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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THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Glorious Fourth (Saturday, July 4th, 1863).

"The Glorious Fourth," Mort Kuntsler's painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

“The Glorious Fourth,” Mort Kuntsler’s painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

July of 1776 proved to be a pivotal day in the history of the American colonies. In this month, the thirteen separate “countries” finally banded together as one country: the United States of America. On July 2nd, the 2nd Continental Congress, representing all thirteen colonies, unanimously declared independence from Great Britain. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts, wrote to his wife of the day, stating that July 2nd would “be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the day of deliverance,” to be observed and celebrated “from this time forward forevermore.” He would be right about the celebrations, but proved to be wrong about the date. Two days later, on July 4th, Congress officially adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and was officially made public for the first time. With this action, July 4th would officially be considered Independence Day, as the day that the colonists officially threw off the chains of Great Britain, and created what officially became the United States of America.

87 years later, the very existence of the country those men created was at stake. For the argument over slavery and states’ rights had culminated in the costliest war in American history. At its heart lay not only the existence of the United States as a whole, but the idea of freedom as well. In September of 1862, following the Battle of Antietam, Union President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom to all of those slaves in the states still in rebellion. But Lincoln knew that, for it to truly work, the Union would have to win the war. And by the end of June, 1863, it looked as though the war was turning against the Union yet again. Not only were troops in the west bogged down in an endless siege around Vicksburg, Mississippi, but Confederate troops were again moving north, this time into Pennsylvania. IT seemed that, at this moment, the fate of the nation truly hang in the balance. However, on July 4th, 1863, 87 years to the day of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, the tide of war changed in favor of the United States.

The first of these changes, and the one which has been the subject of this series of articles, was the culmination of the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of brutal fighting (July 1st-3rd), Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee struggled hard against Union troops under Major General George Gordon Meade. Despite a great amount of courage and heroism, the Confederates were unsuccessful at driving Meade’s troops from the field. After a disastrous attack on July 3rd, an assault that would forever be known as “Pickett’s Charge,” Lee’s troops were beaten. Although official casualties have never been fully confirmed, Confederate losses have been estimated at nearly 28,000 of the 75,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia, over a third of Lee’s forces. Union casualties numbered nearly 23,000. 51,000 men killed, wounded and captured/missing in three days of fighting. On July 4th, Lee finally acknowledged defeat, and began his retreat back to Virginia. Meade and his troops failed to take the initiative and pursue Lee. By the time they finally moved, Confederates were across the Potomac, and back in Virginia. Lee would never again attempt such an audacious invasion again, and was forced to fight a defensive war that would eventually lead to their ultimate defeat two years later.

On the same day that Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia began the retreat from Gettysburg, Union troops in the western theater achieved an equally important victory. For several weeks, the forces of Major General Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to the Confederate city of Vicksburg, a vital city along the Mississippi River. At last, with food supplies spent, and the troops no longer able to hold out against the continual assault, the Confederates finally surrendered on July 4th. With Vicksburg gone, control of the Mississippi lay almost entirely in the hands of the Union armies. The Confederacy was officially split in half, and Grant’s start reached its highest peak in the west. With further success at Chattanooga in November, Lincoln knew that Grant was the man who could win the war for him. In March of 1864, Grant was called to Washington, where he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and placed in command of all Union forces in the field. And now, he would face Lee on the fields of Virginia, and one of the greatest contests in military history would soon begin.

With the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Confederate momentum was officially rocked to its core. With Lee’s great army decimated at Gettysburg, and the vital city of Vicksburg in Union hands, the tide of war shifted to the side of the United States. In less than two years, the war would successfully be won, and the United States restored. It is for this reason that July 4th, 1863, has the right to be called “the Glorious Fourth.”

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we will look at Lincoln’s famous address at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, and how his words showed the transformation of the man revered by many as “the Great Emancipator.” Due for release on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013.

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Culp’s Hill – Gettysburg’s Often-overlooked Front (Friday, July 3rd, 1863)

One the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee planned for a massive assault against the Union center. This attack would become legendary, and forever be remembered as “Pickett’s Charge.” In this assault, over 12,000 Confederates under General James Longstreet would move on the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. The attack was easily repulsed, with over half of the troops who attacked killed, wounded or captured. It was a terrible gamble that several of the officers, including Longstreet himself, felt was not worth the risk. And those men were proven right at a terrible cost.

View of Culp's Hill, where the Union left flank was situated.

View of Culp’s Hill, where the Union left flank was situated.

However, on the morning of Friday, July 3rd, while Lee planned the massive assault on the Federal center, another Confederate assault took place on the Union left, on a ridge known as Culp’s Hill. This hill was the part of the high ground that Lee had hoped to secure in the latter part of July 1st, and for which General Richard Ewell became a scapegoat for the Confederate loss by not continuing the successful momentum of that day and taking that heights beyond the town. On the afternoon of July 2nd, Ewell ordered his men to attempt to take the ridge, but the attack was unsuccessful. The following morning, and against Lee’s orders, the attack was resumed on the hill.

Instead of writing a lengthy summary of the battle here, I have decided to link to an article from the website called North against South, which has a great article on the fighting at Culp’s Hill on July 3rd. That article can be read here.

The failure to take Culp’s Hill on the morning of July 3rd, added to the additional failures of “Pickett’s Charge,” as well as the cavalry attack to the rear of the Union lines by Jeb Stuart, helped make Gettysburg a complete failure for the Confederates. Had General Ewell pushed on after the successes of July 1st and taken Culp’s Hill then, the outcome of the battle may have been different. But alas, Confederate fortunes at Gettysburg, which had been high following the first day’s actions, petered out, and turned in favor of the North. And with the end of the day on July 3rd, Lee and his men knew that the battle had ended disastrously for them.

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we look at July 4th, 1863, and how the combined Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg proved to be another major turning point in the war.

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: James Jackson Purman – Medal of Honor Recipient (Thursday, July 2nd, 1863)

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award given to the soldiers of the United States Army. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” At the Battle of Gettysburg, only 63 of the 80,000 Union soldiers who fought there received the honor. One of those men to receive America’s highest award was James Jackson Purman. His gallantry may not have been as high as those of other men who won the award, but for the men he led, his actions were no less important.

James Jackson Purman, after the war.

James Jackson Purman, after the war.

James Jackson Purman was born in Pennsylvania in 1841. At the time of Gettysburg, he was serving as a Lieutenant in Company A of the 140th Pennsylvania. On July 2nd, 1863, his company was involved in the fighting in the Wheatfield on the Union left flank. At the risk of his own life, he, along with Captain James Pipes, voluntarily moved a wounded comrade to safety, before falling himself with a wound to the leg. He lay on the ground there until the next day, when he was finally removed from the field. His leg was amputated, but while being treated, he fell in love with one of the nurses, Mary Witherow, whom he later married. On October 30th, 1896, over thirty-three years after the fight at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery under fire in moving his comrade to safety (Captain Pipes was also awarded the same honor).

Following Gettysburg, he worked as a schoolteacher before starting work with the U.S. Pension office in 1881. James Jackson Purman died in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 1915, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with his wife. But his legacy, and the legacy of those men who fought at Gettysburg, continues to inspire the people of America to this day. Recently, acclaimed actor Stephen Lang brought Purman to life in a one-man performance, where he portrayed Purman as if he was giving a speech at the 50th Anniversary Commemorations of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. That performance, as well as a Q&A with the actor, can be found here.

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, a look at the often-overlooked attack on Culp’s Hill on the third day of the battle.

 

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.

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…

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.