Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Review: Horses of Gettysburg

Over Memorial Day weekend, I viewed with pleasure a rather uncommon documentary film on DVD concerning the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Narrated by Ronald F. Maxwell, director of the epic films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, the documentary film Horses of Gettysburg held my attention from beginning to end.

General Howard Equestrian Monument

With eager anticipation, I placed the first DVD in the tray, sitting back comfortably in my chair, ready for whatever would come. Producer/Director Mark Bussler's beautiful cinematography immediately captured my attention as spectacular high- definition battlefield panoramas gracefully advanced in succession across the screen. Noble equestrian statues rose silhouetted against tranquil, kaleidoscopic sunrises while waves of early morning mists caressed the familiar, sacred landscapes. Gentle breezes subtly intensified the imagery as the fog shrouded grounds eerily mimicked the once ominous smoke covered fields of battle.

Cavalry traversing a stream

While relishing the pristine landscapes, magnificent horses came galloping, trotting, charging, and grazing. Cavalrymen guided their agile, powerful mounts through a trickling brook as the late morning sun slipped through the swaying leaves. Squadrons of mounted re-enactors charged their foes in chaotic cavalry clashes or attacks on stubbornly entrenched infantry. Beautiful horses of common and noble lineage surveyed their surroundings, endured examinations, or gratefully accepted a handful of oats. Although the photography proved the initial source of captivation, the perspectives on the animals and their contributions soon made this production complete.

A quiet moment

After the initial majestic vistas set the stage, the production progressed, offering intriguing perspectives on the war. The film amply met the challenge of presenting unique viewpoints with which to consider this crucial yet so familiar battle. According to the narrative, an estimated 72,000 horses and mules brought the Southern and Northern forces to battle on these now consecrated grounds. About 5,000 lay dead when the conflagration receded at day’s end on July 3, 1863. This battle, this war, could not have progressed as it did without the horses.

Cavalry Charge

The documentary guides you through a brief summary of how horses and their kin impacted society and warfare throughout human history. Progressing to the 19th Century, Horses of Gettysburg adeptly addresses how soldiers on both sides acquired, examined, cared for and trained their horses to adjust to the thunder of artillery, the firing of musketry, the beating of the regimental drums, and the overall pandemonium of deadly battle. A wonderful variety of old photographs, sketches, and paintings cascade across the screen to illustrate the various points made. Interwoven among these vintage photos, the scenes of re-enactors and their animals easily transport you to another time some 140 years past.

Cavalryman firing pistol

Continuing on, you enjoy discussions of how the armies employed the animals, horses and mules alike, to satisfy the many military necessities of the day. Given this film’s title, you also witness lively re-enactments of the roles these animals played, depicting the accomplishments of individuals on horseback, battalions, brigades, or the contributions of mule teams and their drivers. The efforts of Buford’s men on Day 1, J.E.B. Stuart’s and Custer’s cavalry brawl on July 3, 1863, a mule team’s rush of ammunition to desperate troops, Captain Bigelow’s heroism on Day 2, General Farnsworth’s fatal charge, Frank Haskell’s view from the saddle and many other stories make the time immersed in this DVD pass all too quickly. The occasional stubborn mule and their eccentric handlers add a touch of levity and balance to the occasionally somber tales.

As your journey with Disc 1 winds down and the credits roll by, still more awaits the fortunate viewer. During the next several minutes, Mark Bussler adds a wonderful collection of old shots of the battlefield, postcards, photographs and other scenes which keep you glued until the final slide. Then comes Disc 2 which contains over 3 hours of additional special features including 3 personal interviews, 3 documentaries on horses in American history and several Inecom trailers.

North Carolina Monument

Producer/Director Mark Bussler's depictions of fog shrouded fields, frenzied cavalry charges, magnificent horses, compelling stories of sacrifice, playful moments and somber depictions of devastation and tragedy impact on all levels. Along with Ronald F. Maxwell's respectful, authoritative narration, each segment clearly manifests a sense of reverence for the animals, the men and events which so dramatically shaped the country that we call home. The beautiful cinematography inspires. The unique perspective informs. Combined as they are here, I suspect you will do as I did and watch Horses of Gettysburg again.

For more information about "Horses of Gettysburg", please visit www.inecom.com



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