennsylvania, and into three of the most crucial days in the history of the United States.

For the Confederates, things began to turn against them from almost the very beginning of the campaign. The main problem stemmed from a man who, until this point, had proven himself capable as a Cavalry officer: Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Having been humiliated at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9th, Stuart took his cavalry on a “joyride” around Pennsylvania, causing havoc wherever they went. However, Stuart’s actions proved to be a problem. The cavalry had always been the eyes and ears of the army. But with Stuart and his troopers out of the picture, General Robert E. Lee, and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, marched through enemy territory blind.

Without Stuart’s cavalry, Lee was forced to rely on spies to obtain his information. In the last two days of June, Lee received word from a spy that the Federal forces were already on the move, and were moving faster than the Union forces had ever been known to march. With time already against him, Lee realized that the army had to concentrate, to face the Union forces. The troops would concentrate at a little town where several roads converged at one point: Gettysburg.

For Union forces, the campaign saw the placing of another officer at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Having lost confidence in Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker (Hooker had also lost confidence in his own leadership abilities), President Lincoln knew that another leader had to be found in a hurry. He originally offered command to Major General John Reynolds, who declined the command. One June 28th, command of the army was given to Major General George Gordon Meade. Having proven himself as a fairly capable commander, he was also known to have a short temper, and was not easy to get along with. His prickly demeanor earned him the nickname “Old Snapping Turtle.” With no time to lose, Meade hurried his troops north to face off against Lee. With the summer already hot, it proved to be a rough march, with many men falling due to heat exhaustion, with several dying. Still, the men pressed on. Once again, the will to win had returned to the army.

On Tuesday, June 30th, two Union cavalry brigades under command of Brigadier General John Buford arrived in Gettysburg. Confederate troops had already been through the town. They arrived to find the residents already worried about a possible fight. Receiving word from several scouts, Buford knew that the Confederates were concentrating in the direction of Gettysburg. With this information, Buford decided to place his troops on good ground northwest of the town, and hold out against any Confederates who came their way, until Union troops under Reynolds I Corps could arrive. It was a decision that would have great ramifications on the American Civil War.

In tomorrow’s article: A look at the unsung Union Cavalry commander who chose the ground where the bloodiest battle of the war was fought, and helped change the course of the war for the Union…

Ron Maxwell’s “Copperhead” Opens in Limited Release Tomorrow!

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This weekend, Copperhead, the new Civil War-era drama from producer/director Ronald F. Maxwell, opens in select theaters across the nation tomorrow. It will be just the third time in a twenty-year period that Ron Maxwell has released a film theatricallyPreviously, he had filmed the Civil War epics Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, which were released in 1993 and 2003, respectively. While both films failed to achieve box office success (Which may have been due to their extended running times), both found their audiences on television and in the home video market.

But Copperhead is different from those previous two films. This is the story of the war on the home front, as the conflict tore at the loyalties between communities, and even families. It is the story of Abner Beech, a man who does not support slavery, but supports the war Abraham Lincoln and the Union are waging even less. Beech, and others like him, are branded “Copperheads” for their anti-war stance. The film looks at how the war affected those on the home front, and at the price of dissent in a time of war.

The film opens in limited release this weekend. If you have an interest in historical dramas, I encourage you to go and see this film, and show your support for the genre. We need to show Hollywood that there is an audience out there for these types of films, even in a summer loaded with traditional action/adventure/sci-fi/superhero fare. If successful, the film might pave the way for future films like it, and might even give Ron Maxwell the chance to make Last Full Measure, the highly anticipated followup to his previous Civil War epics.

The theaters the films is opening at this weekend can be found here. It opens in a theater near my place this weekend, and I will be going to see it Saturday afternoon, and will post a review here. See you at the movies!

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Impact of Gettysburg on the Individual

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once said that war was a “test of character” for the participant, and that “it makes bad men worse, and good men better.” When you look at all the wars fought throughout our history, that statement is certainly true. However, regardless of the character of the person, war impacts all people, sometimes in negative ways. For the individual who experiences combat, and sees the horrors and destruction that it can cause, life afterward will never be the same again.

Perhaps no battle has had a greater impact on its participants than the Battle of Gettysburg. And how could it not? In just three days of fighting, over 50,000 men were killed, wounded or captured. Anybody who went through that horrible ordeal, and came out of it alive, would remember the horrors, and the failures, of those three tragic days. For the Confederates, it would be the battle that signified their eventual doom. For the Federals, it was the victory that they needed to show the world that there was a chance at winning the war, restoring the Union, and ending slavery.

Of all the people whose lives were changed by the Battle of Gettysburg, perhaps no two were more greatly affected than the lives of Confederate General George Pickett, and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Both men went into the battle, and would come out of the maelstrom changed men.

Major General George Pickett

Major General George Pickett

For General Pickett, it was not a good change. Going into battle, the commander of a Division under General James Longstreet was almost boyish and charming. He was very exuberant, and sported a brand new uniform, and perfumed ringlets of hair. He was also hoping to get his men into battle before the glory was gone. On Friday, July 3rd, 1863, he got that chance when ordered to take part in the assault on the Union Center at Gettysburg. And in the charge that would bear his namesake, he would see his entire division virtually destroyed. And from that charge, his spirit would be forever broken. It was a loss that he would brood upon until his dying day. And he laid the blame of the charge at the feet of Robert E. Lee. After visiting Lee with another man a few years after the war, he said of Lee: “That old man had my division slaughtered.” Although he did achieve glory in the years after Gettysburg, the defeat at Gettysburg forever changed him.

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

As for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he went into the battle a relative unknown, and would come out of it with great regard within the army. As commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, his troops were placed on Little Round Top, at the very end of the Union left flank, on Thursday, July 2nd. There, his troops, along with the rest of the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent, held off assault after assault by Confederate troops. Finally, with ammunition running low and a number of his men killed or wounded, Chamberlain, who had never received military training prior to the war, did what possibly none of the West Point officers would have done. He ordered his men to fix bayonets, and charge against the attacking rebels. The charge was successful, and many claim that his charge saved the Union left, and possibly the battle itself (Though some claim that last statement might have been a bit exaggerated). By the end of the war, Chamberlain would eventually rise to the rank of Major General, and was chosen personally by President Grant to oversee the Confederate surrender ceremony at Appomattox Courthouse in April. In 1893, over thirty years after the battle, he would receive the Medal of Honor. After Gettysburg, the relatively unknown Professor of Rhetoric would rise to become one of the Union’s greatest officers thanks to his actions on Little Round Top.

These are just two examples of how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the lives of the participants, in both good and bad ways. Each man involved in the struggle had their own lives changed in different ways. But the examples of George Pickett and Joshua Chamberlain illustrate how the largest battle of the war impacted the lives of those involved. It is the impact of war on the participants that shows both the heroism that happens in war, as well as the tragedy of war itself. From these stories, we get a better sense of what happened in this horrific chapter of our history, and why it is important that we never go down that same road again.

 

 

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Introduction

Pickett's Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

Pickett’s Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

This past Sunday marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the American Civil War. This battle marked the first battle in a campaign that would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle fought during the conflict. This campaign and battle would prove to be a major turning point in the war. The Confederate tide in the Eastern Theater, having ridden high following the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, would begin to ebb, while Union momentum would finally begin to build toward ultimate victory. Lives would be changed forever, and nothing would be the same.

As we look back on this campaign over the next month, we cannot help but ask several questions about who fought in it, what took place, and how the events of that period helped shape the country we live in today. Not only would thousands of lives be lost in this campaign, but those that survived through it would not be the same. Men who were relatively unknown prior to the events of this period would soon become household names. Officers with boyish charm would become bitter, depressed men into their dying days. And local scenery such as Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, the Round Tops, and Cemetery Ridge would forever be etched into the annals of military history. But ultimately, this campaign would change the face of the war, and lead to ultimate Union victory during the war.

Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be looking at various people, places and events that shaped this campaign, and how they shaped the outcome of this campaign. All of this will culminate with a three-part series on the Battle of Gettysburg, which will be released on July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, respectively. We here at Civil War Diary look forward to sharing these stories with you.

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.