"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 Ted Turner-financed movie about the pivotal battle of The American Civil War 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.
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.
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 Dutch and Longstreet then reminds him that the US beat the British, twice.note Let's be fair, the War of 1812 was really a draw, mostly due to lack of enthusiasm on both sides
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.
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.
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 Ironically, circumstances meant that they ended up veering to the right anyway, and at least in part due to Maj. Gen. Sickles moving the Union III Corps a few hundred yards west, the remainder of Hood's division does nearly catch the Union right flank just as Hood had sought, forcing Chamberlain to lead the 20th Maine all on its own to check the Confederate flanking attempt.
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 the actual cavalry)
Changed My Mind, Kid: Three of the six holdouts from the 2nd Maine. They later join the fight and save Tom Chamberlain.
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 you. 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's quite a few scenes with characters sitting around, discussing the war, slavery, and what could or should have been.
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 BSOD 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.
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 the novel says it killed his wife and children, but in fact at least one of his children survived and his wife lived until 1889.
Disappointed In You: Lee's mild rebuke of General Stuart puts the cocky general in his place better than any shouting or bluster.
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 According to the historical record, the exchange between Lee and Kemper is Truth in Television; Kemper did believe (with good reason) that he'd been mortally wounded in the battle.
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."
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.
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....
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.
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.
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.
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.
Funny Foreigner: Col. Fremantle. He's 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. Apparently 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.
This is likely because Fremantle is a condensed character; the book describes a group of several foreign officers from places like Germany and Prussia, all in colorful national uniform.
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. In real life, Meade moved his units much faster than was expected.
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 for his troops," 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.
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 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.
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 Pickett's advance begins after he's told by Longstreet's artillery chief to "Hurry up, for God's sake, or the artillery can't help you!". 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. Fremantle views it in a more positive light and sees it as something the South and Britain have in common.
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.
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.
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.
Armistead while telling Longstreet about his last meeting with Hancock before riding to war.
Joshua Chamberlain when told by Tom that Kilrain has died.
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.
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. *
The reason for this was a lack of centralized logistics for all units, so clothes were being supplied by individual states that were frequently incapable of the textile industries to produce uniforms for troops in addition to Union blockades preventing them by buying them elsewhere quickly.
Not So Different: Armistead and Hancock, most prominently, but this is a major theme of the entire movie.
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.
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 slight importance.
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).
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-
A deleted scene strongly suggests that Devil's Den was one for Hood's divisionnote even though they actually took the hill, just as Hoodnote and Longstreet — though he (and Hood by proxy) were overruled by Lee feared in the theatrical cut.
Chamberlain quotes Hamlet in the "Killer Angels" discussion with Kilrain (in the novel it is the Title Drop scene).
Single-Issue Wonk: Several 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.
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.
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.
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 Jerk Ass 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.
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 0. 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 ten thousand men dead on the field.
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.
Amistead (about Hancock): "The Lord don't make 'em any better, and that's a fact!"