18 September 2011 by Published in: General News 20 comments

Last week, I was asked to join the list of historical consultants for the upcoming mini-series To Appomattox. The series is being written and produced by Michael Beckner, who has been the driving force behind a number of popular movies and television series. The series is intended to focus on the people who fought the Civil War, and not necessarily on the battles themselves. The series has Ulysses S. Grant as its focus, but it is as comprehensive a look at the Civil War as any eight-hour series could hope to be. All of the major engagements east of the Mississippi River are covered, some in more detail than others.

There has been some criticism of this series because it will include cameo appearances by a number of NASCAR drivers and country music performers. I have to admit that I had some of the same questions then too, but I now understand. The NASCAR drivers and country music performers are all folks who have a deep and abiding interest in the Civil War, and many, if not most, of them have ancestors who fought. They’re enthusiastic supporters and participants in order to pay tribute to their ancestors, and I respect that motivation a great deal. None of them will have a major role; serious, talented actors like William Petersen will play the important roles.

The cast associated with this series largely consists of A-list talent. Again, many of them had ancestors who fought, and many are involved to pay tribute to those ancestors. As just one example, Bill Paxton, who is a well-respected actor, has been cast to play Stonewall Jackson. If you didn’t know the back story, that casting choice might be easy to criticize. However, when you learn that Bill Paxton had an ancestor who fought under Jackson in the Stonewall Brigade, then the choice makes a lot of sense. My understanding is that he asked to play Jackson as a result. I believe that may of the other cast members have the same or similar motivations.

Some of the best known names presently working in Civil War history have signed on as historical consultants for this series, including Ed Bearss, Gordon Rhea, Scott Hartwig, Mark Snell, and lots of others, and my good friend and writing partner, J. D. Petruzzi, is the primary historical advisor. All of us are determined to make certain that this story is told as accurately and as fully as possible within the operative parameters. I know that’s my primary motivation here, and I likewise know it’s J.D.’s because we’ve discussed it at length.

I have read the scripts of all eight episodes and have provided feedback on all. I can’t get into specifics, so I won’t. You will just have to take my word for it that I’m impressed with Michael Beckner’s devotion to getting it right and to telling the story as accurately as possible. In some places, some literary license sis needed to keep things moving along, and I’m sure that some hardcore Civil War buffs will be bothered by that. However, while I have pointed out a few things, I am generally very impressed with the level of accuracy involved and with how well Mr. Beckner has portrayed the interpersonal relationships between the key players to this Greek tragedy.

Filming begins in April and will continue for several months. The series is planned to air in 2013. I’m honored to have been asked to be part of it, and I have taken my responsibility of trying to insure that the story is told as accurately as possible very seriously. As more details become available, I will pass them along.

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Comments

  1. dan
    Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 9:58 am

    Awesome, Eric!
    Congratulations!
    Sounds like this new series won’t be as slanted and Yankified as Mr. Burns’ otherwise excellent effort.
    Best,
    Dan

  2. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 11:26 am

    Dan,
    One thing I noticed right away when I gave the script a first read-through several months ago was that there’s no agenda present at all. It’s straight history, dramatized of course with wonderful writing. As Eric said, the budget for this is quite sizable with an electric group of great actors and actresses.
    The resulting DVD box set promises to be neat – loaded with lots of goodies including Behind the Scenes, interviews with consultants, and educational mini-documentaries.
    J.D.

  3. Betty Royal
    Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 5:34 pm

    The writer was on Facebook a while back writing: “If HBO did it it would take another two years and $100 million.” Yea. So. And your point is?

    Does this mean it will be quick and cheap?

    Gods and Generals was half as long but it cost $57 million and what was the result of that? $100 million sounds cheap by that measure.

    The actor playing Lincoln is only 1.5 inches taller than the actress playing his wife. Really?

    All due respect to your writing partner, but J.D. Who? He’s the best all-around, well known, most respected CW guy they could find to be the chief historical guy? Really?

    We all had very high expectations when the Scott brothers announced they were making a Gettysburg piece and how did that turn out?

    Pardon us if we don’t get excited and take that bait again. Just because “Hollywood” makes a few calls doesn’t mean people should fall all over themselves trying to get involved.

  4. Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Ms. Royal,

    You are entitled to your opinion, but is the snarky, mean-spirited tone REALLY necessary? I think not. And when it comes to these issues, mine is the only opinion that matters. Dial back the obnoxiousness, or you will find your next comment deleted and your IP address banned. I trust that I have made myself abundantly clear.

  5. Betty Royal
    Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Apologies. Tone is hard to regulate in plain text posts.

    The many questions about this endeavor, however, deserve airing.

    Just one example. The “Episode 5″ pdf file that one can download from the “toappomattox.com” “Bibliography, Research Photos & Art” page shows pictures it describes as “Eagle Hotel, Gettysburg” even though it is clearly labeled in the image as being in Bethlehem, PA. The 1900s photo is half a block from where the Eagle actually stood. A quick glance at the sidewalk sign describing the Eagle would clear this up.

    These “research” pages resemble a poorly assembled high school student’s history report, not what one would hope from a well-done film or TV production.

  6. Chris Evans
    Wed 21st Sep 2011 at 1:24 am

    I’m looking forward to the product. I hope that it turns out as a very good program. I’ve been struck by some of the casting choices also but hope they come out all right.

    Chris

  7. Gary Dombrowski
    Wed 21st Sep 2011 at 9:31 am

    I’ll be surprised if this program is completed and airing by the summer of 2013. In looking at their Facebook page I see more hype than anything else. Every few days you see this actress, actor, or historian joining their “team” and not much else. I do think it a bit premature to predict how the show and or DvD set will turn out before the cameras start rolling. Best of luck on the project. ~G

  8. Wed 21st Sep 2011 at 10:26 am

    Ms. Royal,

    I am glad you toned back the attitude. As for my credentials as advisor, my chief role has been to COORDINATE the efforts of the entire consultant team. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, the smartest fellow in the world or the most knowledgable about any topic. Team members such as Ed Bearss, Eric, Dr. Mark Snell, Mark Maritato, James Price, Ed Longacre, Dr. James McPherson and all the others have their specialities and their advice, counsel, and input have all enhanced the project tremendously. My extended roles have also entailed such things as assisting with the marketing of the sponsors and advertisers (I have 25 years experience in sales, so my historical background has made IMO a valuable asset of those efforts), an enormous amount of historical photograph research, and blocking the environment of the individual scenes of the series (of which there are about 1000. So no, I’m not perhaps the smartest person in the entire world, but perhaps you feel you’d be best suited for the job.

    As for the pictures you see on that web page, they are simply images that were placed there for examples. The entire website was initially constructed only as a means of communication between the production company, cast, and crew. The actual historical research that has gone into all the sets and environment has gone far beyond that website, which hasn’t really been updated in quite some time.

    Gary, thankfully it will be done. The major network on which this will air will be announced within the next week or so by the company, as well as the major studio(s) that are producing it. Construction of the 200-acre backlot is already scheduled, and filming is is lined up to begin Thursday, April 12, 2012. The budget is already entirely set, the production schedule is already set. The CGI studio is set. Most of the cast is already set, but as I’m sure you understand not all of the parts have been publicly released because many have to complete the formal process of signing the deals. The releases you see on the Facebook page keep discussion going about the project, but there is FAR more activity going on behind the scenes than can be publicly released due to the negotiations and contracts.

    J.D.

  9. Thu 22nd Sep 2011 at 10:00 am

    Very cool, Eric. I have been looking forward to this series for a long time now.

  10. Chris Evans
    Thu 22nd Sep 2011 at 10:04 am

    Thanks for the update J.D.

    Chris

  11. Dennis
    Fri 30th Sep 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I know of all the historians involved and have had the pleasure of meeting one on a regular basis. I am keenly looking forward to the series and to the mentioned regular updates.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  12. Kent Dorr
    Fri 30th Sep 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Considering the lack of film products taking advantage of the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of the Civil War, this series has the potential to be something very special. There are some great people on board with this project both in front of the camera and behind. I am looking forward to the announcement of who will be airing this.

  13. Sun 02nd Oct 2011 at 10:23 am

    Thanks Kent – it’s coming soon. We hoped the announcement would be made this week, but there’s as much logistics, politics, and red tape in finalizing the network as I’ve seen in anything else :)
    About all that remains is the network deal and a few more major cast members. The schedule is all set, so everything is pretty much falling into place thus far.
    J.D.

  14. Fri 21st Oct 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Hey All,

    Just a quick addendum. Bill Paxton’s great-great-grandfather was General Elisha Bull Paxton–commander of the “Stonewall Brigade” !!! MFB

  15. Mon 24th Oct 2011 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for stopping by and for the comment, Michael.

    Any word on the network outlet yet?

  16. Frank
    Sat 24th Dec 2011 at 1:29 am

    My biggest fear is the show getting picked up by an AMC or FX. At the end of the day, HBO does it right. The Pacific and Band of Brothers were proof enough in my book and the ratings were through the roof.

    My second greatest fear is a complete lack of realism because an AMC or FX may pick up the show. If I want a unrealistic PG-13 viewing of the Civil War I would waste the $20-30 bucks on the “Gods and Generals” DVD.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m definately looking forward to this series and I wish all who are involved the absolute best of luck. With that being said, you’ll have to excuse my skepticism for the time being.

  17. Frances Emerson
    Thu 31st May 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I just discovered today this mini-series is being filmed. As a teacher of history, native New Yorker and aspiring screenwriter, I couldn’t help but peruse the cast of characters who are going to be covered in the series. A very imipressive list of both historical figures and actors/actresses. However, the writer, and I have not seen any of his scripts yet, may have left one major character out of his story–who I am covering in mine. I’ll leave him to discover who that particular person is/was.

  18. Sun 02nd Sep 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Sooooo happy to learn about this series. Can’t learn enough about the war and the personalities are a study in and of themselves. Will bring this information to my CW round table in Redlands CA.

  19. Fri 19th Oct 2012 at 11:12 am

    to the producers of this mini-series; as a civil war student, one thing that has always driven me crazy in alot of the civil war productions is the casting of over-weight re-enactors in freshly washed and starched clothes. if you’re going to do this project, please get it right, and give us the grit. there were no fat troops in the confederate army, they were starving , or at least constantly hungry, and the union soldiers in the field fared only marginally better.

  20. Rosie
    Thu 13th Dec 2012 at 5:58 pm

    All of the major engagements east of the Mississippi River are covered, some in more detail than others.

    Does this include Vicksburg, Shiloh, Corinth, Paducah, Stone’s River, and Missionary Ridge?

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