The “Outer Limits” of Gettysburg

I came across an episode of “The Outer Limits” that deals with Civil War reenacting and the battle of Gettysburg. Many of you are no doubt familiar with what I like to describe as the poor cousin of the “Twilight Zone”, which ran from 1963-1965 and than again from 1995-2002. This particular episode features the singer, Meatloaf, as one Confederate Colonel Devine, and tells the story of two young men who are preparing to take part in a reenactment of Gettysburg. The episode reflects many of our popular beliefs about the Civil War, including the assumption surrounding the decisiveness of the battle itself and our love of counterfactuals. Both men are transported back to July 1863 for the purposes of carrying out a mission – a mission that they learn early on will challenge the notion of historical determinism. While the Union reenactor is quite concerned about their predicament, his Confederate friend fully embraces the opportunity to fight for states rights and against big government along with its long lines of “welfare recipients”. For him, this stroke of good luck is a chance to meet and fight alongside his Confederate ancestor for values that he believes they both must share. What is striking is that the viewer learns next to nothing about why the Union reenactor embraces the hobby. I have to wonder whether this is just another example of our inability to fully embrace the importance that so many attached to the preservation of the Union.

As the two friends work to figure out their mission the campaign and battle develop. Of course, since they come from the future they know how the battle will unfold and try desperately to steer it in a different direction. When it is announced in camp on July 1 that J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry will arrive shortly they announce that he is off on a “Glory seeing raid” and will not arrive in time. And, of course, they try to prevent “Pickett’s Charge” from taking place, which the producers mistakenly place on July 2. At one point the two friends end up on the battlefield with the Confederate reenactor’s ancestor, who they find is a coward and shares none of his descendant’s reasons for reenacting. For this ancestor the goal is simply to stay alive and is void of anything connected to principle. The encounter raises the suggestion that reenacting is as much (if not more) about our own perceptions of the past and/or cultural values than it is about the men who actually fought in it.

The episode takes a number of kooky twists before the real mission is finally revealed. Without ruining the plot, let’s just say that their goal is to prevent an assassination that would take place in 2013 on the Gettysburg battlefield. And let’s just say that with the election of our first black president this episode, which originally aired in 1995, is rendered that much more interesting.

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8 comments… add one
  • Daniel Jul 12, 2015 @ 9:49

    Rather than doing chores, a lazy Sunday morning indulging in quality fiction seemed a wise decision.
    Being a proud Canuck, the second generation Outer Limits was and still is a fine accomplishment.
    With that, the ensuing research, re: filming locations, led to Kevin’s excellent dissertation.
    Still searching for that info, as I imagine the reenactment was not in B.C.-
    Inaccuracies aside,a fascinating adventure, which actually had even greater potential deserving, an expanded storyline, easily earning an additional 30-60 minutes. Time and budgets eh.
    For my two cents the potential storyline of the rescued baby could magnify the TT conundrum and possibilities. Time travel writes it limitless self!
    Ok – a great tale – and again–
    Kevin – thank you for your insight – terrific.

  • Zane Charles May 12, 2014 @ 11:09

    Funny when a president takes a fictional show seriously. XD I notice this with other tv shows and movies, sometimes people take them to seriously. It is strange when something happens in tv show/movie then happens in real life, thats kind of spooky. I don’t think hes crazy for doing it, just it is just a tv show at the end of the day. Hey look at the show sliders, there are often episodes on there that were relivent then as they are now. Like in one episode where the girl is inside a buildiong all day, her life is just talking to people on a compiter, never going outside “sound like 2014 much”. Of course the show The Outer Limits, like sliders play on lot of the things going on back then which if you which any given episode they can still relate todays world and problems, and be like these shows must be ahead of there times, for shows like 10+ years old, but maybe the real thing is just they relate the present as they do the past, hey those shows specially the outer limits teach some good lessons, maybe people should listen to them. I often find myself watching them and thinking gee this sounds like thsi or that going on, just like other people, shake my head like yeah sounds like real life to me. Even so its still a tv show, but you got admit they told good stories, makes you wonder why they ever got cancalled, or never got renewed again. “back when tv was good”

  • John Thomas Harper Jr. Jan 22, 2013 @ 16:11

    I know this article is years old, but this Outer Limits episode came to mind with the 2012 election.

  • Mike215 Jan 15, 2013 @ 7:50

    President Obama was reelected in Nov. 2012 and therefore will be a Black president in office in Nov. 2013, the date of his assassination according to this 2000 program. It is one thing to predict the election of a black president eight years before it happened, but to claim that he will be in office in 2013 makes our so called prophets look like nothing.

  • Michael Cohen Dec 4, 2009 @ 14:19

    I find it incredible that this program predicted the election of a black president within a decade. President Obama was elected in Nov.2008 and could be elected again in 2012, it time for the 150th anniversey of the battle. It seems that the other part of the plot is also coming his true: his assassination. Obama has had more death threats then another US president (see President Obama death threats on google) there is incredible incident of the two gate crashers at the White House. Security is weak and he is very lucky that these crashers were not assassins. But remember, the assassin who kills the black president in 2013 is also a gate crasher who was not invited .

  • Peter Culos Jan 2, 2009 @ 14:36

    What an interesting video! Having been a reenactor, I found it even more so. It’s riddled with inaccuracies but entertaining anyway. Obama has been known to invoke Lincoln’s name and will still be in office in 2013 which makes this story all the more chilling.


    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2009 @ 14:47

      Hi Peter, — I agree that it is worth watching even with all of the historical errors. I would say that your referencing of Obama as having “been known to invoke Lincoln’s name” is a bit of an understatement. My guess is that we shouldn’t expect Obama to take part in a ceremony to bury the Confederate flag. (LOL)

      • Tim Apr 29, 2021 @ 10:48

        It’s just a show and the good thing the rebel flag slowly being laid to rest.

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