Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
My apologies for the lack of posts the past few days: Ol’ Robbo has been somewhat under the weather, perhaps due to his recent physical exertions in re digging out (which see below), perhaps due to subsequent flu-like symptoms which have plagued him because (according to his family’s collective harping) he skipped this year’s flu shot.
Anyhoo, this evening ol’ Robbo finally got around to watching the movie “Field of Lost Shoes“, the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who fought in the Confederate victory at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864.
I will tell you here and now (those of you who don’t know) that VMI to this very day is damned proud of those boys. And so she should be.
Overall, I thought it a reasonably good movie in the tradition of buddies-forged-in-the-fire-of-war films. It was fairly small in scope, apropos the relatively small scale of the battle and the units who fought in it. Also, I would rank it fairly high in the recent spate of Civil War pictures spawned by the success of “Gettysburg” in terms of battlefield depictions and strategic commentary.
I recall that when this pic came out, there was a good deal of po0-pooing from the usual suspects owing to its alleged ambiguous treatment of the overriding moral issues involved. Frankly, ol’ Robbo didn’t see what the bloviating was about: Slavery was depicted categorically as a Bad Thing throughout, doomed by most (North and South) as ending sooner or later anyway. Yes, there were a number of other issues – family, honor, duty, tradition – superimposed across this, but I fail to see why this should come in for criticism. (Of course, ol’ Robbo is the kind of fool who still believes that people in 1864 should be judged by the standards of, oh, 1864, and not by those of 2014. Hindsight is not only a bitch, she’s a blind one, too. He’s also the kind of fool who believes that logic should play any role in professional grievance-mongering. Silly o’ Robbo.)
Now for my own geeky criticisms of the film:
Casting: I know nothing of the actual Keydets involved, so can say nothing about their characters. I also know next to nothing about John C. Breckinridge, the Confederate commander, so can offer nothing much about the casting of Jason Isaacs to play him. Werner Daehn as Union General Franz Sigel? Well, maybe, although from what I have read, Sigel’s actual German accent was much worse than portrayed here, even if his incompetency was not. But Tom Skerritt as Sam Grant? I. Don’t. Think. So.
Historick Story: As I mentioned above, this is a fairly small-scale movie about a relatively small-scale battle. Nonetheless, the movie itself presents New Market as a “pivotal” battle of the Civil War. Okay, I understand marketing and all that, but no, New Market was not that pivotal. Yes, Grant envisioned the Eastern Campaign in terms of getting Lee into a clinch somewhere along the Washington/Richmond line and then kidney-punching him down the Shenandoah Valley. Yes, Sigel’s inept failure at New Market was a set back to that plan. But the thing about the imbalance of forces in the War was that the Union could afford such losses and still come back for more, sticking to its strategy through superiority of manpower and materiel. After Sigel’s inept handing, Grant tasked “Little” Phil Sheridan with the job of wiping out the Shenandoah, which Sheridan did with ruthless efficiency. Bottom line: It would have happened one way or another.
Also, the Battle of New Market, including the indisputably gallant charge of the Keydets, occurred in large part during a violent thunderstorm, a thing not at all uncommon in the Valley in May. Why did not the producers take advantage of this fact in order to emphasize the drama?