“War So Terrible”

One of the highlights for me during last week’s Petersburg conference was the opportunity to view Pamplin Park’s feature film, “War So Terrible: A Civil War Combat Film.”  Will Greene describes its inception as a response to visitors who reflected on their experience in the park as somehow enjoyable or entertaining.  Greene and the rest of the staff did not want visitors, especially students, finishing their tour with a glorified view of war.  Rather, they wanted to convey the horrors of battle and the changes that soldiers underwent over the course of the war and beyond.  [This is something that I’ve discussed on this blog on a number of occasions.  See here and here.]

There are two versions of the film, the full length running 48 minutes as well as a less graphic version that runs 23 minutes.  The film is framed around a veterans reunion that takes place somewhere in the South.  During the ceremony both Benjamin Franklin Meyers of the Union and Andrew Jackson Stewart of the Confederacy reflect on their experiences during the war from their first battle to the trench warfare of 1864.  The film delves into questions of why men fought and persevered in the ranks without reducing the war to any one explanation.  There are no transcendent figures and no references to Lincoln, Davis, Lee, Grant or anyone to detract from the focus of the film.  Viewers empathize with both individuals and suffer through some very difficult battle footage, which is emotionally draining.  The film succeeds brilliantly in conveying the emotion of battle.  Finally, the reunion scenes steer clear of the mistaken notion that Lee’s surrender at Appomattox or even later events involving Union and Confederate veterans reflected the healing of old wounds and bitterness.  I don’t want to give too much away about this movie.

At the conclusion of the movie our group remained silent for a few moments before discussing it with Greene and I don’t mind admitting that I had a tear in my eye.  I made it a point to purchase a copy before leaving and I plan on showing the full version to my Civil War class this year.  If you are a teacher I encourage you to purchase a copy through Pamplin Park’s online store.  It’s only $9.95 and I guarantee that you won’t be sorry.

Congratulations to Will Greene and the rest of the staff for this fine film.

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6 comments… add one
  • Andy Hall Jul 16, 2010 @ 19:55

    My copy arrived today. Quite a remarkable presentation, and not a trace of syrupy Lost Cause sentimentality. Some of the big-scale theatrical efforts of recent years would’ve done well to follow this model in feel and (gritty, gory) texture — but then Ted Turner wouldn’t have picked up the tab.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 17, 2010 @ 1:02

      Glad to hear you liked it. It really is a wonderful production.

  • Pamplin Historical Park Jul 8, 2010 @ 6:57

    We are certainly glad you thorugly enjoyed yourself while visiting our Park! We would like to invite you and your readers to our Annual Pamplin Historical Park Symposium held in October. If you are interested in attending or need more information please feel free to contact us or visit our website, http://www.pamplinpark.org. We hope you will be interested in attending and look forward to possibly seeing you in October!

    Thank You,
    Pamplin Historical Park and
    The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier
    (804)861-2408 Office
    (804)861-2820 Fax

    One of “Virginia’s Best Places to Visit” according to the Travel Channel, and designated as a National Historic Landmark, Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is a 422-acre Civil War campus located in Dinwiddie County, Virginia offering a combination of high-tech museums and hands-on experiences. The Park has four world-class museums and four antebellum homes. The Park is also the site of America’s premiere participatory experience, Civil War Adventure Camp. For more information, please call 804-861-2408 or visit http://www.pamplinpark.org.

  • Ken Noe Jul 1, 2010 @ 4:20

    Kevin, I second your recommendation. It’s good history that also packs quite a cinematic punch. Ken

  • Scott Manning Jul 1, 2010 @ 3:26

    Great review. I ordered a copy.

    When I take people on tours now, I bring extra eyewitness accounts from soldiers to read along with the onsite displays. The extra accounts tend to not focus on the glory and the bravery of the charges, but instead talk about the screaming, blood, and methods of dying. I recently took my dad and brother on a whirlwind tour of the Fredericksburg area, Antietam, and Gettysburg. At each battle, I read some of these accounts while we stood on the terrain. For example, the Confederates waiting to perform Pickett’s Charge stayed behind the tree line where they had to listen to fellow soldiers screaming in agony after Union cannon fire hit the treetops and sent splinters raining down.

    My dad and bro definitely enjoyed the trip, but I could tell they had a better understanding of how horrible the experience was. They appreciated the battles, but I doubt either wanted to take part.

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