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Gettysburg Movie True Story: 7 Biggest Changes – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Gettysburg Movie True Story: 7 Biggest Changes



Gettysburg is widely praised for its historical accuracy, but there are certain facts about the true story behind the 1993 film that director Ronald F. Maxwell had to alter for the big screen. The epic war drama is based on Michael Shaara’s 1974 historical novel, “The Killer Angels,” which chronicles the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 during the American Civil War and the events leading up to the tragic fight. The movie runs a little over four hours to capture the intricacies of the notorious battle and remain as faithful as possible to history and “The Killer Angels.”

Upon its release in 1993, Gettysburg received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Film critics were enamored with it, while many historians were astounded by the thought and detail put into its production. However, despite being one of the most historically accurate movies ever made, Gettysburg had to make some changes to the monumental battle for the sake of runtime and storytelling.

One notable change was Martin Sheen’s portrayal of Robert E. Lee. Sheen, although brilliant as the infamous Confederate general, is about four to six inches shorter than the real Lee. While Lee’s exact height is debated, he was believed to be around five foot eleven inches to six foot one inch tall, whereas Sheen is five foot seven inches. This minor alteration speaks to the overall authenticity of the film.

Kieran Mulroney played Major Moxley Sorrell, a soldier fighting for the Confederacy in Gettysburg. However, during the actual Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Sorrell held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, having been promoted from Major on June 18, 1863. The filmmakers inexplicably reverted Sorrell’s rank to Major for the movie, and the reason behind this change remains unclear.

While Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s role in Gettysburg is extensively depicted, the leader of the Union Army, Major General George Meade, is largely ignored. Richard Anderson briefly portrays Meade in the film, with only around 60 seconds of screen time. Given the movie’s four-hour duration, it is surprising that the director chose to diminish Meade’s presence. Meade was undeniably one of the most significant figures in the Battle of Gettysburg, and viewers relying solely on the film might be unaware of his importance.

The film emphasizes the friendship between Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, portraying it as a crucial plot point. However, their friendship was exaggerated for dramatic effect. While they were indeed friends in real life, the movie amplified the angst of their relationship due to fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War.

One fictional character in Gettysburg is Sergeant Buster Kilrain, played by Kevin Conway. Kilrain was created solely for Michael Shaara’s novel and was later adapted for the film. Although some speculate that Kilrain’s character was partially inspired by Sergeant George Buck, who was critically injured during the battle, Kilrain is not based on a real person who fought at Gettysburg.

In the film, Lewis Armistead, mortally wounded, speaks with Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain on Cemetery Ridge. Armistead requests to see General Hancock but is informed of Hancock’s injury. He then asks Chamberlain to convey his regrets and apologies to Hancock. However, this conversation did not occur in real life. Armistead actually spoke with Captain Henry Bingham, a member of Hancock’s staff. The director chose to have Chamberlain take on this role to avoid introducing a new character at the end of the film.

Another alteration made for storytelling purposes was the inclusion of multiple conversations between Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet during the Battle of Gettysburg. In reality, such meetings never took place during the events of the Civil War. The director added these scenes to enhance the emotional weight of the movie, even though their relationship was dramatized.

Despite these changes to the Battle of Gettysburg, Gettysburg remains an incredible portrayal of this historic moment. It captures the essence of the battle and offers viewers a glimpse into the events that unfolded during those fateful days in 1863.

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Gettysburg is often applauded for its historical accuracies, but there are some facts about the true story behind the 1993 film that director Ronald F. Maxwell had to change for the big screen. The epic war drama is based on Michael Shaara’s 1974 historical novel The Killer Angelswhich recounts the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 during the American Civil War and the days leading up to the tragic fight. The movie is a little over four hours long to account for the intricacies of the notorious battle and be as accurate to history and The Killer Angels as possible.




Following the release of Gettysburg in 1993, it received overflowing positive reviews. Film critics loved it, but many historians were amazed by the thought and detail that went into the making of the film. But, of course, despite it being one of the most historically accurate movies ever made, Gettysburg had to make some changes to the momentous battle for the sake of runtime and storytelling.



Martin Sheen Is Much Shorter Than Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee & James Longstreet in Gettysburg.

Martin Sheen’s resemblance to his character Robert E. Lee, or lack thereof, might be a minute change, but that’s what we’re dealing with when it comes to Gettysburg. Of course, Sheen was brilliant as the infamous Confederate general, but he is also about four to six inches shorter than he was. Lee’s exact height is highly debated, but he was said to be around five foot eleven inches to six foot one inch tall. Meanwhile, Sheen is five foot seven inches. But if one of the biggest changes in Gettysburg is Lee’s height, that says a lot about the authenticity of the movie. Related: Sound Of Freedom True Story: 3 Changes To Tim Ballard’s Story (& 4 Things The Movie Gets Right)

Moxley Sorrel in Gettysburg.

Kieran Mulroney played Major Moxley Sorrell, a soldier fighting on the Confederacy’s side in Gettysburgbut that wasn’t the real Sorrell’s title during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Back on June 24, 1862, the Confederacy promoted Sorrell to major, and less than a year later, on June 18, 1863, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Since the Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1 to July 3 in 1863, he would have been Lieutenant Colonel Moxley Sorrell, not Major Moxley Sorrell. For some reason or another, the filmmakers reverted Sorrell’s rank to major for the movie, and unfortunately, it’s unclear why this change was made for Gettysburg​​​​​​.

Union Major General George Meade’s Importance In Gettysburg Is Ignored

George Meade in Gettysburg.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee played a significant role in Gettysburg. He was the commanding leader of the Confederate States Army during the Battle of Gettysburg, after all. However, the leader on the Union Army’s side — Major General George Meade — is rarely seen in the movie. Richard Anderson plays Meade in Gettysburgbut he appears on the big screen for 60 seconds at the most.

Given that the epic war drama is over four hours long, it is surprising that the director chose to cut Meade’s character out of most of the film. Meade was undoubtedly one of the most significant figures at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, and for those whose main reference for the notorious fight is the 1993 movie, they might not even know who Meade was. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, General John Buford, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, and other Union figures are focused on in Gettysburg rather than the man who leads them all. Related: Thank You For Your Service True Story: What Happened To The Real Adam Schumann & Veterans Explained

Winfield Scott Hancock & Lewis Armistead’s Friendship Is Exaggerated In The Film

Longstreet & Armistead in Gettysburg.

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and Brigadier General Lewis Armistead are two of the most significant characters in Gettysburgand the push and pull of their star-crossed friendship serves as an important plot point in the film. But according to Emerging Civil Warthe movie exaggerated the two men’s friendship for the purpose of pathos. Hancock and Armistead were friends in real life as they met while fighting for the antebellum army, but the angst of their dynamic and fighting on different sides of the Civil War was embellished for the sake of storytelling.

Buster Kilrain Is Not Based On A Real Person

Buster Kilrain in Gettysburg.

Almost every character in Gettysburg is based on a real person who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, except for Sergeant Buster Kilrain, who was played by Kevin Conway. Kilrain was an entirely fictional character created for the purposes of Shaara’s novel, The Killer Angels. The sergeant was then adapted for the big screen in Gettysburgand he became one of the most popular characters in the film. Some believe that Shaara partly based Kilrain’s character off of Sergeant George Buck, who was critically wounded during the battle just like Kilrain in Gettysburg​​​​​​.

Tom Chamberlain & Lewis Armistead Didn’t Speak On Cemetery Ridge

Armistead in Gettysburg.

Toward the end of GettysburgLewis Armistead is shot by the Union Army and mortally wounded. Union soldiers capture him, and as he’s dying, the brigadier general speaks with Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain. Armistead requests to speak with General Hancock, but Chamberlain informs him that Hancock had been wounded, as well. Armistead has an emotional reaction after hearing the awful news about his friend, but then he makes one last request. He sends his regrets to Hancock and implores Chamberlain to tell the general how sorry he is. However, that isn’t how the conversation happened in real life.

Chamberlain wasn’t the soldier Armistead spoke with on Cemetery Ridge while he was bleeding out. In reality, he had a conversation with Henry Bingham, a captain on Hancock’s staff. But as Emerging Civil War points out, the director had no desire to introduce a new character at the end of the film. So instead, the filmmaker just had Chamberlain be the one to talk with Armistead in Gettysburg​​​​​​. Related: 20 Great War Movies That Were Hugely Controversial

Robert E. Lee & James Longstreet Never Met As Much As They Did In Gettysburg

Robert E. Lee & James Longstreet in Gettysburg.

Emerging Civil War revealed that Gettysburg changed one other detail about the Battle of Gettysburg for the sake of storytelling — Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s numerous conversations. In the film, the two men met during the second and third nights of the Battle of Gettysburg, and both scenes are rather poignant. However, the meetings never happened in real life during the events of the American Civil War.

The director wanted to add more emotional weight to the movie, so he included the various talks between Lee and Longstreet. But the fact of the matter is that their dynamic was dramatized in the film. Despite the seven big changes made to the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburgthe movie still holds up as an incredible depiction of the infamous moment in history.

Source: Emerging Civil War

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