- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. Snowflakes fall as a squad of rifle-wielding skirmishers moves warily down the street, followed by a column of Confederate infantry.
Behind them, on horseback, ride the top commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia: Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. An old man steps into the street and accosts the Confederate leaders, complaining that the Yankees have ransacked the town.
"Cut," yells Ron Maxwell, director of "Gods and Generals," a Civil War epic currently filming on locations around Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
The generals on horseback are actually actors Robert Duvall, Bruce Boxleitner, Joseph Fuqua and Stephen Lang. The "snow" is actually feathers, blown into the air by special-effects technicians.
The Confederate troops are among hundreds of Civil War re-enactors who have volunteered to participate in this new movie by the director of the 1993 spectacular "Gettysburg."
Even the town itself is playing a part, with Harpers Ferry transformed by Hollywood magic into Fredericksburg, Va.
The film, planned for release in December 2002, is based on the novel "Gods and Generals" by Jeff Shaara, whose father, Michael Shaara, wrote "The Killer Angels," the novel that was the basis for "Gettysburg."
"Gods and Generals" returns some of the same cast as "Gettysburg," with Jeff Daniels reprising his role as Union Col. Joshua Chamberlain, but the leading Confederate characters have been recast.
Mr. Duvall stars as Lee, a part played by Martin Sheen in "Gettysburg." Mr. Duvall, whose father was from Fairfax County and whose mother was a distant relative of the Lee family, said he had "always thought it would be more than interesting" to play the famous Virginia general.
"It's an honor to play a man like this," the Oscar-winning actor said during a lunch break on the set. He spoke of Lee's "very righteous upbringing, taking care of his invalid mother."
The film's director says Mr. Duvall's portrayal of Lee will differ from Mr. Sheen's. "No two actors would play any role the same," said Mr. Maxwell. "You need look no further than productions of 'Hamlet.' The basic interpretation will be the same, but the nuances of character will be different. He's still a leader of men, a fiercely patriotic man, a deeply religious man."
While thousands of history buffs will watch Mr. Duvall's portrayal of Lee with a critical eye, the actor is not worried. "You just have to do what you can do and not worry about it," Mr. Duvall said.
Perhaps the most interesting character in "Gods and Generals" is that of Jackson, played by Mr. Lang. The role is "alluring," the 39-year-old actor says.
Jackson was "a man of absolutely heroic stature who has not been portrayed before," says Mr. Lang, a veteran Broadway actor who played Gen. George Pickett in "Gettysburg."
The film portrays Jackson's strong Christian faith.
"God had everything to do with everything Jackson did," Mr. Lang says of the Presbyterian general who frequently credited the "blessings of Providence" for his victories. "He gave credit to God for everything."
He describes Jackson as a "stunningly complex man," and says playing him "requires all I've got and more."
The actor says that, as a mathematics instructor at Virginia Military Institute before the war, Jackson "could never be acknowledged to be more than competent. Yet when it came to leading men, when it came to being a tactician, he was peerless, in my opinion."
"Gods and Generals" follows Jackson from the Battle of First Manassas where his resolute stand earned him the nickname "Stonewall" to his death in May 1863 in the battle of Chancellorsville.
Chancellorsville, where Jackson's surprise flanking maneuver crushed two corps of the Union army, "should have been his greatest victory, and the South's greatest victory," Mr. Lang says. But when Confederate troops accidentally fired on Jackson who was scouting beyond the front lines at nightfall the victory turned "into a very, very bitter day," he says.
The production of "Gods and Generals" depends upon the efforts of hundreds of Civil War re-enactors, some of whom have traveled from as far away as Wisconsin and Georgia to participate in the project.
"This movie would be absolutely impossible without the support of the re-enactor community," says associate producer Dennis Frye, former chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Park. "Re-enactors supply all of their own uniforms, their own weapons, their own accoutrements and, more importantly, bring their own extensive knowledge and skills. They come trained as mid-19th-century soldiers."
The story of "Gods and Generals" differs significantly from "Gettysburg," Mr. Maxwell notes. Where "Gettysburg" focuses on three days of battle in a single location, "Gods and Generals" spans a two-year period and multiple battles. But Mr. Maxwell said that focusing on the "unifying concept of the main central characters gave us a through line" for the new film.
"Gods and Generals" involves a wider variety of characters than the earlier movie, including the wives of the generals. Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, makes a cameo appearance as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
The movie also will show urban combat, Civil War-style. The final battle scene to be filmed Dec. 15 in Washington County, Md. will be the effort of Union engineers to build a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock while under fire from Confederate sharpshooters posted on the Fredericksburg waterfront.
The looting of Fredericksburg Union troops plundered the homes there of descendants of the Founding Fathers provoked a contemporary comparison from Mr. Duvall.
In costume as Gen. Robert E. Lee, the actor surveyed the debris-strewn streets of the film set and said, "This is like the Taliban, the way the federal troops ravaged."


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