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Series / The Blue and the Gray

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A 1982 miniseries, which originally aired in three parts on CBS, about an extended family during The American Civil War. Beginning in 1859 and ending a year after the war's end, it examines how the main characters are effected by the conflict. Gregory Peck portrayed Abraham Lincoln.

John Geyser is a Southerner whose family owns a farm in Virginia. He has three brothers, each of them far more serious about agriculture than him. Tired of farm life and hoping to get a job at his uncle's newspaper, he moves to Gettysburg, PA.

This miniseries contains the following tropes:

  • Accidental Hero: Malachi. His gun jams and he runs away from battle. He comes across a Confederate deserter, and they wager their fate on the battle's outcome, ending with the Confederate being taken prisoner. When escorting his prisoner to headquarters, Malachi comes across some Southern stragglers in need of medical attention, who surrender to him. Reaching headquarters with all the prisoners, which (to his CO) he apparently captured with an unloaded weapon, he is issued a commendation and promoted.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The Novelization adapts an eight-hour miniseries in about 300 pages, so there is quite a lot of condensing. Notably, Kathy is completely absent, and Lester is Demoted to Extra and is only mentioned a couple of times after his wedding to Emma despite sharing his TV version’s fate.
  • Altar the Speed: When John returns home for Christmas with news of South Carolina's secession, Emma's fiance realizes that he must rush home to Vicksburg to prepare his business for the now inevitable war, and asks to postpone their engagement. Emma's father reasons differently, as they already have guests and the food for a reception, and has someone go get a parson so the two can be married then and there.
  • Anyone Can Die: It is the Civil War, afterall. Of the Geyser and Hale family, five members (including in-laws) are killed. Two of them aren't even soldiers, albeit one is a smuggler. Numerous supporting characters and friends of the main characters are also killed.
  • Asshole Victim: Mark dies a horrible death in the war. After watching him celebrate Southern secession, insult his brother’s artistic dreams, and say a lynching victim deserved to be murdered, it's hard to argue that he deserved to survive the war, even if he might not have deserved to burn to death.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Emma has her child hours before her husband is killed. He does get to see his child before the shelling begins and his hospital ward is hit.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two sides of the family gather in Virginia for a family reunion after the war, but both sides of the family have had two children killed. One while fighting on that very farm.
  • Black Market: Emma, John's sister, is married to a businessman in Vicksburg who turns to smuggling while the city is under siege. Also in the miniseries, the Union company containing the Hale brothers are bathing in a creek when a small raft containing tobacco floats towards them. Unseen Confederates on the other bank want coffee.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Malachi wets himself at Bull Run. He confesses this to his brother and fears that everyone will notice. His brother notes that they'd just crossed a creek.
  • But Not Too Evil: The Geyser family is southern and supports secession, but their stance on slavery is—for the most part—unknown. Emma seems to be the most racist and wants to own slaves, although even then the context is the ownership of slaves as a status symbol. Jonathon is explicitly stated to be a freedman who rents property on the Geyser farm, and Pa Geyser refuses to participate in his lynching by a corrupt sheriff. It's more vague, however, to the status of the black housekeeper/maid.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Luke and Grundy sneak John and his Northern cousins accross Confederate lines for "a bit of fun". Their CO catches them, and gives them a choice of thirty days latrine duty, or joining the balloon corps. Choosing the latter, Luke and Grundy are shot down on the second mission; Grundy is killed, and Luke is taken prisoner (in a time before the Geneva Convention protected prisoners' rights) by the North, not to be released until toward the end of the war.
  • The Caretaker: John's fiance and later wife, Kathy, becomes a nurse after being placed in a wagon containing wounded troops after the first battle of Bull Run.
  • The Cassandra: In an interview with John and another reporter, a condemned John Brown states that there will be trouble ahead. The reporter is somewhat skeptical.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Welles seems like just a bigoted lynch mob member who only exists to show the darker side of Southern society before he reappears during the war as a General Ripper some time later.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: It's in the title.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: John doesn't want to fight for the south but doesn't want to join the Union out of fear that he'll be forced to shoot one of his own brothers. He takes the third option of being a correspondent.
  • Deadly Doctor: The doctor at Elmira prison camp is said to be this by the Confederate POWs. One soldier said that he heard the doctor boast that he had killed more rebels than any soldier on the front.
  • Death Seeker: Jonas, between Mary's death and Kathy's comforting him at the hospital.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Jonas Steele does this. His dream about Mary is a double-subversion.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Averted. The sergeant who trains the conscripts isn't portrayed like any drill instructor seen before. The most he does is a stern shaking of the head when a bumbling private misfires his rifle while loading.
  • Duel to the Death: John is challenged to a duel by a German suitor of Kathy's after letting her and a third suitor know that he fled a fallen Kathy after their carriage crashed into a crater. Neither die, but the German ends up humiliated once again.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The North won the war; Lincoln was assassinated.
  • Friendly Enemy: The trading scene mentioned above, but John's brother Luke invites John and his two cousins to a barn dance behind enemy lines. Even Luke's commander relents in letting them go after Luke says that he gave his word that they'd get back. Both examples were Truth in Television.
  • General Ripper: A Confederate artillery commander goes a little nuts after his son is killed before his eyes in a Union attack. He goes around the battlefields he's in, murdering Union sentries and the wounded on both sides before being stopped by Jonas.
  • Hollywood History:
    • The eponymous uniforms did not show up in Real Life until late in the Civil War. Initially, soldiers on both sides wore the uniforms of their militias.
    • In the ending, John tells the Senator to smile for a photo. In that era, smiling for a photograph was viewed as indicating loose sexual morals.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Lester recovers from his wounds, only to be blown up when his hospital ward is shelled.
    • Mary survives a literal version of the events in Jonas' dream, only to be killed in Gettysburg.
  • Hypocrite: Emma constantly derides her brother John as a traitor as he won't fight in the war at all, but makes excuses about how her husband smuggles goods out of Vicksburg, sells them to the Yankee towns upriver, and then buys supplies to smuggle back in, at a profit. Her other brother, Matthew, calls her out on this when he is stationed in the town and visits her.
  • Intrepid Reporter: John is an illustrator for Harper's Weekly.
  • Irony: The neutral but Northern-sympathetic John finally picks up a gun and fights—for the Confederacy— as two Union scouts assault his sister while attempting to flank a Rebel cavalry unit that's holding the family farm.
  • Literal Metaphor: For those who think being branded a coward is just an expression, one scene shows otherwise: a soldier caught fleeing from battle is literally branded a coward, with an actual red-hot iron brand.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Malachi erroneously comes across as a fearless and cunning One-Man Army during his Accidental Hero moment.
  • Mistaken for Spies: John initially fears this will happen to him when the war begins due to his not wanting to fight for either side. The fact that he has a southern accent in Gettysburg, PA also helps. Later on, he hires a smuggler to get him inside a besieged Vicksburg, carrying milk and food for his sister and her child. The smuggler is sure that he's a spy, and he's likely carried Union spies in before, since he was recommended to John by a Union officer. An older woman in Vicksburg immediately latches on to John's recent arrival in in the city, and makes him swear on his Virginian honor that he isn't a spy before she takes him to see his sister.
  • Peaceful in Death: Subverted. John's brother dies screaming in the Wilderness as a burning tree falls on him. The Union sergeant of the Hale brothers is shown after he's killed, wearing the shocked and pained expression he had when he died. It is also played straight at Mary's funeral after she is killed in Gettysburg.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Luke, before he is taken prisoner.
  • Self-Deprecation: When asked if he has ever "seen the elephant" (been in a battle), Malachi replies that he has — over his shoulder.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: James lies about his age to join the Union Army but then contracts dysentery and dies before ever seeing the battlefield, which is very much Truth in Television for many soldiers on both sides of the war.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jonas tells John "you've seen too many men die," after looking through the very graphic last few pages of John's sketchbook.
  • The Siege: Vicksburg becomes a major plotpoint as John's sister moves there with her husband before the beginning of the war. John sneaks in once he finds out.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: The duel between John and the German is this kind, with pistols. The German cheats and fires off his shot before he reaches his tenth pace. John turns and quickly finishes his paces before taking aim. When the German looks like he's going to bolt, his own second (and "referee" of a sorts) says that if he DOES bolt, he'd shoot him himself.
  • Theme Naming: The Geyser brothers are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after the four writers of the Gospels.
  • To Absent Friends: After Lee surrenders, Jonas, John, his brothers and other soldiers solemnly march around their campfire with torches for their fallen friends and family.
  • War Is Hell: The aftermath of the Wilderness campaign is shown and is a major plotpoint. John goes out in the evening after the battle has concluded and vows to save at least one person. The forest where the battle happened is burning and wounded soldiers not recovered (including one of John's brothers) often burn to death. Also shown at one point is John's sketchbook, containing graphic drawings of dead and dying men. One involves a a crow...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Kathy's third suitor is never mentioned again after John and the German's duel. Of course, he may very well see that there are two men that seem to be perfectly willing to kill each other for her affections and promptly slinks away.
  • You Are in Command Now: While he was only one rank lower than the man he replaced, Malachi is forced to lead his squad in the Wilderness after their sergeant is killed.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Jonas' attempts to prevent Mary's and Lincoln's deaths prove futile.