Inside the Vaults: Discover the Civil War

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I’m always on the hunt for something new in Civil War exhibitions. The good folks at the National Archives and Records Administration have produced a brief video about their exhibition, “Discovering the Civil War” which you can view by clicking the image below.

Inside the Vaults

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In the exhibition, they “share little-known facts and extraordinary discoveries found in the incomparable Civil War holdings at the National Archives.” Many stories and documents “are shared for the first time in this exhibition, the most extensive display ever assembled from these records.” A highlight is “rarely-seen original footage from Civil War reunions in 1917 in Vicksburg, MS, and 1938 in Gettysburg, PA.”

The exhibit invites visitors to consider and ask questions about the evidence found in the records, listen to a wide variety of voices from the Civil War era, and make up their own minds about the struggle that tore apart these United States.

The exhibit will feature fascinating environments and compelling interactives, but what makes the exhibit extraordinary is surprising records. Displayed alongside famous milestone documents will be hundreds of less well-known ones, such as the unratified 1861 version of the 13th amendment, a message from a Southern governor rejecting Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the rebellion, and the Constitution of the Confederacy.

Shown in two parts in Washington D.C., Discovering the Civil War” Part One, “Beginnings,” ran from April 30, 2010, through September 6, 2010. Part Two, “Consequences,” opened November 10, 2010, at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

After the Washington venue closes on April 17, 2011, the two parts of “Discovering the Civil War” will be combined and travel to seven additional venues around the country beginning in June 2011. I’m hopeful that Kansas City will be one of them!

The exhibition’s very fine website is accessible here.

The National Archives Discovering the Civil War

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John Woo’s Epic Film…Red Cliff. Civil War in Ancient China

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Red Clilff Trailer

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that takes the visual depiction of battle to a new level (Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan).  John Woo’s epic film, Red Cliff, does just that. Based on the actual Battle of Red Cliffs (see the Red Cliff Wiki here) that took place in the winter 208 CE, the film depicts the conflict between northern Chinese Prime Minister Cao Cao, and a coalition of southern forces led by Liu Bei and Sun Quan. While fact and fiction undoubtedly blur, the film is based on Records of Three Kingdoms, which provides a more historical view of the epic battle than that depicted in the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Its American distributor is Magnolia Pictures who kindly sent me a review copy last week.

This film demands your full attention. It depicts both land-based and naval warfare in an age when weapons included sword and shield, bow and arrow, spear, and fire bombs. Woo went BIG in imagery and battle size. Cao Cao was reported to have brought 800,000 soldiers to invade the south on twently thousand ships so Woo used Army soldiers to supplement extras. Animators did the rest. Those interested in the animation techniques used in creation of the film will find interesting Bill Desowitz‘s article “The Battle of Red Cliff — John Woo Style!,” on the Animation World Network here. Pay particular attention to the Tortoise Shell Formation battle (below), one of the highlights of the film.

Turtle Formation Battle Scene

Animator’s also created the immense fleet of ships on which Cao Cao transported his army south. The climatic naval battle is beyond anything I’ve seen on film. Your attention is also required because the film, made in Mandarin, uses English subtitles that are occasionally difficult to see.

Red Cliff Trailer from Magnolia Pictures

Wildly popular in China since its 2008 release, Red Cliff is now available to American audiences in select theaters and through video on demand (VOD) in a abridged format (the original film is in two parts and runs over four hours).

The cast, while perhaps less familiar to American audiences, includes some of the most popular actors on the planet.

Zhang Feng-Yi (Prime Minister Cao Cao)
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Strategist and warrior Zhou Yu (Ye))
Takeshi Kaneshiro (Shu strategist Zhuge Liang)
Yong You (Liu Bei)
Chang Chen (Sun Quan)
Vicky Zhao Wei (Wu princess Sun Shang Xiang)
Lin Chi-Ling (Zhou Yu’s wife, Xiao Qiao)
Shido Nakamura (Gan Xing) [also appeared in Letters from Iwo Jima]
Hu Jun (Zao Yun)

HIGHLY RECOMMEND

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Gettysburg: The Film, The Books, The Battle

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Little Round Top Union Breastworks

Little Round Top Union Breastworks (Source: The National Archives) Brady

Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.

My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.

Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I’ve been enjoying the perspectives of several ACW bloggers on their top ten books on Gettysburg which Brett over a TOCWOC has nicely organized for us here.

Check them out. Very much worth perusing.

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WWII Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West Premiering May 6 on PBS

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In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d been contacted by a publicist at PBS to preview the upcoming documentary that begins airing this week (May 6th), WWII Behind Closed Doors. I’ve had a chance to watch the full documentary and found it fascinating.

When I think of PBS, I think of credibility. Add credibility to reenactments performed by an extremely talented cast, the drama of war on a global scale, and the intrigue of information hidden from the public for decades, and the result makes for excellent viewing.

The story largely centers around Joseph Stalin – his hatred of Poland, betrayal by Hitler, paranoia and its impact on his leadership cadre, dealings with Churchill and Roosevelt, and hand in decisions that doomed millions. It also depicts how a few leaders determine the fate of nations. The deception around Stalin’s atrocities against Poland, these lies perpetuated by England and the United States, is startling. Another of the documentary’s highlights is its presentation of the war from the view of the Poles.

This from the publicist…

Rare wartime documents made briefly available only after the fall of the Soviet Union help reveal the real story of confidential meetings held during the war between c. Award-winning historian and filmmaker Laurence Rees (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, Nazis – A Warning from History) tells the hidden story of Stalin’s back room dealings – first with the Nazis and then with Roosevelt and Churchill. By juxtaposing conventional documentary elements with dramatic recreations, WWII Behind Closed Doors breaks through the myths of the Allied powers, illuminating the hidden motivations of “The Big Three” and creating a dynamic reappraisal of one of the seminal events in world history.

View an excellent video on the making of the series here.

Click on image to view

Click on image to view

For full information on each episode and a wealth of additional information, see the PBS program site here or by clicking on the image below.

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For more information on Laurence Rees, see his website here or by clicking on the image below.

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Civil War Movie – American Drummer Boy

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This week, I had the opportunity to view the independent film American Drummer Boy by Writer/Director C. Dorian Walker and producer, Elain Nogay Walker. The story takes place in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and chronicles the coming-of-age of young Johnny Boone (Cody Newton) who runs away from his Kentucky farm in hopes of joining his hometown unit, Company A of the 11th Kentucky Infantry, U.S. His adventures take him behind Confederate lines where he is captured and accused of being a spy. With the help of a shady English minstrel, Reginald T. Deets (Clay Watkins), he escapes but is forced to mascaraed as a Rebel drummer with the 24th Mississippi Regiment. He experiences battle on the other side before eventually escaping to the North and finding his unit. There, while serving as drummer boy, he demonstrates valor under fire and is awarded the Medal of Honor (this a true occurrence).

Walker bases the storyline on a compilation of true events. Those events are described in some detail in a companion documentary, Call to War, also on the DVD, which is quite good and includes interviews with historians such as Bill Bright, Curator of the Kentucky Historical Society. It tells the true stories of  William Horsfall, 14, who became one of the youngest recipients of the Medal of Honor and Asa Lewis who, although serving with distinction, was sentenced to death before a firing squad of his own unit because he went home to help his recently widowed mother put a crop in.

Two performances stand out in the film. Cody Newton (X Files, The Movie)  is quite good in his lead role of young Johnny Boone (pictured above). Clay Watkins also does an admirable job as Reginald T. Deets, Johnny’s sometimes mentor. The music score by Eric Colvin is outstanding.

The film will be of interest to Civil War re-enactors because of its attention to historical details and would be perfect for young audiences as a teaching tool for the American Civil War. The team has put together a nice website which includes teacher resources available here. Recommend.

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