Routine recounting of a crucial episode in Civil War history.
Fought in the cold December of 1862, the Fredericksburg campaign combined classical set pieces with novel ways of slaughter; of the 12,000-plus Union soldiers killed or wounded there, more than half were cut down in front of a stone wall by raking fire then unfamiliar to the fife-and-drum battlefield tactics of the day. Former TV executive and documentary filmmaker Croker does a solid job of capturing the grimn horror of the day, although this tale seems more labored and clichéd than his To Make Men Free (2004), about the equally sanguinary Battle of Antietam. As befits the genre, there are stoic, portentous moments highlighting the lonely leaders of the struggle—Lincoln, Lee and that old skinflint Salmon Chase, who takes time from brooding to enjoy the sight of a beautiful daughter (“Of all the things Chase hated, paying for Kate’s dresses ranked high on the list—until he saw her in one”). There are patches of colorful language by hard-bitten veterans (“God damn those fat-ass quartermaster sons of bitches!”). There’s nail-biting aplenty by worried strategists on both sides, busily moving masses of men across the wintry Virginia landscape. And then there are splendid moments by honest-to-goodness heroes such as Joshua Chamberlain and the pious Stonewall Jackson, more disturbed by the loss of churches than of the loss of men, and of course lots of bloodshed, for this was the battle where Lee famously remarked, “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” Yet in all this there is little of the storytelling flair or sense of drama of Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels and all of the gravitas and slowness of Ronald Maxwell’s 2003 film Gods and Generals, which seemingly tried to depict Fredericksburg in real time.
A capable enough imagining of real events, though weighted down by genre formulas.