Wednesday, June 8, 2011

History Channel's Civil War Offerrings

Last week the History Channel offered two two-hour specials on "Gettysburg" and "Lee and Grant."  Unfortunately, neither lived up to my expectations. Viewers of both specials had to sit through a maddening array of commercials that destroyed any flow of the story.

"Gettysburg" was disappointing with an absence of sufficient scene setting for the stories about the individual soldiers.  The special was not billed as an overview of the battle.  Instead it focused on stories about specific soldiers on both sides.  It had some of the same issues that bothered historians about the movie made from The Killer Angels, namely focusing on specific battle segments and neglecting others. Many notables from the battle were omitted --- Hancock, Buford, Reynolds, Chamberlain, Hood, Armistead, and others.  Of course, that is the screen writers/directors choice.  As with many "historical" movies, there were many errors and omissions.  Eric Wittenberg counted "ten ten major factual inaccuracies in the first ten minutes" as reported in his blog The History Channel's Gettysburg

My displeasure with "Gettysburg" was topped by a more unsatisfactory "Lee and Grant" special the following evening.  Like "Gettysburg," the two-hour program was marred by numerous commercials. (I recorded both films on my cable box, so I could fast-forward through the ads.)  This version featured an endless array of interviews with historians and authors.  Their comments were interesting, but too much time was devoted to images of the experts talking in various settings.  I liked the computer graphics of the battles.  The major flaw in the story was that it stopped when Grant moved to the east and confronted Lee.  I would have hoped that a story about both of these generals would have devoted some time to the cat-and-mouse game they played in 1864 and 1865.  In the east, Lee's victories were shared with his able lieutenants Hill, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart. However, in the west, it appeared that Grant won the theater by himself with a little help from Sherman.  Grant was given undue credit for Scott's Anaconda Plan, rallying the troops at Fort Donelson, and winning the second day at Shiloh. 

Neither movie will be added to my collection of Civil War films.  


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