Film: 3032

History | 1950 | Sound | B/W


1950s American Civil War educational documentary with lots of costume reconstructions. Not overly detailed.

Opening shot, with title frame, of an iron horse steam engine slowng down towards the camera. Soundtrack song is 'When Johhny Comes Marching Home'. Close up of front of engineband smoking chimney stack with lamp. Two white flags of truce are carried either side. The engine no.117 is clearly visible on the front plate of the boiler.

Train is part of re-enactment to show Abraham Lincoln arriving at Gettysburg to deliver his famous address of 1863. Having shown Lincoln stepping off the train, the film steps forward to the present (1954), and a panning shot that rises from ground level to capture dozens of numbered, but apparently nameless, headstones of those who died in the conflict. To the background strains of the American National Anthem, the commentary states

'Today Gettysburg lies peaceful and quiet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.'

Whilst further stating that what happened there 'back in time' is history, the commentary and camera moves to the vastness of the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys lying astride the Potomac River, the two valleys being filmed at sunset. The camera descends to one of the valley floors, dense with wooded undergrowth to rise at the meeting point of the two - Harper's Ferry. It was here in 1859 that the fervent abolitionist John Brown made his attack on a Federal arsenal in order to establish a precedent for the overall end of slavery. As 'a grave and tragic conflict springs to life…' the words of John Brown are recalled, accompanied by the ominous sounds of eruption into war.

'I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.'

A full face photographic portrait and a cartoon of Brown as a raving advocate of violence are shown as the tone and atmosphere of the film deepen. The cartoon also has uncanny resemblance to Lincoln!

These fade to the next shot of the cementary at Haroer's Ferry, looking right out over the valley head and onto the Potomac estuary.

'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul marched on above the great valley anticipating a deadly struggle between two ways of life.'

Shot of the wheels of an iron horse slowly moving forward, right ot left across the screen, illustrating the industrial and powerful North, '…an area both agirculturally rich and industrially productive …a land where factories were becoming part of the landscape.'

Excellent frame shot of chimneys and factory smoke, with a cornfield in the foreground, all silhouetted aginst the setting sun. The industrial and mighty North - the embodiment of the Union. Immediate contrasting long shot of a gutted run down Southern Antebellum mansion; '… a way of life depending on the hand labour of slaves.' Merging shot goes to close up a black worker's hand picking cotton and other colleagues employed in the physical demands of such work . The film, apparently shot during the fall, adds to the atmosphere of decay and rotteness. 'A different way of life that seemed to call for a different kind of government.'

A contemporary quote is recited along with these images,

'This Union was established on the right of each state to do as it pleased on the question of slavery. And every other question.'

As the cotton fields fadea full face photographic portrait of Lincoln is closed in on. The words of his House Divided speech come resoundingly in,

'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'

Single frame shot of a field gun firing and the muzzle smoking, followed by a contemporary painting of Fort Sumter under fire and ablaze. 'April 12th 1861 - Confederate guns fire on Fort Sumter.' Background soundtrack of bombardment, gunfireand explosions, at night. 'The war had come.'

A lone trumpet call alongwith a long shot of a field at harvest time, low hills in the middle distance, a mountain range to the far distance. Fade in to a superimposed image of a map of the Southern States, showing those seceded by the time of the outbreak of war. South Carolina had been first in December 1860, quickly followed by Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisianna and Texas, all by April 1861. Only Virginia hesistates as Robert E. Lee shows grave concerns. His words are spoken , with a full face portrait being shown.

'If Virginia stands by the Union, so will I. But if she secedes, then I will follow my native state with my sword. And if need be with my life.'

Long shot of grand façade of Antebellum Mansion of impressive Greek and Roman temple design (possibly Lee's). Tracking shot inside to study room with grandfather clock on the far wall, irrepressibly ticking away. Virginia secedes on 17th April 1861 and '… the North lost more than a state - it had lost a general.' The camera thens spirals upwards to an overhead shot of chess board and pieces laid out on a round table with pieces set as if in the middle of a game; one white and two black pieces have been knocked over to one side of the board. Camera stays with this shot for several seconds.

The commences proper; July 21st 1861 - The Battle of Bull Run. Slow moving re-enactment close-up shot of Union troops waiting behind earthenworks, contemplating and alone with their thoughts in the face of battle; 'Man or boy, Johnny Reb or Billy Yank…' Montage sequence of artillery opening fire and battle ensuing. Horizontal tracking shot through woods following 'The raw Northern troops (who) hadn't meant to run that day, but run they did.' The re-enactment of the chaos of early modern warfare is illustrated and the point made that, 'It wasn't going to be a short war.'

The Battle of Bull Run is said to be a Northern defeat, but certainly not a decisive one. There is a jump forward to the spring of 1862 and the Union Commander McClellan's Peninsular campaign. A year into the war and now with a large and fully trained force, the Army of the Potomac, McClellan embarks to the James River and to drive onto Richmond, Virginia.

Tracking shot along the banks of the James River with a steam paddle boat on the far water's edge. Image of an unidentified engraving of mass troop movement and collection of vessels, presumably at the mouth of the James and that they are Northern troops. Hard and bitter fighting brings them to within four miles of Richmond, '…the heart and symbol of Confederacy.' With victory and the war's end simultaneously in sight, McClellan learns that Washington is under threat from Rebel cavalry.

Lateral tracking shots of unidentifiable mounted troops, galloping left to right in front of gun emplacements. McClellan halts the rebels but is himself defeated by the minority force of Lee's troops, during a series of battles known as the Seven Days Battle. Repeat shot of previous harvested cornfield again with a simple superimposed map, this time of the McClellan's campaign and theatre of action, showing disposition of Richmond and Washington and displacement of opposing forces threatening each; the war in the East reaches a state of indecisiveness. The war in the West, however, is very different.

Camera shots move to presumably the Cumberland River in Tennessee, where an unknown Union General makes a name for himself. Shot to a photographic portrait of Ulysses S. Grant in uniform and particulalrly reflective mood. At Fort Dunnison on the Cumberland, he surrounded the rebel forces and on being asked what terms of surrender, he replies, 'No terms, but only those of unconditional surrender.' The reputation stays Grant for the war's duration and he is known only as 'Unconditional Surrender'.

A second jump in time to 6th April 1862. Images of Grant's headquarters, a requisitioned Antebellum mansion and tracking shots through woodlands, past log cabins, and to the banks of either the Tennessee or Charleston. With a soundtrack of the furious din of war, this is the Battle of Shiloh, where the Confederates attempt to drive the Union army back up north and east over these vast dividing rivers. Reverse tracking shot of a re-enactment of four Union soldiers stalking through grassfields to reinforce and hold their positional ground on the 7th. An almost guaranteed and disastrous. Confederate victory is narrowly averted, but the cost of Shiloh 'is more terrible than can be imagined.' side shot of right wheel of field gun and barrel overlooking a barren and desolate field. Grant's thoughts are recalled,

'I look at a field over which the Confederates had made charges the day before, now so covered with dead.'

Gradual merging shot to a paramount view on top of either the Appalachian or Blue Ridge Mountains. Further dissolve of a map, showing through ships and sweeping arrows the emergent northern strategy. To the east and far south a complete naval blockadeand to the west splitting the Confederacy by way the great dividing rivers. However, whilst the west was vital, in the east Lee was still very much a force to be reckoned with.

Camera moves to an impressive stone bridge across the Potomac and rests at presumably Antietam Creek, where Lee and McClellan are set to clash. Shots of windswept fields at the end of harvest time; in two days Antietam becomes one of the bloodiest struggles of the war.

Although barely a Northern victory, as Lee fails to pursue his advantages, it is still declared as one, being the breakthrough Lincoln has been holding out for. Longshot of the White House and tranquil lawns, fading to a second portrait of Lincoln and his words follow,

'All persons held as slaves within any state, the people of which shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.'
The commentary further compounds these thoughts by noting, 'The fate of the Union and the fate of slavery were now one and the same.'

Panningshot over unidentified eastern farm fields during spring time; little stone bridge over a stream, weary, dishevelled and lifeless trees. Camera tracks from right to left to rest on outlying farms and ploughed fields. It is early summer 1863 and the war is into its third year.

30th June 1863 - The Battle of Gettysburg. 75,000 men under Lee; more than 90,000 under the command of General Meade. From a long shot of the town's church tower, a series of montages follows of surrounding landscape, gun emplacements, outlying rocky outcrops, farms and fields. Lee is unsuccessful and another re-enactment shows Union troops camped in a Pennsylvania graveyard. One soldier lies outstretched asleep, another leans on his right elbow,legs outstretched, waiting; a third is on sentry in the middle background, four rifles are arranged in a stack.

The third morning breaks and shots of many guns exchanging fire, fill the screen. Tracking shots of Union soldiers running over difficult terrain and stone walls, bullets ricocheting, one soldier is 'shot' in the back. A brief silence follows, broken only by a a deathly drum beat, as a forward tracking shot captures the bodies of dead Confederate soldiers in a shallow ditch - deformed, mishappen and grotesque. The Battle of Gettysburg all but seals the fate of the Confederacy.

Shot to a wooden stage and a crowd gathered as Lincoln visits battlefield. Re-enactment shows him at a dedication to the dead on both sides, calling for 'a re-birth that will not perish.'

The war however continues and scenes move westawrds again, where Grant had finally proved that Lincoln now 'had a fighting General.' Tennessee, the way into Georgia was now in Union hands. More superimposed maps and shots of huge mortars reveal the Northern supriority and industrial strength coming to bear upon and divide the Confederacy, as General Sherman lead the way into Georgia. Shots of contemporary paintings of the successful Union armies and Atlanta ablaze by 6th August 1864. 'There followed a 300 mile march to the sea, during which the garden area of the Confederacy was laid to waste.'

A montage of burnt out churches, cotton storage buildings, homes and Antebellum mansions. The destruction and waste of the Southern states is crippling and decisive by April 1865. On the 9th Grant and Lee, two former gradutes of West Point Military Academy, meet at Appomattox to discuss peace. This time grant does not stipulate unconditional surrender. Shot of interior of discussion house and room; simple and modest for such an important occasion. Lee requests,

'My men would like to take their mounts home with them for the spring ploughing.', and Grant replies,

'Yes, its doubtful they will be able to put in a crop without the horses they are now riding.' Still shots of both mens faces from a contemporary painting; Lee on the right side facing left, and Grant sitting oppsite. To the strains of 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah' shots come in re-enacting demobbed soldiers out of uniforms, smiling and fraternising and riding off into the hills and mountains, all filmed in bright sunshine. Accompanying these images are the resounding words of an unidentified commander or political statesman, yet presumably from their tone northern, spoken at the war's end.

'With malice toward none, with charity to all, let us bind up the nation's wounds. To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and for his folk. To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.'

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