- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

The 72,000 horses and mules who served in the Battle of Gettysburg are often overlooked in the story that has been told a thousand times, according to the “Horses of Gettysburg” documentary that will be airing on public television starting tomorrow.

“You can’t get the full story of the Battle of Gettysburg without learning about the cavalry and artillery, and horses were a prime part of that,” said Mark Bussler, director of “Horses of Gettysburg, Civil War Minutes IV,” the fourth film in Inecom Entertainment Co.’s “Civil War” series. He produced and directed “World War I — American Legacy” and “Gettysburg and Stories of Valor.”

“Horses of Gettysburg” explains the relationship between soldiers and their horses and the role horses played in the three-day battle, which began July 1, 1863. The feature-length documentary delves into how horses were procured and trained for battle and the strategies that were employed to keep the animals healthy. An estimated 1 million to 2 million horses served on both sides of the war.

“It was important to shoot this on the battlefield where the events took place. Instead of talking about something and showing old photographs, we’re actually there where this happened,” said David M. Neville, co-writer of the documentary with Michael Krauss. Both are war historians.

The pivotal battle is commemorated in the 6,000-acre Gettysburg National Military Park in south-central Pennsylvania. The battle engaged 160,000 men in gray and blue, more than 50,000 of whom were killed, wounded or captured.

The horses and mules that served at Gettysburg — 5,000 of them were killed on the field — were not there by choice and did not take a side, Union or Confederate, said Mr. Krauss, who lives in Pittsburgh, as does Mr. Bussler. Mr. Neville lives in Marysville, Pa.

“They were living, breathing entities that happened to be caught in the swirl of battle. We wanted people to think about that,” Mr. Krauss said.

Mr. Krauss, Mr. Neville and Mr. Bussler developed the idea for “Horses of Gettysburg” during a brainstorming session for the “Minutes of History” series, Mr. Neville said. They wanted to provide a new way of looking at the Civil War and of the soldiers who fought in it, he said.

“It was a subject that was wide open,” Mr. Neville said.

Modern-day textbooks give a cursory view of the Civil War without including the roles of horses and mules, while Civil War books and magazines that mention the animals are not dedicated to the subject, Mr. Neville said.

Mr. Neville and Mr. Krauss took six months to write the script. The documentary was filmed in late 2004 and 2005, and edited in early 2006. In May 2006, it was released on a two-disc special edition, which included a 116-minute director’s cut, along with interviews and commentaries from the director, the co-writers and Ronald F. Maxwell, narrator of the film and director of “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.”

The documentary tells the story chronologically, starting with the cavalry on the first day’s fight and ending with Pickett’s charge on July 3. Each of the film’s 12 segments takes a different perspective, from buying and selling army horses to maintaining an army of horses and the army mule. The final segment looks at the equestrian statues at the Gettysburg National Military Park, home to more than 1,300 monuments, markers and memorials that honor the men who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg.

“It’s a compilation of different stories, only related by the fact they’re all about Gettysburg,” Mr. Krauss said. “You really get caught up in some of the stories. You find yourself on the edge of your chair, wanting to find out what happened to these guys. … It’s very exciting.”

Commanders rode horses into battle, and scouts used them check out the opposing army and report to the commander. Horses hauled equipment, supply wagons and canons to the field. Mules carried the heavier loads and delivered ammunition.

These animals were more than simple tools or commodities. Some of the soldiers wrote about them in their letters and memoirs and were sad to see them die, Mr. Neville said.

“The horse came first,” he said, adding that the soldiers watered and groomed their horses at the end of the day before doing anything else. “When man and the animal worked together during the war, they were almost as one.”

Other soldiers rode their horses hard, not caring what happened to them, Mr. Krauss said.

The reason could be that the Union army purchased and trained the horses for the cavalry’s use, while the Confederate cavalrymen had to provide their own horses, he said. “For them, to lose a horse is a big deal, much more than for a Union cavalryman,” Mr. Krauss said.

The horses in the documentary were trained for use in movies and organized by wrangler Doug Sloan of Richmond.

Mr. Sloan identified horses with temperament and appearance similar to the horses the Union and Confederate soldiers rode, based on photographs, written descriptions and historical documents, as stated in the interview with Mr. Sloan and in the “Making of Horses of Gettysburg” documentary. Mr. Sloan matched the horses with riders, who were cavalry re-enactors.

“You would tell the rider what you specially wanted the horse and rider to do, and you would see the two working together,” Mr. Neville said. “When they’re both working together, it comes out beautifully on film.”

Mr. Bussler, whose background is in photography, wanted to show the panoramic scenery and wildlife on the battlefield, along with the horses and their movements and how the riders rode during wartime, he said.

“Mixing all that together makes it an interesting and emotionally compelling story,” Mr. Bussler said.

Maryland Public Television (WMPT) will air “Horses of Gettysburg” at 1 a.m. on June 19. Virginia Public Television (WVPT and WVPY) will air the film at 4 p.m. on July 15. The film will air nationally on Public Broadcasting Service High Definition (PBS HD) at 7 p.m. on July 1 and again at 4 a.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on July 2.

The film was shot over four seasons to allow the battlefield and monuments to be captured in different angles of light.

“When I do my historical films, I just don’t like to do a documentary on the facts and figures. I like to make them entertaining and watchable,” Mr. Bussler said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide