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 Battle Epic film about the pivotal battle of The American Civil War, financed by Ted Turner, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, and closely adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

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

Particularly known for its extremely long Pickett's Charge sequence, and for just being extremely long period, clocking in at four hours! (Four and a half in the Blu-Ray release, which restored all the deleted scenes including some that had been in the trailer but didn't make the theatrical cut).

The film was followed up in 2003 with a prequel film, Gods and Generals, based on the novel of the same name by Shaara's son Jeff, which detailed the backstory of many of the characters.

This film includes examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Plenty on both sides since armies naturally take breathers from fighting each other.
  • Age Lift: John Bell Hood was barely 32 during the battle, but actor Patrick Gorman looks considerably older.
  • 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 warehouses to resolve this issue. (Of course, there were no shoes, since one town resident remarks that Confederate raiding parties had already been around for days and the citizens "can't shoe a plow horse with what they didn't take.")
  • 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 halfheartedly listening to Kemper's diatribe on states' rights, responds much more agreeably to Pickett's simple gentleman's club analogy.
    • Fremantle goes on about how the Southerners are so like the English and descended from them, citing their names as proof, and bringing up Longstreet as an example. Longstreet points out that he's actually of Dutch descent and reminds Freemantle that the U.S. beat the British, twice.note 
  • All There in the Manual: Many details about the personality and backstory of the characters aren't carried over from the original novel.
    • In particular, the reason for General Garnett's determination to participate in Pickett's Charge on horseback is hinted at but never actually revealed, while the novel explains that Stonewall Jackson accused Garnett of cowardice shortly before his own death.
  • And This Is for...: The Union soldiers chant "Fredericksburg!" as the Confederates retreat after Pickett's Charge. This is doubly meaningful since the men chanting are from Hancock's corps and the flag of the Irish Brigade can be seen behind the stone wall, and both units are famous for their part in charging a stone wall at Fredericksburg, a previous battle that played out almost exactly the same as this one, just with positions reversed.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Tom, for Col. Chamberlain, even though they're both adults. Chamberlain has to frequently remind Tom to call him "sir," not Lawrence.
  • Anti-Villain: The Confederates may be fighting to defend a government and society 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 bear the thought of invading their own homes.
  • Artistic License History:
    • John Buford's cavalry troops are shown wearing infantry uniforms rather than the proper cavalry uniforms of the day. Since the costume department relied primarily on civil war re-enactors who brought their own uniforms and gear to play the extras, it could simply be that there were not enough cavalry uniforms available.
    • The film indulges heavily in the Historian's Fallacy that decision makers of the past viewed events with all the clarity of information, cognition, and perspective that we do now. This is particularly obvious when Buford presages the exact value of the Geo Effects at Gettysburg "as if [the battle] were already done; already a memory," and when Longstreet accurately lists precise details of Pickett's Charge (including the casualty levels) before it even happens.
    • The film skips over a key part of the fight on Little Round Top from the original book (and real life). Specifically, Company B of the 20th Maine got cut off early on and were presumed lost, but in fact 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 their flank tricked the Confederates into thinking the Federals were bringing up new units, contributing to their decision to surrender.
    • An obvious one sees Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine Regiment pulled from the line and relocated from Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge in time for Pickett's Charge, which of course never happened but is dramatically understandable as it gives the main Union protagonist a front-row seat to the movie's climax. As such, in real life it wasn't Thomas Chamberlain but another officer, Capt. Henry H. Bingham, who found the wounded Lewis Armistead after the battle and informed him of General Hancock's injury.
    • The real Col. Fremantle was more of a tourist than an official representative of the British government and did not wear his scarlet tunic, though he did write a book about his travels in which he predicted the Confederacy was sure to win.
  • 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 extremely luxuriant facial hair, which is Truth in Television for the era, albeit not always a credit to the make-up department.
  • Badass Bookworm: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine before joining the army.
  • Battle Epic: Four (and-a-half) hours of it!
  • Bayonet Ya: Chamberlain's Moment of Awesome.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Pickett's desire for his men to see action is fulfilled when his division is decimated on Day 3.
  • Blood Brothers: Armistead and Hancock 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 scene has Armistead tearfully revealing to Longstreet that the last time he'd met Hancock, he'd sworn, "May God strike me dead!" if he should raise a hand against his friend. He's mortally wounded in Pickett's Charge, only to break down in shock and tears when he's told that Hancock was also struck: "Not the both of us!" The Picket's Charge sequence underscores how alike they are by having each calm his men during the artillery exchange using the exact same words.
    • While the Armistead/Hancock relationship was the most famous of these sorts of conflict, it was actually fairly common occurrence among professional officers (though it was much less common among citizen volunteers like Chamberlain). The movie itself notes the fact that 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 at ranges that should've reduced them to chunky salsa on the spot). This is probably because the film was originally intended to be a mainstream TV miniseries and thus couldn't show the more gory aspects of war. However, the wounded often do sport bloody bandages afterward, most notably Buster Kilrain and John Bell Hood.
  • Book Dumb:
    • Pickett considers "All this book-learnin'" to be "unbecoming of a soldier," and graduated dead last in his West Point class.
    • While unseen, George Armstrong Custer is mentioned briefly in several deleted scenes; he likewise graduated last from West Point.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Col. Chamberlain has this dynamic with Buster Kilrain.
  • 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, Reynolds' I Corps shows up to save Buford's division. Ironically, Buford's unit was the actual cavalry, while the relieving units were infantry.
  • Cavalry Officer: The film features two of them as characters: John Buford for the Union and J. E. B. Stuart for the Confederates.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Three of the six holdouts from the 2nd Maine ultimately agree to join the fight and and later save Tom Chamberlain.
  • Chromosome Casting: It's a war film. The only female cast members are some civilians as the army marches to and through Gettysburg, and none of them get more than two lines.
  • Cigar Chomper: One of Longstreet's first acts on screen is to light up a cigar while he interviews Harrison.
  • Colonel Badass: (Lt.) Col. 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, their thoughts and feelings, and what could or should have been.
  • Cool Guns: Many examples, but most notably are the Sharps carbines wielded by John Burford's cavalry. The Sharps was a breech loading rifle that gave user a significant firepower advantage over troops armed with the standard muzzle loaders of the day. It had a much faster rate of fire, it was much easier to clear jams, and was much easier to reload from a prone or kneeling position. Though not mentioned in the film, the superior weapons of Burford's cavalry troops contributed greatly to their effectiveness in holding their position against repeated attacks by Confederate infantry.
  • Cool Hat: Longstreet wears one.
  • Courtly Love: Armistead has an interesting relationship with his best friend Hancock'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) ... who died during Pickett's Charge.
  • 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, most prominently Col. Chamberlain (professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College). Others include Gen. 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 
  • 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 diagnosed his wound as mortal. This actually happened, but the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue makes no mention of Kemper, leaving the viewer to assume he died at Gettysburg when in fact he survived the battle and the war and had merely believed (with good reason) that he'd been mortally wounded. His wound continued to trouble him until his death thirty years later.
  • 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."
    • General Garnett is this, as he feels obliged to cleanse the stain on his honor caused by condemnation he received by Stonewall Jackson before the latter's death by taking part in Pickett's Charge on horseback.
  • Demoted to Extra: Inevitably given the size and complexity of the battle, even with over four hours of screen-time.
    • While Robert Lee gets plenty of dialog and screentime, his counterpart General George Meade, the overall commander of the Army of the Potomac, gets only a single scene so brief that it serves only to save him from being The Ghost entirely. In reality, after his arrival late on the first night, Meade was far more active in surveying his lines and coordinating his forces on the second and third days than Lee, who spent most of his time sitting outside A.P. Hill's headquarters waiting for his commanders to carry out their orders.
    • Lee's other two corps commanders A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell exist almost exclusively to be criticized for their failings on July 1 with little-to-no mention of their nearly successful attacks on July 2.
    • Union III Corps commander Dan Sickles, one of the most influential (and controversial) Union commanders on the field gets demoted right out of the film entirely even though it was primarily his men who resisted Longstreet's attack on Day 2 and his actions that resulted in Chamberlain's position on Little Round Top.
    • Gouverneur Warren, the staff officer who first noted the tactical importance of Little Round Top and ordered it occupied by Union forces is reduced to a single-shot Historical In-Joke of an extra recreating the pose of his statue on Little Round Top.
  • Determinator: Shortly before the battle, Chamberlain is told he cannot give up his position on Little Round top under any circumstances. Chamberlain follows these orders to the letter, even when his officers suggest their situation is looking insurmountable.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Before the battle, Buford is convinced that if the Union doesn't hold the high ground, Meade will be pressured into an attack and the Union troops will "charge valiantly and be butchered valiantly," and the story will be extolled as an example of War Is Glorious by self-important blowhards after the fact, which is a pretty good description of how Pickett's Charge played out and how the "Lost Cause" movement treated it afterward.
    • The 20th Maine is 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 previous 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 Pickett's Charge, doing exactly what they are seen doing in the film, requesting more ammunition for the 20th Maine.
  • Dwindling Party: Before the battle even begins, Col. Chamberlain notes that the 20th Maine's strength has dropped from 1,000 to less than 300 in its first year of service. Then they go into battle at Gettysburg...
  • 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; 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 all 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: Robert E. Lee, Joshua Chamberlain, James Longstreet, and Winfield Hancock, both in-universe and historically.
  • Fighting Irish: Buster Kilrain, as well as a cameo of the famous Irish Brigade receiving absolution before battle.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The film goes out of its way to portray Pickett's Charge (and to some degree the war itself) as this, particularly with Longstreet's long, detailed description of the withering firepower and obstacles the soldiers of Pickett's Charge will face.
  • Foreshadowing: It's passed off as a joke, but Chamberlain 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, 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 never forgot his personal debt to Lincoln, even as he fought for the South.
  • Frontline General: The norm on both sides from brigade commanders like Armistead, Kemper, Garnett, Buford, and Vincent, on up to division commanders like Pickett, Hood, and Trimble, and even sometimes to corps commanders like Longstreet, Reynolds, and Hancock. Lee specifically warns Longstreet against his habit of going too far forward, as he's already lost a number of generals (particularly Stonewall Jackson) to this trope and feels he cannot spare Longstreet.note 
  • Funny Foreigner: Col. Fremantle probably isn't meant to be funny, but the filmmakers accentuated his Englishness so much by having him wear a bright red dress uniform (which the historical character certainly didn't do), stroll around the Confederate camp daintily drinking tea from a china cup and saucer, and generally have some of the only comic-relief in the entire film that it has this effect.
  • 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.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Harrison laments that spy work is hard on an actor, since if he does the job right the audience doesn't know that he's acting.
  • Groin Attack: A confederate soldier gets nailed between the legs with a rifle stock during the action at Little Round Top.
  • Heartbroken Badass: When Freemantle notes how dour Longstreet often is, it's explained to him that scarlet fever devastated Longstreet's family the previous year. Later, Longstreet is further distressed by knowingly ordering 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:
    • Buford, Chamberlain, and Hancock in the sense that, though their actions aren't really upgraded in any significant way, they are brought to the forefront of the audience's attention in a manner that plays up their importance to the detriment of dozens of equally heroic and important actions elsewhere on the field.note 
    • This film and it's source material played a major role in rehabilitating James Longstreet's reputation in both professional and popular history, which before had mostly followed the ex-Confederate narrative that badmouthed Longstreet as a scapegoat for the defeat at Gettysburg (and therefore the entire war) because he became a Republican and publicly criticized Lee after the war. However, Shaara's narrative takes the opposite extreme of portraying him as the blameless Only Sane Man, effectively arguing that Lee lost the battle (and therefore the war) because he didn't listen to Longstreet, downplaying Longstreet's own command flaws, particularly his somewhat desultory performance on 2 July (which might've affected the overall resultnote ), and especially by painting him as fundamentally against bloody frontal assaults (which his brilliant successes at Gaines's Mill, Second Bull Run, Chickamauga, and his self-determined Epic Fail at Fort Sanders all contradict).
    • Pickett generally receives the Tragic Hero treatment, noticeably downplaying the fact that historically he was at best a mediocre commander and wasn't really tragic in any sense beyond the bare fact of leading one third of the charge.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The film's tunnel focus on the battle neglects the fact that before and after the battle, the Confederates captured African-Americans (runaway slaves, ex-slaves, and freedmen) and sent them back to Virginia as slaves.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • There's a brief shot of a general and his officers surveying the ground with binoculars on Little Round Top. Although given no lines, the actor is playing Gouverneur Warren, the staff officer credited with spotting Hood's division and ordering the Union occupation of Little Round Top, who 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 Webb's 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 Tactics: While today we would call frontal assaults like Pickett's Charge ludicrous, and the film goes out of it's way to put this sentiment into several characters' mouths, the fact is that in this era massive frontal assaults were an entirely acceptable tactical doctrine used by even the most cautious commanders on both sides, and remained so really until the invention of reliable wireless communication. Pickett's Charge was far from the first or the last such assault of the war, and not even the largest or bloodiest, just the most famous (ironically because it almost worked). Moreover, Lee and his men had seen such attacks work at Gaines's Mill, Second Bull Run, and Chancellorsville, and Pickett's Charge actually had fairly good odds of success had the Confederate artillery not overshot the bulk of the Union forces hunkered down tight to the line on the ridge, making it far more of a For Want of a Nail than a Foregone Conclusion.
  • 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 Sumter." 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 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.
  • Hold the Line: The main Union tactic on all three days.
  • 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, necessitating 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, which really happened. Some of the men hotly dispute this and offer to reform and try again.
  • 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 has an energetic and eccentric personality, and is a very animated and entertaining storyteller.
  • Last-Name Basis: Chamberlain tells his brother to address him formally. Generals, on the other hand, tend to do whatever they want.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Subverted. Despite being popularly (mis)remembered as the turning point of the war and the battle the Confederacy couldn't recover from, when Lee blames himself for the failure of Pickett's Charge his men vehemently deny his words and even ask to reform and try again. The closing title card even states, "The spirit of the Southern army was far from broken, and the war would rage on for two more devastating years."
  • Manly Tears:
    • Armistead when telling Longstreet about his last meeting with Hancock before the war and upon learning that Hancock has also been wounded.
    • Joshua Chamberlain when told by Tom that Kilrain has died.
    • 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 
  • 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 insists 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. Ironically, this means Longstreet won't let Hood do tactically precisely what he's upset at Lee for not allowing him to do strategically, thereby refusing to allow Hood to find the actual right flank (out where Chamberlain is) and instead forcing him into a costly frontal assault on Devil's Den.
  • 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 Confederate troops largely lack consistent uniforms like their blue-clad Union adversaries and instead wear a great variety of simple clothes and hats; its basically just the officers who get a grey uniform.note  Meanwhile, even the Federal troops have noticeable variety and customization, particularly in headgear, even within individual units.
  • Not So Different: A major theme of the movie.
    • Armistead and Hancock are by far the most prominent example.
    • Freemantle sees great similarity between England and the honor-bound, aristocratic South.
  • 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.
  • Pocket Protector: A bullet ricochets of Chamberlain's sword scabbard during the battle.
  • Poor Communication Kills: J.E.B Stuart's adventure deprives Lee of vital information and cavalry support during his march north, for which he is calmly reprimanded by Lee when he finally arrives on Day 2.note 
  • Power Trio: Pickett's brigade commanders; Armistead is the ego, Kemper the id, and Garnett the 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 that initially 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, mostly because his VI Corps arrived last and 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 serious but non-fatal 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:
    • 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).
  • 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.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: Some of the Confederates express this view of the Northern focus on slavery as a reason for the war, saying they honestly don't care about it either way and see themselves as fighting for their "rahts". Longstreet even muses that they'd have won their independence already if they'd freed the slaves before firing on Fort Sumter, removing emancipation as a motive for the other side and keeping in Britain and France's good graces.
    • Of course, this is largely Artistic License History because millions in the North vehemently opposed emancipation and supported the war only as an effort to force the South to stay in the Union (not the other way around), and because freeing all the slaves was never a realistic option for the South since as far as its leaders were concerned slavery really was the essential cause and even the poorest white men (while they often expressed it differently) were interested in maintaining their racial dominance, hence why they struggled so hard to end Reconstruction and institute segregation after the war. Even Robert E. Lee called the Emancipation Proclamation a "savage and brutal policy which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death."
  • Sniper Rifle: General John Reynolds is killed by a Confederate sniper armed with a Whitworth rifle fitted with a telescopic sight.
  • 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: Have exhausted their ammunition, Chamberlain realizes, "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 (but survives).
  • 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 captain from another regiment fails to properly address him:
    Capt. Brewer: You're Chamberlain?
    Col. Chamberlain: (Death Glare) Colonel Chamberlain to you.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Pickett, after Pickett's Charge. "General Lee...I have no division!"
  • 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 Almira, 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. However, some of it is Dated History or simply draws controversial conclusions about its characters and their decisions.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Thoroughly inverted since the primary characters are almost exclusively officers who go into great detail about what their plans are and how they think they will work.
  • War Is Hell: Depicting a battle in which over 50,000 men were killed or wounded over three days. The 20th Maine started the war with 1,000 men but has been cut down to 250 by the time of the battle, plus 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 says the doctors have told him his wound taken during Pickett's charge is fatal, but his ultimate fate is not mentioned in the ending, 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.
    • Chamberlain's brigade commander Strong Vincent has a few exchanges with Chamberlain, stresses upon him that he Hold the Line, and is later reported as badly wounded, but no more is said of him. In fact he died of his wounds on July 7th.
    • John Bell Hood is last seen in the hospital in danger of losing his arm and bemoaning the terrible cost of his attack on Day 2. While the doctors would managed to save his crippled arm, he would go on to lose an entire leg at Chickamauga before rising to command the Army of Tennessee, which he would lead to the slaughter in massive frontal assaults at Franklin, sometimes called the "Pickett's Charge of the West."
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A particularly nice example of the trope with the actors faces morphing into the actual historic figures, a nice reverse of the opening credits where the historical figures morphed into the actors.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Armistead gives one 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.''
    • 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.
  • 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.