Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Crooked Road To Appomattox

4/18/11 - UPDATE # 2: Historian and fellow blogger J. D. Petruzzi has been called in to serve as an historical advisor for the film. For more, see here.

4/15/11 - UPDATE # 1: From the producer - "Pleased and very honored: reknowned historian, Ronald White--Christopher Award winner for "A. Lincoln: A Biography" and his upcoming Grant biography for Random House, has come on board as a historical advisor and will be paying expert attention to the characterization of President Lincoln." This is a very encouraging development. 

A couple of months ago I posted on the upcoming eight-part miniseries To Appomattox, which is being sponsored by NASCAR and gives all of the signs of being a very Lost Cause friendly dramatization of the American Civil War. The entire country music band Rascal Flatts will play varying parts in the film and stock car racer Carl Edwards is slated to portray Confederate General and post war propagandist John B. Gordon. In my first analysis of the project I expressed hesitant hope that the film will strive for accuracy and not fawn over Lee, Jackson, and “the cause” a la Gods & Generals.

Well, now I’ve discovered that the miniseries has a Facebook page which sheds a lot of light on just what we can expect from this production. First of all, it appears that Trace “I ain’t gonna cut my hair til the South gits her rights” Adkins is being approached for the role of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Although Adkins recently stated that he was certain that Confederate soldiers did not fight for slavery, I wonder how he will approach acting out the Fort Pillow massacre, should the filmmakers decide to include it in the film?

Not surprisingly, the movie has already drawn out the die hards. One exchange on the Facebook page reads like this:

Southern Heritage Type: “i truly hope the dignity of the southern soldger is up held they use facts and dont fill it with federal propaganda lets respect our forefathers not ridicule them”

“To Appomattox”: “Thanks...Over my mantle is the portrait of my great great great grandfather Simeon Howard Calhoun, a quartermaster in Lee's Army.”


On the bright side, however, it appears that the miniseries will strive to portray the contributions of United States Colored Troops. When asked, “You will Add USCT troops in this series will you?” the producers responded:

“Absolutely. We follow the story of Captain Andre Cailloux of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard--the first African-American officer in the U.S. Army--from their recruitment and through their heroic service at Port Hudson... We also spend a great deal of time with the tragedy and heroism of the USCT at the Battle of the Crater.”

So country music stars and NASCAR drivers will portray Rebel generals while reasonable folk and loons alike strive to have their voices heard and make sure that the “real” history will make it into the final cut.

Sounds about right for a Civil War movie…


  1. I posted on their Facebook site, & asked if they were going to include XVIII/XXV Corps, & the contributions of the USCT's during the 1864 campaign along the James River, & the capture of Richmond!! I was somewhat concerned, because all they had mentioned was the Louisiana Native Guard. Their response was that it will be covered in episode 8, but they did NOT give any kind of details!!

  2. The "over my mantle" quote appears to be from the executive producer, Michael Frost Beckner.

    I also see the project has the (Facebook wall) endorsement of Patrick Gorman. General Hood, say it ain't so!

    I'm still dubious about how genuine this project is. It still feels more like a pitch of a project, than a project itself.

  3. You totally mischaracterize this production. The bulk of our country music artists play Union generals/characters.

    And what's "fun" about my great-great-great grandfather? If you'd quoted further from my comment you would have shared that I am not portraying a sanitized version of the Civil War. That all sides are being taken into account. What's wrong with that? In order to see evil/wrong we must point it out. A bolder post by you might be had from you engaging in the conversation on that FB page. I certainly can't name any other production, current or past, that actually converses with it's fan base while in pre-production and answers their questions whatsoever. Ask away. Don't make assumptions.

  4. Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to post.

    First of all, I certainly meant no offense to your ancestor.

    Also, it is only out of concern that “all sides are being taken into account” that I have written these two posts on the film. You tell me to “ask away” – well, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I asked about Forrest and the Fort Pillow Massacre. I asked why there are no African American actors listed on the film's website. I asked: “When you see that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Simon Bolivar Buckner (really?), and even Sallie Pickett are major characters in the film you’d think they could find room for, oh, say Frederick Douglass? Harriet Tubman?” And now I’ve given an update that gave kudos to the film for including USCTs.

    Whether I do it on my blog or on Facebook is up to me.



  5. Hi Jimmy,

    Having been able to read through the entire script in it's current form, I would just say to give this project a chance right now. I spoke yesterday at great length with Michael, and he's very much committed to the reality of this project and the characterizations of the main characters. Obviously, there isn't room enough in 8 hours to tell the entire story of a sanguinary event such as the Civil War - but I've been unabashedly impressed with Michael's script and dedication. If I weren't, I wouldn't have signed on to the project. I share the very same concerns as you and others - and I know that there are many who wish their voices to be heard. It's amazing that Michael has indeed engaged the social community (historians, students, authors, reenactors, etc.) more than anyone else has in recent memory. With the Facebook page and Michael's postings on chat boards, I'd say he's quite brave :)

    Anyway, the project is still very much in the development stage, and I think that once it gets further along folks will get more of an idea of what's to come. I do believe that viewers will be quite impressed with the portrayals the actors bring to the screen - they are very aware of the audience they will be playing to, and how "familiar" we all feel to the main characters.

    Best always,
    J.D. Petruzzi

  6. Hi J.D.,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to this post. While it may not be apparent by my two posts on this project, I am very much in this film’s corner. I very much want it to succeed, and that’s why I felt the need to make my concerns vocal. I agree that Michael deserves kudos for taking his project to the streets and letting regular folks give input. I was also very encouraged to see that you and Ron White had signed on to be advisers. That lets me know that the project is moving in the right direction.

    I look forward to seeing how the project progresses and if New Market Heights somehow makes it into the script, have Michael give me a holler!



  7. Jimmy, will do :)
    I do understand your concerns, and I know many have the same. And yesterday Michael and I spoke about all of them. I'm a long-time reenactor in addition to being a student, and you know how we all look at such past and present projects with a critical eye. Each one is the writer/director's interpretation, but Michael is getting the history right. He won't be presenting caricatures or cartoons - I believe we'll be seeing very dedicated, very talented folks giving very human performances.

    Thanks brother!

  8. Hi Jimmy,

    Your concerns have gotten me thinking... We're locked at 8 hours and the scripts are budgeted so adding new material is very tricky. The dramatic spine of the story is Grant's MEMOIR and expanding from that portraying the relationships and historical storylines of those officers who were with him at West Point and in the Mexican War. Politics are very minimal--Lincoln is only portrayed in relationship to his being Commander in Chief. If I could figure out how to put in a Frederick Douglas thread into that context, I would. I would welcome suggestions on that as well... I chose Andre Cailloux and the 1st Louisiana to focus on as not only is he the first African American war hero, he is also distinctive because he is an OFFICER of color leading men of color... As for Forrest he does not appear in the script at all. The reason for this is that his story is not directly connected to the main characters and would have to be fully developed with a dramatic arc on its own; again time and space make this impossible. Thus, Fort Pillow isn't portrayed... That said, I do include the Battle of the Crater and the focus of that sequence is intensely on the heroism of the USCTs and the despicable and tragic "race riot" that takes place in the aftermath of the failed attack...
    Best regards,

  9. Hi Michael,

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you – my wife and I just welcomed our second child into the world on Monday!

    I think showcasing the story of Captain Cailloux and the Louisiana Native Guard is great – it’s definitely a story that needs to be told and I look forward to seeing how their experience is woven into the overall tapestry of the main story line.

    Also, I’m very glad to know that the story of the Crater is being shown as well. I’m proud to say that I am a part of new re-enactment unit that portrays the 23rd USCT – the unit that took the highest casualties in Ferrero’s Fourth Division. If you need any assistance in that area, just let me know.

    I’ve had the time to take a look at the historical consultants for the film and am extremely impressed with the historians you have put together. It will be hard to go astray with such an erudite group of historians advising you.

    I wish you the best as the series continues to take shape and I look forward to seeing new developments as they’re announced!