Film / Gettysburg
This battle will decide the fate of our country.

"The same God, same language, same culture and history, same songs, stories, legends, myths... Different dreams. Different dreams. So very sad."
Col. Arthur Fremantle

A 1993 film about the pivotal battle of The American Civil War, financed by Ted Turner, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

The movie focuses on four main actors in the battle: Generals Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) and James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) on the Confederate side and Gen. John Buford (Sam Elliot) and Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) on the Union side, though Buford's part ended about a third of the way through the movie. All of the characters in the movie are (based on) real-life people with the exception of Sgt. Buster Kilrain.

The Blu-Ray release restored all the deleted scenes, including some that had been in the trailer but had not made the cut for the theatrical release.

Particularly known for its extremely long Pickett's Charge Sequence. And just being extremely long period (FOUR HOURS! Four and a half in the Blu-Ray release)

Gettysburg was followed up in 2003 with a prequel film, Gods and Generals, which detailed the Backstory of many of the characters.

This film includes examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Plenty on both sides of the conflict since the armies naturally take breathers from fighting one another.
  • Agony of the Feet: Some of the Confederate troops made the march from Virginia to Gettysburg on bare feet. The opening engagement of the battle was started when General Heth tried to raid the city's shoe factories to resolve this issue.
  • Analogy Backfire:
    • Pickett compares the secession of the South to gentlemen resigning from a private club.
      Kemper: I gotta hand it to you George, you sure do have a talent for trivializing the momentous and complicating the obvious.
      • Subverted in that Fremantle, who was half-heartedly listening to Kemper's diatribe on states' rights, responds much more agreeably to Pickett's simple gentleman's club analogy.
    • Both the book and the film have Fremantle going on about how the Southerners are so like the English and being descended from them due to their names, and bringing up Longstreet as an example. Turns out Longstreet is actually of Dutch descent, and Longstreet then reminds him that the U.S. beat the British, twice.note 
  • All There in the Manual: A number of details about the personality and history of the officers is left in the original novel.
  • And This Is For...: The Union soldiers chant "Fredericksburg" as the Confederates retreat after Pickett's Charge.
    • Made doubly meaningful by the fact that the men chanting are from Hancock's corps. During the battle, the flag of the Irish Brigade can be seen behind the stone wall. Hancock's corps and the Irish Brigade in particular are famous for their part in charging the stone wall at Fredericksburg, a battle that plays out almost exactly the same as this one, just with positions reversed.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Tom, for Col. Chamberlain (even though they're adults).
  • Anti-Villain: The Confederates may be fighting to defend a government based on the mass-enslavement of people viewed as racially inferior, but the vast majority of the men in the Confederate Army don't own any slaves at all and plenty of them like Lee and Longstreet really just seem to be fighting because they can't bare the thought of invading their own homes.
  • Artistic License History:
    • The film skips over a key part of the Battle of Little Round Top. Specifically, Company B of the 20th Maine went missing and was thought lost at the start of the battle. They had actually been cut off and remained unengaged for most of the fight, until the bayonet charge gave them an opportunity to hook back up with their unit without getting slaughtered. The sudden appearance of fresh troops with plenty of ammunition charging the Confederate flank tricked the Rebels into thinking that the Federal troops were bringing up new units, contributing to their decision to surrender. This detail was in the original book.
    • In real life, Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine Regiment was not deployed on Cemetery Ridge on the 3rd day of battle, and did not take part in the defense against Pickett's Charge as the movie depicted. As such, in real life it was not Thomas Chamberlain who found the wounded Confederate General Lewis Armistead after the battle and informed him of General Hancock's injury, but a different officer, Captain Henry H. Bingham.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Lee's "teaches my fingers to fight" narration is from The Bible, Psalm 144.
  • Badass Beard: Every male (which is to say, every cast member) has luxuriant facial hair, as it was the style at the time.
  • Badass Bookworm: Three words: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
  • Bayonet Ya: Chamberlain's Moment of Awesome.
  • Blood Brothers: Armistead and Hancock, although both sides would have officers in the same predicament. They both reflect on the tragedy of having raised their hands in anger against each other.
    Hancock (to Chamberlain): Tell me, Professor. In your studies have you come across a story from antiquity of two men who are like brothers facing each other on the field of battle? ...Lewis Armistead was my closest friend before the war. I'd like to see him again: but not here, not like this. What do you say, Colonel, what do the books tell you?
    • One Confederate scene has Armistead tearfully revealing to Longstreet that the last time he'd met Hancock, he'd swore that if he should raise a hand against his friend, "may God strike me dead!". He's mortally wounded in Pickett's Charge, only to break down in shock and tears when after requesting that his apology be conveyed to Hancock, he's told that Hancock was also struck: "Not the both of us!" The Picket's Charge scene underlines how alike they are by having each of them calm their men during the artillery exchange using the exact same words.
    • While the Armistead/Hancock relationship was the most notable of these sorts of conflict, it was actually quite the common occurrence. The movie itself notes the fact that Lee's second in command, Longstreet, was good friends with Ulysses S. Grant. And enlistment records of the units that fought at Gettysburg reveal that four brothers fought at Gettysburg. Three for the Confederacy, one for the Union.
  • Blood Knight: Rebel units charge without or against orders a few times, most importantly in the first engagement of the battle.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Most people who get shot on camera just clutch a part of their body and fall over (if from a gun), or get tossed in the air (if from a cannon - even if it's from a range that should have reduced them to chunky salsa on the spot). This is probably because the film was originally intended to be a tv movie and thus could not show the more gory aspects of war on mainstream television. People who are injured offscreen often sport bloody bandages when they next appear, however.
  • Book Dumb: Pickett, who considers "All this book-learnin' unbecoming of a soldier." and graduated in last place - dead last - from West Point.
    • While not in the film, George Armstrong Custer is mentioned briefly in several deleted scenes; he likewise graduated last from West Point.
  • California Doubling: In microcosm: None of the Little Round Top sequences are actually filmed on Little Round Top, because the hill was just too small to fit the production crew and the actors. Big Round Top stood in for the smaller hill instead.
  • The Cassandra: General Hood when told to attack the Union left flank head-on, pointing out that the terrain is so lopsided for the defenders that he'd lose half of his division. Longstreet believes him but declares that Lee already disregarded Longstreet's own arguments against such an advance, so Lee won't allow Hood to swing to the right; Hood's division is mauled at Devil's Den.note 
    • Longstreet himself is this when he predicts to Harrison, who wishes to join Pickett's Charge, exactly what will (and in fact did) happen.
    • Buford almost becomes this, realizing on the first day that if the rebels get the high ground, it'll become another Fredericksburg. He subverts it by fighting and holding that high ground for the Union.
  • The Cavalry: On the first day, Reynold's I Corps shows up to save Buford's division (ironically, Buford's unit was the actual cavalry, while the relieving units were infantry)
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Three of the six holdouts from the 2nd Maine. They later join the fight and save Tom Chamberlain.
  • Chromosome Casting: It's a war film. The only female cast members are essentially part of the scenery as the army marches towards Gettysburg, and none of them get more than two lines.
  • Colonel Badass: (Lieutenant) Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The badass comes out when he thinks he's been shot (the shot really bounced off his sword, but it clearly left him in shock and he has a limp for the rest of the movie). As they're dragging him back he sits up and shoots a charging man with his revolver. Just... wow. The historical Chamberlain was also a badass in that he was wounded six times during the war and survived in an era when just one was usually enough to kill younote . In fact, his penchant for not only surviving wounds that would kill or cripple other men but continuing to fight led to his earning the nickname(on both sides) of 'Bloody Chamberlain'—literally, as he was often covered in his own blood. He started the war as a college professor, not an army officer. Which also qualifies him for Badass Bookworm. He later became Governor of Maine and Ambassador to France.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: There are quite a few scenes with characters sitting around, discussing the war, slavery, and what could or should have been.
  • Cool Hat: Longstreet wears one.
  • Courtly Love: Armistead has an interesting relationship with Hancock's - his best friend's - wife Almira ("Mira", in the novel). Armistead never pursued her romantically and it never got in the way of their friendship, but he does give her his family Bible (an intensely personal possession) before joining the Virginia forces. Also, part of Armistead's Heroic B.S.O.D. breakdown in the novel during his own death is that he fears Mira receiving the terrible news of her husband's (Hancock had been wounded in the battle, but survived) condition.
    • Years earlier, then-Captain Lewis Armistead's wife and children had died of scarlet fever. The broken-hearted and nearly-suicidal Armistead was taken in by his best friend, then-Captain Winfield Hancock, and his wife and kids. The Hancocks became the surrogate family of Armistead, and he loved them all as his own. When Armistead and Hancock referred to each other as brothers, they were not exaggerating.
  • Creator Cameo: Ted Turner appears as a Confederate colonel named Patton (distant relative of THAT Patton).
  • Cultured Badass: Before the war, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. He would return to the college after the war and would eventually teach every subject in the curriculum with the exception of science and mathematics. He was a fluent speaker of nine languages other than English (Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac), and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic society. For his determination and tactical prowess at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • Cultured Warrior: Several of the officers are portrayed as learned men, probably Col. Chamberlain most prominently (a professor of rhetoric). Others include Pettigrew (scholar of the University of North Carolina) and Col. Vincent (from Harvard).
  • Dare to Be Badass: Armistead when his brigade sees the wreck that Pickett's Charge has turned into and halts. "Come on boy, come on! What'll you think of yourself tomorrow? Virginians! Virginians! With me! Who will come with me?" The challenge is accepted, but fails nonetheless.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Longstreet, who became somber after scarlet fever swept through his family in 1862, killing several of his childrennote 
  • Demoted to Extra: While Robert Lee gets plenty of dialog and screen time, General George Meade, the overall commander of Union forces in the battle, is limited to just one short scene in the whole film.
  • Disappointed in You: Lee's mild rebuke of General Stuart puts the cocky general in his place better than any shouting or bluster.
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: Chamberlain, who "didn't mean to preach".
  • Death by Adaptation: In the wake of Pickett's charge, General Lee comes across a wounded General Kemper, who reports that the doctors have just informed him that his wound is mortal. The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue makes no mention of Kemper, leaving the viewer to assume that he died at Gettysburg; in fact, Kemper survived the battle and the war (though the wound would continue to affect him until he died thirty years later).note 
  • Death Seeker: Longstreet temporarily becomes one after watching Pickett's Charge fail. He recklessly races to the front, determined to meet the expected Union counterattack in person while artillery falls all around him. He snaps out of it when one of his aides is thrown off his horse by Union guns and tells him, "There's no use trying to get yourself killed, General. The Lord will come for you in his own good time."
  • Demoted to Extra: General George Meade, the Union commander, puts in only a brief appearance in both book and film.
    • Of course this is essentially Truth in Television because Meade didn't arrive at the battle until the night of the first day.
    • While the movie does seem to make it the case that Meade simply isn't there, in reality, he was present on the field for the entire second day of battle and actually far more active in moving around near the front-lines of battle than Lee, who spent the day sitting outside A.P. Hill's headquarters.
  • Determinator: Shortly before the battle, Chamberlin is told he cannot give up his position on Little Round top under any circumstances. Chamberlin follows these orders to the letter, even when his officers suggest their situation is looking insurmountable.
  • Dramatic Irony: The 20th Maine is being moved to the center of the Union line after its beating on Little Round Top because the Union thinks that it's the safest place on the line. In the last scene, Lee and Longstreet were planning an all out assault on that very spot. This actually represents the biggest difference from the real battle, as the 20th Maine was stationed on Big Round Top at the time and did not participate in repelling Picket at all. This may have been an unintentional error on the part of the writers, as Colonel Chamberlain and his brother were at that spot during Pickets Charge, doing exactly what they are seen doing in the film, requesting more ammunition for the 20th Maine.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave:
    • When Sgt. Owens returns from trying to get ammunition, he can't really report much because none of the commanding officers on Little Round Top are in commission anymore:
      Sgt. Owens: Colonel Vincent is badly wounded, (nods) yes sir, got hit a few minutes after the fight started. We've been reinforced at the top of the hill by Weed's brigade up front, this is what they tell me, but Weed is dead. And so they moved Hazlet's battery of artillery up there, but Hazlet's dead....
    • This exchange:
      General Lee: General Pickett, sir. You must look to your division.
      General Pickett: General Lee. I have no division.
  • Epic Movie: Four hours long, plenty of familiar faces, lots of action, epic score by Randy Edelman, it's got the components.
  • Exact Words: On the third day, Lee tells Longstreet that "With my old war horse in command, attacking on ground of his own choosing, we cannot fail." Unfortunately, Pickett's Charge is not an attack on ground of Longstreet's choosing, but an attack on ground of Lee's choosing over Longstreet's objections. The attack fails miserably.
  • A Father to His Men: General Robert E. Lee.
    • Colonel Chamberlain.
    • Though not as obvious, Longstreet and Hancock also qualify, both in-movie and historically.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It does not end well for the Confederates, as Gen. Longstreet predicted beforehand as he describes the withering firepower the soldiers of Pickett's Charge would face.
  • Foreshadowing: It's passed off as a joke, but Chamblerlain tries to reassure his men while they march into position on Little Round Top that the rebel artillery coming their way won't hit them because they "always overshoot." The next day, the massive artillery barrage Lee orders to weaken the Union line prior to Pickett's Charge is shown to have nearly zero effect because most of the cannons are overshooting.
    Chamberlain: (after three of the last deserters decide to fight) Give these men some muskets.
    Sgt. Owens: There are no muskets, sir.
    Chamberlain: (to the deserters) Wait here. There'll be guns available in a little while.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: So many little details, but one in particular: At the beginning of the film, Chamberlain's shoulder boards show the rank of lt. colonel (oak leaves). By the events on Little Round Top he's wearing the rank of a full colonel (eagles). It's a bit of Shown Their Work, as well, as Chamberlain received his promotion to colonel in June of 1863.
  • Friendly Enemy: Several of the opposing generals are well acquainted, having served together before the war. The friendship of Armistead and Hancock is given the most weight.
    • Though it never comes up in the movie, Confederate Major General George Pickett would not tolerate any insults to President Abraham Lincoln in his presence. Pickett was admitted to West Point was thanks to Congressional Appointment by then-Congressman Lincoln, and Pickett never forgot his personal debt to Lincoln, even as he fought for the South.
  • Frontline General:
    • Lee warns General Longstreet against his habit of going too far forward, as he's already lost a number of his generals (particularly Stonewall) to this trope and he feels he cannot spare Longstreet.
    • Both sides had several generals who were killed or wounded in action during this battle, most notably general John Reynolds of the Union and Lewis Armistead of the Confederacy.
  • Funny Foreigner: Col. Fremantle. He's possibly not meant to be funny, but the filmmakers accentuated his Englishness by having him wear a bright red dress uniform (which the historical character certainly did not do) and, in one scene, walk around the Confederate camp drinking tea from a china cup and saucer. The real Fremantle was so impressed by Pickett's Charge he wrote a book predicting that the South would win the war. It was published a few months before the South surrendered.
  • Gallows Humor: Intentionally by Chamberlain, accidentally by Fremantle.
    Chamberlain: Tom, stay away from me. Another one of those [shells] a bit closer and it could be a hard day for mother.
    Fremantle: (In the morning, as the Confederates prepare to attack.) I slept like the dead, sir - a baby. Slept like a newborn baby, sir.
    • Chamberlain's actually happened in Real Life, only there were actually three brothers present. The third, a medic who didn't get mentioned in the book or movie, was sent to a different part of the line than Tom, for the same reason.
  • Geo Effects: Capturing and holding the high ground is a major point of the tension.
    • Day 1: Buford rails against Meade, predicting the cautious commander will delay, allowing the Confederates to simply march onto the high ground if he doesn't deploy his brigade to stop the enemy vanguard, and then will recklessly attack the Confederates. In real life, Meade moved his units much faster than was expected, and also was prudent enough to hold back on offensive maneuvers and let Lee smash into his defenses.
    • Day 2: The Confederates attack the Union left flank, including Little Round Top and Devil's Den. Hood describes it as the "worst ground I ever sawnote ," and sarcastically notes that the Union force could defeat their charge simply by rolling rocks down the hill.
    • Day 3: The Confederates are forced to divert some of their artillery fire on the Union cannons placed on the high ground. Pickett's Charge, uphill, over open ground, into the teeth of the reinforced Union centre is brutally shattered.
  • Groin Attack: A confederate soldier gets nailed between the legs with a rifle stock during the action at Little Round Top.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Longstreet. Freemantle takes note of how dour he always seems and has it explained to him that scarlet fever devastated Longstreet's family a year earlier. He latter knowingly ordered Pickett's division to make an attack he knew was suicidal.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Pickett after his eponymous charge. See Everybody's Dead, Dave, above.
    • Armistead, when he hears during his own dying moments that his best friend Hancock is also wounded.
    • Trimble has one while describing to Lee how Ewell failed to take a key hill.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Chamberlain, Buford and Hancock in the sense that they are brought to the forefront of the audience's attention. Though their actions were not really upgraded in any significant way.
    • This movie and the book it was based on played a major role in rehabilitating General Longstreet's reputation among historians who frequently badmouthed him and used him as a scapegoat for the defeat, as he openly criticized Lee's tactics and became a Republican after the war. Robert E. Lee deeply trusted and relied upon Longstreet and the Confederates lost the battle (and subsequently the War) in large part because Lee didn't listen to him. It's true that his corps was slow to attack Little Round Top on the second day but if he had attacked earlier Sickles' Corps would have been in a stronger position (i.e. not at Devil's Den) and things could have been worse.
    • Pickett, in general, receives the Tragic Hero treatment. He's certainly not a villain or incompetent (historically), but the fact that he was a mediocre commander is notably absent, and he's not really Tragic in any sense, other than the mere fact he led the charge.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The film's tunnel focus on the battle neglects the fact that before and after the battle, the Confederate soldiers captured African-Americans (runaway slaves, ex-slaves and freedmen) and send them back to Virginia into slavery.
  • Historical In-Joke: There's a brief shot of a general and his officers surveying the ground with binoculars on Little Round Top. Though given no lines, the actor is playing Gouverneur Warren, who is credited with spotting Hood's division and is memorialized with a statue in that exact pose, directly behind the actor.
    • There's also a shot of a dead Confederate soldier at General Webbs feet being dragged off. While it's unknown if Webb actually stood there, the position of the dead rebel is well known to anyone who visits the park... the Confederate High Water Mark.
  • Hollywood History: Both the film and the novel portray Stuart's joyride as a major impediment for Lee. In actuality, Southern cavalry was used mainly for raiding, not scouting. Individual horsemen, spies like Harrison, and overly-informative Northern newspapers were the primary sources of intelligence; while Lee did rebuke Stuart, it was not for leaving him blind in enemy country. An understandable mistake, however, as historians and Lost Cause advocates made Stuart's supposed culpability a part of popular history.
    • Another obvious one has the 20th Maine relocate from Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge in time for Pickett's Charge. Which never happened, though dramatically understandable as it gives the main Union protagonist (Chamberlain) a front-row seat to the movie's climax.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Pickett's Charge, in an unfortunate case of Truth in Television. In fairness, it was preceded by a Confederate artillery bombardment intended to break up the Union artillery units on the ridge... problem was, the Confederate artillery was of inferior quality, short on ammunitionnote . They also overshot the bulk of the Union forces, aiming for an area behind the ridge where they thought the union was staging, when in fact most their men were tight to the line on along the ridge.
    • While today we would call this Hollywood Tactics, the fact is that for this time period, this was the standard accepted tactical doctrine of both sides. Pickett's Charge was hardly the first, and not the last major mass frontal assault of the Civil War. It's not even the worst in terms of casualties. It's just the most famous.
    • Meade was also expecting Lee to assault the middle of his line, and had ordered his forces there to hunker down and ride out the artillery barrage to await Pickett's men.
  • Honor Before Reason: The South in general. Discussed more thoroughly in the book when Longstreet privately thinks that "honor without intelligence" could lose the war for the Confederacy, but the movie contains some of it, such as the line "We should have freed the slaves, then fired on Fort Sumpter." Fremantle views it in a more positive light and sees it as something the South and Britain have in common.
    • General Stuart shows this trait when he gets so upset by Lee's rebuke that he lays down his hat and sword and says "Since my services are no longer-", clearly implying his resignation, but gets cut off by General Lee telling him they need him to make up for his mistake and fight rather than quit.
    • General Kemper decides to ride into battle because his fellow commander Garnett is riding. Garnett is riding because he's too ill to walk and he believes that he must win a major victory or die trying to erase the stain caused by the reprimand given to him by the late Stonewall Jackson shortly before his death, meaning that he can't sit out the charge for medical reasons.
    • Lee insists on fighting the three-day battle despite the fact that the only reason they needed to take Gettysburg at all was for the shoe factories, which they took the first day, because military convention of the day was that the army that commanded the battlefield when the fighting was over was the winner. Thus to avoid the appearance of defeat by surrendering control of a town he had no use for so he could fight and win another battle on terms of his choosing later on, he stayed and ended up suffering a real defeat.
  • Hope Spot: An in-universe one for the Confederates, when Armistead's forces finally reach the Union line and almost manage to break it. Then Union reinforcements arrive...
  • Intermission: At least when it was shown in a theater. But then, it was planned as a four hour, two day TV Mini Series before they decided to show it in theaters.
  • Ironic Echo: General Stuart offers to resign after failing to do his job properly, and Lee refuses as he still needs him and doesn't think it will happen again. It's not shown in the movie, but the same thing happened to Lee himself when he offered his resignation to Jefferson Davis after the battle.
  • Irony:
    • Early in the movie Buford rages quietly to his subordinate that Meade will move too slow to take the hills, requiring a desperate charge across open ground in an attempt to dislodge the rebels. He goes on that he can see it "clear as day" that it would surely fail and with high casualties and there would be nothing he could do about it except "help it fail". This happens exactly as he predicts. Except it happens to the Confederates as a direct result of Buford acting quickly to change the starting conditions and prevent it. Also, General Meade moved his troops faster than anyone expected, which was why Lee was surprised to find the Army of the Potomac so close.
    • Actor Richard Jordan plays Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who is mortally wounded during Pickett's charge and dies shortly after the battle. Jordan was suffering the from cancer at the time, and he died shortly after filming for the movie was completed.
      • Even more poignantly, the producers learned of Jordan's death while editing that very scene.
  • It's All My Fault: Lee says this repeatedly after the failure of Pickett's Charge.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Sgt. Kilrain to Col. Chamberlain after being severely wounded at Little Round Top. Doubles as a Tear Jerker.
    Kilrain: "Colonel, I've never served under a finer man. The Army was blessed. Blessed! I wanted to tell you (pauses and nods at his wounded arm), you know, in case."
  • The Lancer:
    • Kilrain to Col. Chamberlain.
    • Longstreet to Lee.
  • Large Ham: Pickett. Rightly so, as he was well-known for being a flamboyant and having an eccentric personality.
  • Last-Name Basis: Lawrence tells his brother to address him formally. Generals, on the other hand, tend to do whatever they want.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Subverted Trope - despite being historically known as the battle the Confederacy couldn't recover from, and Lee profusely blames himself and apologizes to his troops around him for the failure of Pickett's Charge immediately after it, his men deny his words and one even ask for them to regroup and attack again. Of course, the war would last at nearly two years after the battle.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Armistead while telling Longstreet about his last meeting with Hancock before riding to war.
    • Joshua Chamberlain when told by Tom that Kilrain has died.
    • Armistead's fate.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: It rates a 6, mainly because of the bloody Confederate field hospital scene, which features a wagon full of sawed-off limbs in the background. The actual battle scenes are less bloody, but still frequently feature the red stuff.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: A Confederate prisoner of war says he isn't fighting for "darkies" but for his own rights and his state.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Chamberlain orders Tom to "plug a hole" in the line during the heat of battle and belatedly realizes that he's just put his little brother right in front of the Confederates with no cover whatsoever.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Longstreet shows some of this when Hood asks to outflank the Round Top positions. Lee had already turned down Longstreet's request to perform a strategic movement of the army in that direction and told Longstreet to send Hood right into the right side of the Union line. So Longstreet feels he must order Hood to follow Lee's orders exactly, rather than giving Hood some leeway to interpret them creatively with a tactical outflanking of the position.
  • Nausea Fuel: In-universe with the Union hospital. Tom clutches his stomach as he relates the horrific conditions to his brother.
  • Non-Uniform Uniform: Reflecting Truth in Television, the Confederates' troops largely lack consistent uniforms unlike their blue-dressed Union adversaries and instead wear a great variety of simple clothes and hats - its pretty much only the officers who are probably wearing a grey uniform among them.
  • Not So Different: Armistead and Hancock, most prominently, but this is a major theme of the entire movie.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: General Lee and General Pickett are probably the most prominent examples.
  • One-Word Title: Also an example of The Place, as the title is named after the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Longstreet, for the Confederates:
      Longstreet: You know what's gonna happen? I'll tell you what's gonna happen. [Our] troops are now forming behind the line of trees. When they come out, they'll be under enemy long-range artillery fire. Solid shot. Percussion. Every gun they have. Troops will come out under fire with more than a mile to walk. And still, within the open field, among the range of aimed muskets. They'll be slowed by that fence out there, and the formation - what's left of it - will begin to come apart. When they cross that road, they'll be under short-range artillery. Canister fire. Thousands of little bits of shrapnel wiping holes in the lines. If they get to the wall without breaking up, there won't be many left. A mathematical equation. Maybe, just maybe, our own artillery will break up their defenses. There's always that hope. But that's Hancock out there, and he ain't gonna run. If they get to that road, or beyond it, we'll suffer over fifty percent casualties. But, Harrison, I don't believe my boys will reach that wall.
    • Buford, for the Union:
      Buford: You know whats going to happen here in the morning? The whole damn reb army is going to be here. They'll move through this town, occupy these hills on the other side and when our people get here Lee will have the high ground. There'll be the devil to pay! The high ground! [...] Devin, I've led a soldier's life, and I've never seen anything as brutally clear as this.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When General Stuart tries to resign, mild-mannered General Lee loses his temper.
  • The Place: Also an example of One-Word Title. The movie is named after the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Quite literally. J.E.B Stuart's adventure deprives Lee of vital information and cavalry support. Though this is a subversion of real life, where Stuart's absence was of lesser importance than the film makes it seem.
  • Power Trio: Pickett's brigade commanders; Armistead is the ego, Kemper is id, and Garnett superego. Could also be said for the leaders the divisions in Picket's Charge as a whole (Pickett, Trimble, and Pettigrew).
  • The Quiet One: Longstreet. Buford in the novel; the adaptation to the screen makes it necessary for him to turn his pre-battle presentiment into dialogue, rather than thought.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Characters main and minor are seen praying or quoting the Bible throughout the movie. Hancock even rides up to Fr. Corby giving absolution to the entire Irish Brigade.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Pretty much everyone, but especially most of the Southerners, as their supplies/equipment were much more haphazard than the North (i.e. much more "Ragtag" than the North, but both with a whole bunch of Misfits).
  • Rank Up: It's not called out and is a Freeze-Frame Bonus, but Chamberlain begins the film wearing the rank of lieutenant colonel, with oak leaves on his shoulder boards. By the Little Round Top scene he is wearing the eagle of a full colonel.
  • Rated M for Manly: There are two women with dialogue in the whole movie. Justified Trope given the fact that it's all about the soldiers.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Chamberlain, to the 2nd Maine, and again later to the officers of the 20th Maine.
    • Armistead to his brigade the morning of Pickett's Charge, both in the movie and in Real Life.
  • Scenery Porn: The battlefields are all so pretty to look at, before the blowing up happens...
    • The start of Pickett's Charge across an open field: all those troops marching in order, banners unfurled. In Real Life, a Union general declared it was the most beautiful thing he ever saw.
    • An Enforced Trope example, as the movie was filmed at the actual Gettysburg National Military Park, which is in a careful state of preservation (estimated at being over 80% identical to the 1863 condition). Virtually every location that is shown in the movie is the identical place to where the event happened, in the identical state it was in during the Civil War.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Reynolds has an abridged form. Ironically, the actual General Sedgwick was sort of involved in the battle, though he is not portrayed in the film. Sedgwick's VI Corps was held in reserve.
    Reynolds: "Forward Iron Brigade!.... Clear those guns out of that wood!.... Forward! For God's sake, FORWARD!" -bang-
    • Hancock suffers a non-fatal (he is seriously wounded, but survives) version of this during Pickett's Charge.
      Hancock: "Bring your men forward and we'll flank these bastards. By God we'll flank 'em" -bang-
  • Self-Destructive Charge: AKA Pickett's Charge, and Longstreet completely called it well in advance.
    • A deleted scene strongly suggests that Devil's Den was one for Hood's divisionnote , just as Hoodnote  feared in the theatrical cut.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare:
    • Harrison is portrayed as a former actor and quotes Romeo and Juliet.
    • Chamberlain quotes Hamlet in the "Killer Angels" discussion with Kilrain (in the novel it is the Title Drop scene).
  • Single-Issue Wonk: Some of the Rebels view the common Northern focus on slavery as a reason for the war this way. Many of them say they honestly don't care about it either way, and see themselves as fighting for their "rahts". Longstreet muses that they would have won their independence already if they had freed the slaves before firing on Fort Sumter, taking it away as a motivation for the other side and keeping in Britain and France's good graces. This in any case was never a realistic option because as far as the leaders were concerned, slavery really was the essential cause for the South. note 
  • Shown Their Work: The visual details are incredibly accurate, helped in part by the loads of re-enactors they cast as extras. Their own costumes were incredibly accurate, and they actually corrected mistakes by the production team. Plus, filming on-location at the historically-preserved Gettysburg National Military Park guaranteed full geographic accuracy.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Fife and Gun," a catchy and energetic theme played over scenes of men being slaughtered by rifle and cannon fire. It's actually the tune the Union band was playingnote  as the infantry marched towards the battle on the first day, and the soundtrack picks up the tune and amplifies it.
  • Take a Third Option: "We can't run away. If we stay here, we can't shoot." Given the choice between holding and retreating, Chamberlain decides to charge (with bayonets).
  • Tempting Fate: At the beginning of Pickett's Charge one of Hancock's aides asks him to get off his horse (so he'll be a less obvious target), to which he replies "There are times when a Corps commander's life does not count." Later during the battle, still riding his horse, he is shot and badly wounded (though he survives).
  • Tear Jerker: In-universe example. Longstreet is so certain that Pickett's Charge will fail that he is too choked up to order the assault. When Pickett asks him if he should begin the attack, the best the heartbroken Longstreet can manage is a nod. Made worse by how eager and elated Pickett is to carry out the order.note 
    • Armistead's reaction to learning that Hancock has also been wounded.
      • Everything about Armistead and Hancock. Throughout the whole movie, most of their conversations are about each other, and both are brought to tears more than once reflecting on it.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is annoyed with his brother for calling him "Lawrence" in front of the troops, as he thinks it will lead to accusations of favoritism. There's also this exchange when a Jerkass lower-ranking officer from another regiment fails to properly address him:
    Capt. Brewer: You're Chamberlain?
    Col. Chamberlain: (Death Glare) Colonel Chamberlain to you.
  • Throw-Away Guns: After his wounds make it difficult for him to reload a weapon, Buster continues to fight at Little Round Top by taking loaded rifles off of the fallen, using them, and then casting them aside to find a new one.
  • Tragic Hero: Armistead above all others: driven by his own honor to fight against his best friend, haunted by the memories of Hancock and his beautiful wife Almyra, he still musters the courage to lead his Virginian troops into the Union lines, bravely holding his sword aloft with his hat on it as a standard... and is mortally wounded doing so. Making it worse for him is being told that his good friend Hancock was wounded during that charge...
  • Truth in Television: Since it's mostly historically accurate, some lines are actual quotes.
  • War Is Hell: Depicting a battle in which over 50,000 men were killed or wounded over three days. The 20th Maine started with 1,000 men and has been cut down to 250 (That was on day 1. Adding the men from the 2nd brings them back up to 360 for their fight on day 2, but casualties on Little Round Top drop the unit down to 120 by day 3) because the Union is just using them until there's no one left. Bodies carpet the battlefield and medical treatment is almost as dangerous as going into battle in the first place. Old friends who are like brothers are forced to fight each other, and Pickett's Charge is a hideous mistake that leaves six thousand men dead or wounded on the field.
  • Wham Line:
    Col. Chamberlain: "We can't run away. If we stay here we can't shoot. So let's fix bayonets. (Everyone stares at him.) We'll have the advantage of moving down the hill."
    Gen. Pickett: General Lee.... I have no Division!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Confederate General James Kemper is wounded at Pickett's charge, but his ultimate fate is not mentioned in the ending. Furthermore, Kemper says the doctors have told him his wound is fatal, implying that he died at Gettysburg. In real life, Kemper survived his wounds and the war, going on to become governor of Virginia in 1874.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A particularly nice example of the trope with the actors faces morphing into the actual historic figures.
    • Which is a nice reverse of the opening credits, where photos of the historical figures morphed into the actors.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Armistead, to Freemantle before Pickett's charge.
    Armistead: Colonel Freemantle... it does not begin or end with my uncle... or myself. We're all sons of Virginia here. That major out there, commanding the cannon... that's James Dearing. First in his class at West Point, before Virgina seceded. And the boy over there with the color guard, that's Private Robert Tyler Jones. His grandfather was President of the United States. The colonel behind me... that's Colonel William Aylett. Now, his great-grandfather was the Virginian, Patrick Henry. It was Patrick Henry who said to your King George III, "Give me liberty, or give me death." There are boys here from Norfolk... Portsmouth... small hamlets along the James River. From Charlottesville and Fredericksburg... and the Shenondoah Valley. Mostly, they're all veteran soldiers now; the cowards and shirkers are long gone. Every man here knows his duty. They would make this charge, even without an officer to lead them. They know the gravity of the situation, and the mettle of their foe. They know that this day's work will be desperate and deadly. They know, that for many of them, this will be their last charge. But not one of them needs to be told what is expected of him. They're all willing to make the supreme sacrifice... to achieve victory, here... the crowning victory... and the end of this war. We are all here, Colonel. You may tell them, when you return to your country... that all Virginia was here on this day.''
  • Worthy Opponent: From the North, the Chamberlain brothers admit they admire their Southern counterparts. From the South, the fact that they are going up against Hancock is enough to cause Longstreet and Armistead apprehension.
    Armistead (about Hancock): "The Lord don't make 'em any better, and that's a fact!"note 
  • You Shall Not Pass: The whole Battle of Little Round Top, from viewpoint of the North.