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December, 2007

I spent about four hours scanning illustrations for the retreat book today. When it was all said and done, there were about 75 images. I have a couple I’m waiting to get from JD, meaning that the final tally will be close to 80, which does not count the photos of the modern appearance of the sites along the driving tour routes. I don’t know if Ted will permit us to use all of them–there are 80 for the main text, close to 50 for the driving tours, and 16 maps–but I would rather give him too many and have him cull some out than not enough and have a deficient book.

I tried something new today. The computer that I had been using for the scanner has been in my office since I went back out on my own at the end of March. So, I was looking at disconnecting it and bringing it home, or coming up with a new solution. I checked and found a Mac OSX driver for the scanner, installed it on my Mac laptop, brought the scanner downstairs, and scanned all of the illustrations while I suffered through the misery of yet another horrible performance by the Philadelphia Eagles this afternoon. It literally took about four hours to get them all scanned (600 DPI, saved as TIFF files), but they’re done. I have to admit that I had been REALLY dreading this task, and am very happy indeed that it’s now over with.

Fortunately, I have a very large collection of images of my own that I’ve accumulated over the years. It makes the job of locating and identifying illustrations for my book projects much easier and also goes a long way toward expediting the process to the extent possible. Most of them have now been digitized, so I doubt I will have to go through another four hour marathon again any time soon. Which will be just fine by me. It’s a pain. But, it’s done, and that’s the important thing.

As I’ve said previously, this is going to be a BIG book, more than 500 pages plus all of the images and maps mentioned here. I can’t wait to see this one in print.

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At 46, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a child of the 70’s such as myself is a big fan of classic rock. Consequently, my favorite local radio station is an excellent classic rock station called QFM. I’ve been a regular listener of QFM for close to the 20 years that I’ve been in Columbus.

QFM has a long-running morning show that I try to catch at least a part of every day. One of the hosts of the morning show is named Mark Wagner, although EVERYONE calls him Daddy Wags. The other morning, I was listening to the show, and they were talking to a comic from Franklin, Tennessee. Somehow, the topic of the Battle of Franklin came up, and Wags mentioned that his son is a Civil War reenactor. In all the years that I’ve been listening to the show, that was the first time that I have ever heard Wags mention that his son reenacts, or even that Wags has an interest in the Late Unpleasantness.

I sent Wags a e-mail telling him about my work and asking about his son’s reenacting. He responded and indicated that his son reenacts with the 91st Ohio group, and that he participated in the Pickett’s Charge reenactment in Gettysburg in 2006. Wags mentioned how moving it was to see his son participating in something like a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. To make a long story short, I told Wags that if he and his son were interested, I would be happy to sign a copy of one of my books for them and send it along. After hearing that they’re interested in Gettysburg, I sent out a copy of Plenty of Blame to Go Around to Wags today signed by both JD and me. Maybe it will even get a mention on the air. We’ll see. I certainly don’t expect it, but I wouldn’t complain if it happened.

My point in raising all of this is that one never knows where one will find connections with the Civil War. I certainly never expected this particular one in spite of being a long-time listener to the show. These connections just seem to find me, which I think is cool.

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5 Dec 2007, by

THE Movie

Reader Billy left this in a comment to my last post: Regarding the movie GETTYSBURG, I hope you will sometime post a critique of it. As an amateur battle historian I thought it was pretty accurate although I agree that the acting was not the best in some cases. But overall I like the movie and usually watch it every July 3. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried watching it the first time. Some of my Confederate family members made the trip with Pickett that day (or should I say they preceded Pickett that day) and two of them lay now in unmarked graves some where on that field without even a stone to mark their passing. But I remember them and admire their bravery that day.

In any case I would LOVE to hear a thoughful critique of the movie and comments from fellow posters

Billy, your wish is my command.

Billy is referring to Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg, facetiously known to many as “The Movie”.

The first time I saw the movie was on a big screen in a theater, so I found it terribly moving. Parts of it are powerful. I saw it with a friend who is an SCV member who had ancestors who crossed that field with Pickett, and he was sobbing like a baby.

However, it’s critical to remember that this is a Hollywood movie based on a novel, Michael Shaara’s magical The Killer Angels. This means that the movie picks up on all of the inaccuracies contained in the novel. As just one example, during the early scenes addressing the first day of the battle, Sam Elliott’s John Buford (by far, THE best casting and portrayal in the movie) is seen huddling with brigade commanders William Gamble and Thomas Devin, and Gamble’s character goes off on a rant about how Buford’s troopers held against Longstreet’s infantry at Thoroughfare Gap. Nice scene, good dramatic effect. The biggest problem, of course, is that Buford did no such thing. When the fighting occurred at Thoroughfare Gap on August 28, 1863, Buford’s brigade was nowhere near there. Instead, Longstreet encountered stubborn resistance from Union infantry. This inaccuracy was plucked from The Killer Angels verbatim. There are a number of other problems like this.

I’ve always thought that the combat in the movie is depicted far too antiseptically. There’s no blood, and there’s no real violence. The experience of combat just isn’t really captured. Maxwell always said that he didn’t want it to be too violent or too bloody, but it just doesn’t accurately capture the hell of Civil War combat. The depiction of Buford’s stand is not accurate in terms of how things actually played out.

I also think that Ron Maxwell is an atrocious director. He just doesn’t have the ability to create a compelling movie, and only flashes of this movie are compelling. There are just too many long, boring campfire scenes. He didn’t require his actors to be realistic in their depictions like Sam Elliott was–you will note that Elliott’s uniform is the only one that is dirty and dusty. The rest look like they’re dressed up in the Sunday finery and look like they never went on a long march. For the most part, the uniforms look brand new.

Maxwell also allowed Martin Sheen to play Robert E. Lee any way he wanted, irrespective of how it was written or how the real Lee conducted himself. Robert E. Lee never, ever would have been seen walking around camp in his shirt sleeves and with his vest unbuttoned. Proper Victorian gentlemen did no such thing.

One of the opening scenes of the movie is of the spy Harrison being confronted by a rotund, old Confederate sergeant. I’ve seen lots of photos of Confederate soldiers, but I can honestly say that I have never seen one that was a fat old man. Confederate soldiers typically didn’t have the rations to be fat. It’s laughable.

The movie places way too much emphasis on Little Round Top and on Pickett’s Charge, to the exclusion of other important aspects of the battle. There is, for instance, no mention of the brutal, close-in fighting for Culp’s Hill. Had the Confederates driven the Federals from the trenches along Culp’s Hill, the battle would have been over. Likewise, George Sears Greene’s defense of Culp’s Hill was at least as heroic as Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top, but doesn’t even get a mention.

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments. I thought that it was a real shame that Jeff Daniels did not receive an Oscar nomination for his moving portrayal of J. L. Chamberlain. The same holds true for Elliott’s depiction of Buford. Although only on the screen for a few minutes, Elliott steals the movie and holds you rapt as he brings John Buford to life. Richard Jordan’s portrayal of Armistead was quite good, as was Stephen Lang’s George Pickett. I thought Tom Berenger was good too, even though he distinctly looked like a man with a dead animal on his face and not a beard.

The scenes of the preparations for Pickett’s Charge were well done and quite impressive, and the spontaneous demonstration in favor of Sheen’s Robert E. Lee that broke out (that really was spontaneous and did not appear in the script) was indeed quite a moving sight. So was hearing Jeff Daniels order the bayonet at the climax of the Little Round Top scenes.

That movie easily could have been nearly an hour shorter without the weepy campfire scenes, and little would have been missed. Instead of a bloated and boring movie that’s far too long, it could have been short and sweet and very powerfully presented. In the hands of another director, instead of a hack like Maxwell, it could have been a great film.

I can’t be completely negative about it, though. It has introduced a lot of people to the Battle of Gettysburg, and has generated interest in the Civil War in young folks who might not have had an interest otherwise, and for that reason alone, it’s a worthy film.

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Charles H. Veil was an orderly assigned to the service of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds. Years after the war, he left this account of the last hours of Reynolds’ life:

At that point, on June 29, 1863, General Hooker was relieved and General George G. Meade placed in command. General Meade was an old army officer and a particular friend of General Reynolds. He at once placed him in command of the left wing of the army, consisting of the First, Third, and Eleventh Corps. On the 29th we marched out toward Emmitsburg, and on the 30th to Marsh Creek with the First Corps, the Eleventh a short distance in the rear, and the Third Corps within supporting distance of the Eleventh.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General John Buford’s division of cavalry, which was also under General Reynolds’s command, had occupied Gettysburg. General Reynolds had no knowledge of where Lee was, but supposed, as reports were, that he was in the Cumberland Valley, heading for Harrisburg. Buford reported that evening that he was in Gettysburg and that all was quiet, that some Confederate troops had been in the town the day before but had gone out again. In that way we camped the night of June the 30th and next morning early started with the First Corps for Gettysburg, the general riding in ahead.

After proceeding about three miles we met one of General Buford’s staff officers riding in great haste with the information that the enemy was advancing on Gettysburg by the Cashtown, or Chambersburg, Pike and that he was then sharply engaged. General Reynolds at once dismounted and sent staff officers to the different corps of his command with orders to press forward the different corps of his command with orders to press forward. He wrote a note to General Meade, giving him the information which he dispatched by another officer, and then mounted his horse and rode rapidly into Gettysburg and to Seminary Ridge, where he found General Buford engaged.

When he met Buford, the Confederates were then in plain view advancing down the pike. The general held a short conversation with Buford, telling him to hold on as long as he could and that he would hurry his men forward to his assistance. In the meantime Reynolds had sent orders to the head of his column to cut across the country from the Emmitsburg Road toward the Lutheran Seminary and rode out in that direction himself until he met the head of his column coming on. He then led them out to where he had first met General Buford and indicated the position he desired them to occupy.

The regiments no sooner were in position than the action commenced. The general rode to the left, evidently with a view of selecting a position to occupy with his troops as they came up. When riding into the McPherson woods he discovered a column of Rebel infantry advancing through the woods and coming in such a direction as would take the troops the general had already placed in action on their left flank. He at once turned and rode toward the seminary, where he met the head of the brigade following the First, or one already in action, and with the leading regiment of that moved forward to the point at which he had discovered the Confederate infantry advancing through the McPherson woods.

As the regiment reached the brow of the little ridge, or incline ground, General Reynolds gave the work to charge, leading in person and riding considerably in advance of his troops. The regiment undertook to follow but met with such a hot fire from the Confederates that, instead of following him, it sheered off to the right or to where the leading brigade was in action, leaving the general and myself alone in front of the advancing Confederate line as he rode into the edge of the woods where the monument now stands marking the spot on which he fell. He turned in his saddle, looking toward the rear and the Lutheran Seminary, where he was struck by a Minnie ball and fell from his horse.

General Reynolds fell upon his face, his arms outstretched toward the enemy. I at once sprang from my horse and ran to his side, gave one glance at his body and seeing no wound or blood, turned his body upon its back. I again glanced over it and, seeing no blood or wound, the suggestion struck me that he had probably been stunned by a spent ball. My next impression was to save him from falling into the hands of the enemy. Not having any assistance, not one of our men being near, I picked him up by taking hold under his arms and commenced pulling him backward toward our line or the direction in which we had come from. As I did so, the Confederates yelled, “Drop him! Drop him!” But I kept on backing off as fast as I could and finally got over the brow of the rise, where I found some men and where we were out of range of the enemy’s fire.

As I laid him down there, I first discovered where he had been struck. The ball had entered the back of his neck, just over the coat collar, and passed downward in its course. The wound did not bleed externally and, as he fell, his coat collar had covered up the wound, which accounted for my not discovering it at first. With the assistance of the men I found, we carried the body across the fields over to the Emmitsburg Road, the one we had marched in on that morning.

This is an authentic account of the circumstances attending the death of the lamented General Reynolds and can be verified by no other living person than myself, having been the only person directly present when the general fell. The sad event impressed itself so indelibly on my young mind that, after these forty-five years that have elapsed since it occurred, my recollections are as vivid as though it had occurred but a few days since.

The death of General Reynolds was a great loss to the Union Cause deeply felt by all, but by no one person as much as myself. I had been with the general from the time he joined us at Harrison’s Landing, in every move and march to the time of his death, and I am always pleased when I recall that I had won his confidence. I knew that on a number of occasions he had entrusted me with messages that ordinarily should have been carried by an officer.

After we carried his body to the little stone house on the Emmitsburg Road and laid it on the floor in the little sitting room. Major Adolph Rosengarten of his staff and I rode into town to try and find a casket, but the best we could do was to get a case that caskets are shipped in. We got one of these, which proved to be too short. One end was knocked out and in that the general’s body was placed and started that evening for Westminster, Major Rosengarten and myself accompanying it. The major rode on the ambulance with the driver and I rode the general’s horse, he having run into our lines after Reynolds fell. Mine was killed as I dismounted.

From Westminster, where we struck the railroad, we went to Baltimore. There the body was embalmed and from there we went to Philadelphia, the general’s home. On the Fourth of July I accompanied the body with the general’s family to Lancaster, where he was buried. I had never met any of the general’s family before this, but they all appeared to know of me and paid me great attention. They appeared to feel themselves under great obligations from the fact of my preventing his body from falling into the hands of the enemy. When we were at Lancaster, so near my home, the general’s brothers and sisters suggested that I should go on to my home for a day or two and I did so. Father and Mother and all, of course, were very glad to see me. After remaining a day or two, I started back and rejoined the army before it had recrossed the river again, in pursuit of Lee.

By the general’s death on the first day, I missed the battle of Gettysburg, save the opening of it, but the short experience I had has never been forgotten and led to a change in the whole course of my life, as subsequent events will show. When I got back to the army I found General John Newton in command of the corps, and I resumed my duties as orderly to the commanding general.

While we were on the march following up Lee, who was again retreating into Virginia, I one day received an order to report in person to General Meade, the commander of the army. I first reported to General Williams, the adjutant general, as I knew was the proper thing to do, and he rode up to the front with me, where General Meade was riding at the head of his staff. “General,” said he, “here is Veil.” The general turned to me and said he had a package General Reynolds’s sisters had sent him to give me. He then handed it to me, saying it gave him great pleasure to do so and that it was something I might be proud of. I thanked him without knowing what it contained, but when I fell back and opened the package I found a beautiful gold watch and chain with a nice letter from the general’s sisters. There was an inscription inside the watch, saying “Presented to Orderly C. H. Veil by the Sisters of the Late General J. F. Reynolds, United States Army, Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.” That I was, and am, proud of the watch you may be assured. I have it yet and always will as long as I live. There is not a farm in Tioga County that I would take in exchange for it. All I regret is that I have not a boy to hand it down to, who in years to come might say he had a watch General Reynolds’s sisters gave his father and had it sent to him by the hand of General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Veil received a lieutenant’s commission in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry as a reward for the care that he showed his fallen general’s remains. He had a long career as an officer in the Regular Army in the years after the war.

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1 Dec 2007, by

March 24, 2008

Having grown up in the Philadelphia area in the 1970’s, it was unavoidable that I would end up a lifelong, major fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I have always found his blue-collar anthems and political rants incredibly compelling, I love the complex characters he creates, and I have found him to be the greatest voice of my generation.

I first saw The Boss (yes, I know he hates that name) in concert in 1978 in support of his fourth album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. He played a 4+ hour marathon concert at The Spectrum. His shows were known for their energy, their duration, and for being a celebration of all that is the overblown glory of rock & roll.

The second time was December 8, 1980, again at the Spectrum. After a racuous, great concert of more than four hours that highlighted my favorite Springsteen album, The River, we learned that John Lennon had been murdered in cold blood that night. I next saw him in August of 1984, this time at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. We had 12th row seats for the Born in the USA Tour. The problem was that the show was the night before my first day of law school, on a Sunday night. I spent all night driving back to Pittsburgh, got two hours’ sleep and then started law school. I never did get caught up on my rest until after taking the bar exam.

I saw him again in Pittsburgh about eight weeks later, this time on Bruce’s 35th birthday. Of all the shows I’ve seen, that one clearly was the highest energy. He was rockin’ that night, and the crowd genuinely touched him by interrupting him to sing happy birthday. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him at a loss for words. I then saw him at the nasty old Richfield Coliseum outside Cleveland on the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988. Little did I know it would be more than ten years before I would see him perform with the E Streeters again.

Susan and I traveled to the Gund Arena in Cleveland to see them on the 2000 reunion tour, and it was another great night that chilly November. We caught the band here in Columbus during The Rising Tour in the fall of 2002. This time we were on the floor of OSU’s Schottenstein Center, standing room only. Susan was just coming off ACL reconstruction surgery, and it made for a difficult night for her being on her feet all night on the hard concrete, but it was another great show.

This morning, tickets went on sale for the E Streeters’ March 24, 2008 show at Nationwide Arena here in Columbus, and I got a pair (for face value, too cool). Since my birthday is two days later, I can’t think of a better birthday present to myself. I know that Bruce is now 58 years old and that Clarence is in his 60’s and not in the greatest of health. I know that Danny Federici had to leave the tour to receive treatment for cancer. I know that the days of the incredible four hour marathon shows are long over and that today’s shows last “only” 2.5 hours, but it will be worth it. It will be my eighth time seeing Bruce and the band in concert, and I can’t wait. It’s going to be another great night of the music of my life.

It is, however, the first time I had to buy my own birthday present……

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