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So I'm reading a lot about the American Civil War right now and watching as many movies as I can about the period. As always, when learning something new, the natural human instinct is to buttonhole strangers and regurgitate all this newfound fancy learning to show how much smarter you are. And of course the offchance that you might learn something new from lesser minds. Hence this thread.
Above: Abraham Lincoln, close friend of Bill and Ted. Robert E. Lee, later immortalised by an orange car. Ulysses S. Grant, drinking man.
It's an fascinating subject, covering as it does the glorious and tragic careers of America's foremost military genius and one of its most respected and eloquent presidents, the transition from wooden warships to ironclads, the struggle to control the destiny of what would become the most important nation of the next century, and, of course, the end of slavery. Excellent reading might well include James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, Shelby Foote's multi-volume history and Bruce Catton's centennial history.
I want to talk about the battles, like Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Stone River and Vicksburg. Or the dramatis personae, like Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Jackson and Sherman. And maybe, if the usual internet stupidity that springs up whenever this subject comes up can be avoided, the politics behind it all. We could discuss the films made about it if you have no high-falutin book learnin'.
Glory - a fine movie about a black regiment fighting for the Union side. It has Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes all doing stirring work.
Gettysburg - worthy and very long movie that betrays its TV roots with dull camera angles and rubbish dialogue. A cast of many stars and Maxwell Caulfield, much facial hair and ponderous scenes that only occasionally manage to convey the scale and atmosphere of the battle. I welled up a bit when Richard Jordan cried out "Not both of us!" at the end, though.
Gods & Generals - made by the same people who made Gettysburg, but apparently not as good and somewhat revisionist about the South's attitude to slavery.
Possible avenues of discussion:
Armchair generalship is always fun. Was Gettysburg winnable, or was Lee always going to come to grief eventually?
Just how terrible were the Union commanders of the Army of the Potomac (McClellan, Burnside, Hooker) before Meade came onto the scene?
What would have enabled the South to win (or, more likely, to stalemate) the war? Stonewall Jackson living to fight at Gettysburg? British intervention to break the blockade? Another Lee in the Western theatre? A miracle?
Was actually seceeding a gargantuan mistake on the part of the Southern states? Would they have had a better chance of getting what they wanted by threatening to seceed?