Editor's note: This article was
originally published in The Charger in February, 2002.
For three weekends this fall, I was
on the set for the upcoming film Gods and Generals, based on the
novel by Jeff Shaara. The film covers the years from John Brown's
raid on Harpers Ferry up to the Gettysburg Campaign. I had a
wonderful experience working with this movie.
The film is bringing
back most of the actors to play the same roles in this prequel to
Gettysburg, including Jeff Daniels as Lieut. Col. Joshua Lawrence
Chamberlain, Kevin Conway as Sgt. Buster Kilrain, C. Thomas Howell
as Lieut. Tom Chamberlain, Brian Mallon as Gen. Winfield Scott
Hancock and Patrick Gorman as Gen. John Bell Hood. Stephen Lang will
be returning, but to play the role of Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’
Jackson. New to the film are Bruce Boxleitner as Gen. James
Longstreet, Mac Butler as Gen. Joe Hooker and Robert Duvall as Gen.
Robert E. Lee. The time I spent on the set was a wonderful
experience for me and three of my friends from Gettysburg College,
Eric Esser, Ian Harkness and John Potter.
The first weekend, Sept. 7-9, Eric, John and I traveled down to
Staunton, Virginia to take part in the filming of the Manassas/Bull
Run scenes of the film. Even after that first weekend, we had a
greater respect for the film industry. We met Stephen Lang (aka
Stonewall Jackson) and Ron Maxwell, director of the film. The filming
was exhilarating; ground charges simulating cannon blasts were going-off all over the place. Fake men and horses littered the field
simulating dead corpses. That weekend gave us the first taste of
what this film was going to be about.
stands with actor, Stephen Lang ("Stonewall Jackson") and
fellow reenactors, Eric Esser and John Potter
The second weekend, Sept. 21-23,
Eric, John and I, along with Ian Harkness traveled to Keedysville,
Maryland to film the scenes for the Chancellorsville sequences in
the film. There we got our picture taken with Stephen Lang. For the
majority of the weekend we were playing the role of the 11th Corps
being overrun by Jackson and his corps; that required a lot of
running. We were set up in a fake camp and when the Confederates
charged, we ran “for our lives.” It was very exhausting but exciting
at the same time. That weekend tested our endurance and the strength
of our legs. After we returned from the Battle of Chancellorsville,
we took some time off to concentrate on our schoolwork.
Eric and I made the final trip to
the film set the weekend of Nov. 30 - Dec.2. The scenes we were there to film
depicted the Battle of Fredericksburg, most notably the
charge up Marye’s Heights. Because the temperature had dropped, we
were put up in a KOA campground, which was surprisingly comfortable.
When we arrived Friday evening, we met two fellow reenactors who were bunking in our cabin. There was a guy named
Steve from the 5th New York and Alex Johnson from the 140th New
York. We had a long discussion about the filming and what to expect
that weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday we were woken-up at 4 am in
order to catch the 5 am bus to the set. We were outfitted with
greatcoats and the most “interesting” part was we were sent to
wardrobe where we were each told to stand in front of a pool filled
with muddy water while wardrobe men flipped it on us with brooms to
make us look like we had just crossed the Rappahannock. Then we went
to the set.
On Saturday we played the role of Zook’s Brigade in
Hancock’s Division and also the 116th Pennsylvania of the legendary
Irish Brigade led by Col. St. Claire Muiholland, played by Tim
One particular event that really got our blood flowing was
when a ground charge went off about a foot away from us covering us
with peat moss, cork and crushed cement. That day was very exciting
adding to the fact that Eric and I got our picture taken with Col. Muiholland.
The next day, Dec. 2, we were told we would be
portraying the 20th Maine charging up Marye’s Heights. Being the
20th Maine allowed us to film with Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), Col.
Adelbert Ames (Matt Letscher), Tom Chamberlain (C. Thomas Howell)
and Kilrain (Kevin Conway). That part of the weekend was the most
exciting because we got to fire while air bursts and ground charges
were going off and men were flying everywhere. The Fredericksburg
scenes had to have been the most exciting of the three weekends we
on the set of Gods and Generals is an event I will never forget. The
film is due to come out in November, 2002 and promises to be more realistic
and graphic than Gettysburg mostly because Gettysburg was made for
television and Gods and Generals is being made for the big screen.
Plans have already been made to begin filming for the final film in
the Shaara trilogy, Last Full Measure, which covers the time after
Gettysburg until the end of the war. The time I spent on the set of
Gods and Generals definitely gave me a greater respect for the
film industry and what goes into making an epic motion picture like
Gods and Generals.