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Gettysburg Essay and Movie Review

Gettysburg, the largest, bloodiest, and most celebrated battle of the Civil war is said by many to be the turning point of the war that killed 618,000 Americans. Gettysburg the movie was four hours long, which is about 68 hours less than it actually took for the battle to come and go. The first shots were fired no long after daylight, so to be exact, it was 04:30 hours, on the morning of July 1st, (49 Nofi). Bullets flew from the rifles of Union Calvary men on picket duty along the Chambersburg Pike. It was in response to the advancing of Confederates, a skirmish line of 2,500 led by Henry Keith, a General that graduated last in his class at West Point (104 Clark).

The battle took place in the grassy country just south of Gettysburg. The Confederate headquarters was located East of the union at Seminary Ridge. Seminary Ridge was composed largely of flat fields with patches of forests. Federal forces, however, were set along Culpshill, Cemetery Hill, and Cemetery Ridge, which made the Federals line form a hook. The Federal ground was all elevated considerably over the surrounding land. General Stuart and his Calvary had been sent by Lee on an observation mission to locate union forces.

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Fortunately for the Virginian army, General Longstreet had hired a spy known only as Harrison, to do the same job. This Harrison was an actor and because General Stuart returned late, it was by his word that the entire Southern army made its move (181 Coddington). On July 1st, Confederate forces soon found themselves face to face with brigade General John Buford who was uphill and eventually gained the upper hand as he received reinforcements from Major General John Reynolds. Buford’s own brigade sustained many casualties and after the 1st, was reassigned to guarding the supply train for the remainder of the battle, (movie).

July 1st was the same day that the Potomac army found itself replacing General Hooker with General Mead. Meade helped his army secure a well-protected area on Cemetery Ridge, and Culps Hill, where it would stay, (aside from the left flank), until the end of the battle. Meade’s army line stretched three miles and had an average of 17,000 men per mile, (105 Clark). Lee\’s army line stretched approximately two miles long but averaged about 10,000 men per mile, (105 Clark).

On July 2nd, Colonel Chamberlain was ordered by his superiors to hold ground at the very left of the union army on Cemetery Ridge. Colonel Chamberlain informed his men that if their ground was compromised, then the entire Potomac army might be in danger. Chamberlain noticed confederate forces appearing through the thick forest, and ordered the reserves to plug any hole that might be made in the line. They held off the Confederate\’s first attack, but soon another rebel charge emerged.

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With fewer men and less ammunition, Chamberlain constructs a new wall of soldiers even further left than the first. They manage to destroy the second attack, but then the third comes and Chamberlain orders a bayonet charge. This last order of war helped the Yankees to keep their ground that July 2nd.

A new day dawns, July 3rd comes and Colonel chamberlain receives word that his unit is to be moved to the middle of the Potomac line. He is assured that he will see no fighting today. The Union soldiers were expecting a day of rest. Meanwhile, Lee\’s plan of attack is being explained to the reluctant General Longstreet who would rather rest himself. The plan is simple; General Alexander who is in charge of artillery is to fire his cannons at the very middle of the Potomac lines. In an effort to breakdown Union firepower.

As soon as General Alexander had diminished enemy strength, General Pettigrue, General Trimble, and General Pickett were to march their brigades up the slope and take Union ground. After the ground has been breached, all Confederate units are to converge under a small patch of trees at the top of Cemetery Ridge. Lee had picked the very middle of the line because there is a long level slop-e for infantry to walk up.

It is the closest thing to flat ground that Confederates have and Lee says they are weak there. Longstreet argued the attack, but Lee would not listen. Lee should have listened to Longstreet because as 15,000 troops marched up that slope, 1,000 were taken out by long-range rifle fire. (432 Brinkley) Alexander did not have enough firepower left over to adequately assist the infantry during their mile-long march. Only 5,000 Virginians made it to the Union side, and by that time, Meade used his advantage to the fullest by borrowing from quiet parts of the line and patching the front. (105 Clark) During Pickett\’s charge, Lee lost nearly a third of his army and was forced to withdraw from Gettysburg. This ended the battle at Gettysburg, the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. Total deaths from both sides exceeded 53,000, but South was not entirely lost. The war would continue on for two more years. (Movie)

The Gettysburg movie is not entirely accurate historically. Colonel Chamberlain did not \”hold his own\”. At Little Round Top, the fighting started at Devils Den on July 2nd. Union forces retreated across a wheat field and peach orchard. They stopped at Little Round Top where Colonel chamberlain held off Confederate forces.

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The movie gave a detailed depiction of three days worth of war, but in between the fighting, it showed the daily problems of Generals and how they dealt with the frustration. General Longstreet did not believe he was going to succeed in taking the Union ground. He knew he would have a better chance if he had more time and space between armies. Longstreet took up his case with Lee, but General Lee had other ideas. Longstreet coped by obeying orders. Robert E. Lee had to beat the odds of being outnumbered, outgunned, and downhill from his enemy. Although ultimately, he was unable to overcome, he did manage to push back to Union to Cemetery Ridge by relentless attacking.

Colonel Chamberlain was sent one hundred soldier prisoners. These soldiers had been through eleven engagements and only two years. They had seen enough war to last two lifetimes but were required to fight for another year. They were brought to Colonel chamberlain with broken spirits by gunpoint.

Chamberlain was told he could shoot them if they became a nuisance. They were unwilling to fight and Chamberlain knew it, so he fed them to make them happy. Then when they were full, he gave a long, persuasive, and dramatic speech about war. He gave them two options, the easy way out with \”probably no punishment\”, or one last fight with honor. All but six joined the fight.

Colonel Chamberlain was one of the noblest Generals in the movie. He was portrayed as a real-life hero, aggressive enough to lead his army to victory, yet humble enough to nourish an escaped slave. It was during his battle at Little Round Top that my imagination was captured. Colonel Chamberlain was stationed with his brigade on Little Round Top, which is a steep hill, pressed in a forest. They were positioned strategically behind a wall of logs and rocks that stretched a good three hundred yards. He knew if his ground was compromised the entire Potomac army would be in jeopardy. The Confederates attacked three times and the third was a mutual bayonet charge. Chamberlain emerged victoriously.

After Getttysburg, Colonel Chamberlain was injured six times and later rose to the rank of Major General, due to his victory at Little Round Top. Chamberlain also received the Congressional Medal of Honor and was elected Governor of Main four times in a row. (Movie)

Watching the movie, Gettysburg, not only gave me a better understanding of history but a better understanding of people in general as well as myself. After watching the movie and doing the research, I realized many Irish people fought in the war. This was probably because the Irish had just immigrated and were still considered the minority. Since I am of Irish descent, it is reasonable to assume that my ancestors were in the war and if this is correct, it is also reasonable to assume my ancestors either survived the civil war or had families at a young age before joining the war effort.

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The movie gave me historical insight into the war tactics of Old American infantry. I was completely amazed at the lack of strategy in the movie Gettysburg. The Potomac and Virginian armies seemed unskilled in combat. They simply and ignorantly walked straight into the face of the enemy to get shot. Considering their methods of attack, it would only be logical to assume that the North would win, due to their larger numbers.

The North outnumbered the South, 90,000 to 75,000, and the union was occupying a smaller area of land. (432 Brinkley) The movie also gave me historical insight as to the hardships of a nation having a war with itself. The brother against brother and friend against friend mentally made fighting even harder. In one particular instance, General Amistead who was leading his Confederate brigade up the slope during Pickett’s charge was shot on the Union line. Instantly he was noticed by Colonel Chamberlain\’s brother Thomas, who instead of killing Armistead, helped him lay down to ease his pain. General Amistead was good friends with Hancock a Union General. Armistead requested to speak with Hancock, but Thomas Chamberlain informed him that Hancock had also been shot. Upon hearing this, Amistead was greatly saddened. Union soldiers then carried Amistead to a field hospital where he died two days later. Hancock survived the wound at Gettysburg and went on to run for the Presidency on the Democratic ticket in 1880.

All in all the war seemed to me senseless, the Confederate and Federal Generals knew this and wore it on their faces, constantly giving orders and pulling triggers in vain. A prime example would be Longstreets following orders in the midst of doubt. The movie was very well made; it showed the harsh realities of war and the great simplicity of life.

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Gettysburg Essay and Movie Review. (2021, Feb 10). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from