31 May 2011 by Published in: General musings 61 comments

I suffered through 45 minutes of Gettysburg on the History Channel last night. With brothers Ridley and Tony Scott as directors and producers, I had high hopes for this production. The Scotts are two of my very favorite directors, and they are known for the quality of their productions.

What a staggering disappointment this thing was. I turned it off after 45 minutes because I couldn’t take another moment of it. This thing was shockingly bad. Events were presented horribly out of context, with absolutely no stage setting. The movie begins with the Iron Brigade’s advance to the unfinished railroad cut and without any context for the viewer to understand how they got there or why they were there. It would have confused anyone without a decent working knowledge of the battle.

I counted ten major factual inaccuracies in the first ten minutes of the thing. And it got worse from there. Just a few of the things wrong with this production–and this is FAR from a comprehensive list:

1. The terrain was completely wrong. Since when were segments of the Gettysburg battlefield covered with thick forests of pine trees?

2. The sets were awful–fence lines were wrong, the buildings were wrong, and the depiction of the town itself was completely wrong. The unfinished railroad cut on McPherson’s Ridge was portrayed as being only three or four feet deep when it’s really as deep as thirty feet at its deepest.

3. They had the Iron Brigade digging deep trenches atop Culp’s Hill on the night of July 1–not crude breastworks like those actually built on the night of July 2, but rather the sort of deep, semi-permanent trenches with head logs that one expects to see on the Petersburg battlefield. And they were using brand-new, shiny shovels and pick axes that looked like they still had the Lowe’s or Home Depot price stickers on them, not period tools. They never did mention Greene’s brigade either….

4. The uniforms and many of the weapons were wrong, and few, if any, of the actors looked like the people they were portraying. I just loved the yellow cavalry stripes on the infantrymen. That was my favorite.

5. The history was largely wrong. As just one example, none of John Buford, John Reynolds, Henry Heth, or A. P. Hill were even mentioned at all during the discussion of the first day. Instead, the first day focused on Rufus Dawes–you would think that the 6th Wisconsin alone captured the Confederates in the railroad cut and that no other units were involved.

6. I turned it off just as the second day’s portrayal began. I’m told that the focus was on William Barksdale and that there was no mention of Little Round Top or of Joshua Chamberlain or the 20th Maine’s defense.

I feel badly for Garry Adelman and Prof. Peter Carmichael, who were interspersed as talking heads. They presented the history accurately and correctly, and lent some credibility to this thing, but yikes–now they will be associated with this piece of crap. Pete and Garry are both good guys and very capable and accomplished historians, and I sincerely hope that their association with this terrible program doesn’t sully their reputations.

There’s plenty more, but that will give you a taste. I’m so disappointed in this that it’s shocking. What’s even more concerning to me is that novices will think that this piece of dreck is an accurate depiction of the battle and that they will find out just how terribly wrong it was and lose interest because of it. On the other hand, if it spurs interest, then I guess it’s a good thing, but it nevertheless shows how far the History Channel has fallen.

Awful. Just appallingly, horrifyingly awful. Do yourselves a favor–don’t waste a minute of your time or a brain cell on this piece of crap. It’s not worth either.

Scridb filter


  1. Steve
    Fri 03rd Jun 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I wish I had read this BEFORE bringing it up on my DVR. I was excited about it for days, and bummed when I saw it. Brutally awful.

  2. Fri 03rd Jun 2011 at 6:24 pm

    David Petruzzi — I appreciate your thoughtful reply. Maybe folks aside from us appreciate the production values of the film, but if they do, they’re not saying so here. I’m just looking for slightly more nuanced critiques than “the historical accuracy was poor; therefore, it sucked”. Thank you for providing one.

    Todd Berkoff — I think “the program had no real strengths” is a bit unfair. Clearly historical accuracy was a weakness, but the photography, visual flair, and excitement in the battle sequences seemed above average for Civil War films. I agree that Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers have impressive combat sequences, but they’re not Civil War films. Aside from maybe Cold Mountain and Glory, Civil War films tend to be pretty visually unexciting and the battle sequences, surprisingly tame (compare the 1993 Gettysburg to Saving Private Ryan, if you dare). This film was a nice change of pace in that department.

    I also think your argument that “they didn’t mention X; therefore, it sucked” misses the point of the film. It’s not meant to be an all-encompassing epic; that’s already been done to death. Instead, it’s a series of anecdotes about a handful of individuals involved in the battle. That necessarily leaves out a lot of important names, places, and events.

    I appreciate your recommendation of Civil War Combat and will check it out. And I promise that I don’t work for any production company. Just a grad student in Atlanta with a love of Gettysburg and Civil War films.

  3. Chris Evans
    Fri 03rd Jun 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Yes, ‘Civil War Combat’ had many memorable episodes. Their episodes on The Wheatfield at Gettysburg, Little Round Top, and Culp’s Hill were better and more accurate than the new ‘Gettysburg’ documentary. Also, the episode on Cold Harbor was very good on showing the horrific nature of that battle. It was too bad they didn’t make any more than they did (I think around 12) and I wish they would have had a bigger budget to play with.

    I think a very interesting visual film of the Civil War not mentioned is John Huston’s 1951 ‘Red Badge of Courage’ with Audie Murphy. It was too bad that it was butchered in post production and filmed in California instead of Virginia but it has some shots that look like real Civil War photographs and some combat scenes that are still pretty impressive despite their age.


  4. Todd Berkoff
    Fri 03rd Jun 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Kurt –

    Not mentioning certain officers who played a prominent role in the battle is equivalent to doing a documentary on Chancellorsville and not mentioning Stonewall Jackson or Joseph Hooker.

    Not only were there serious historical omissions (as MANY people have already pointed out) but the bottom line is that with all that money, the program did not accurate depict combat in the Civil War. You mentioned impressive CGI — how about CGIing more troops into the shots to accurately depict what a full regiment, brigade, or division looked like in line of battle–that would have been impressive–instead of the 30 or so soldiers that the program depicted in the average battle scene. It looked pathetic.

    I can go on, like the lack of any NEW analysis on the battle…god forbid the writers and researchers actually speak with authors who are researching new interpretations on Ambrose Wright’s attack on July 2 or the role of the 137th New York in defending Culp’s Hill.

    And I much prefer the final battle scene in Glory compared to this garbage…

  5. Sat 04th Jun 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Todd, we can both agree on that last point. Glory is my favorite Civil War film.

  6. Bryan C
    Sat 04th Jun 2011 at 10:52 pm

    I liked the program. I had no problem that it did not mention some of the big names (Buford or Heth, for example) because Gettysburg has been done to death and in many other Gettysburg prgrams, they are mentioned. Seeing something new was actually refreshing.

    Since “Glory” was brought up, yes it is a very good, dramatic and powerful movie. But it has a lot more inaccuracies than the wrong designation color for infantry uniforms. The timeline of events was incorrect. The movie gives the impression that most of the men had been slaves until they ran away; in fact, most of them, like Thomas Searles (a fictional character), were raised in the north, some even from Canada.

    An accurate Civil War program with an honest look at what caused the war is hard to find. Let’s hope for more of this in the future.

  7. Sun 05th Jun 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Glory had other mistakes, including important ones like putting the words of other people in the mouth of Robert Gould Shaw so that he would sound more like what we want an abolitionist to sound like. It is, nevertheless, a movie that captures the soul of history even as it takes liberty with the facts. This “Gettysburg of Idiots, by Idiots and for Idiots” is in another much less desirable category: bunkum, squat and bullroar.

  8. BillF
    Sun 05th Jun 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I appreciate your response. That is what I had hoped the program would do. Please do take your son to Gettysburg: it is an awesome experience the first time you see it. Make sure you take some of the ranger walks, and, if you can afford it, hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide for several hours. The better ones are well worth the money. Thank you for encouraging your son’s interest. They are our hope for the future.

  9. Gayle
    Mon 06th Jun 2011 at 7:15 am

    BillF and Everyone,

    Thank you so much for your advice on programs available through Netflix that will help give him a more accurate education on Gettysburg. I truly appreciate it.

    Bill, thank you so much for your recommendations on what to do when we are able to take him to Gettysburg. We’re hoping to take a family trip there next year, most likely, during either the spring or summer. We’ve talked with him about it and have encouraged him to begin writing down questions he has so we can research information and so he has a list of questions prepared ahead of time to ask once we are able to go.

    Thank you all so much, all of your insight and input, and knowledge is truly appreciated.


  10. Wed 08th Jun 2011 at 10:17 am

    You hit the nail right on the head. Please see my comments on http://salient-points.blogspot.com/2011/06/history-channels-civil-war-offerrings.html.

    What’s your take on “Lee and Grant?”

  11. Deb
    Wed 08th Jun 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I was also very disapointed in this.
    I started a discussion on our Gettysburg Flickr group,
    It seems to have been a total thumbs down.

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