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Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom (2006)

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The Single Bloodiest Day in American History It's September 17, 1862 and President Abraham Lincoln needs a victory in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and end slavery in the ... See full summary »

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Title: Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom (2006)

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Credited cast:
Chad O. Allen ...
Featured extra
Benjamin F. Black ...
Cindy Brinkerhof ...
Nurse, featured extra
Mike Brown ...
Union staff officer
Tony Casey ...
Featured extra
Paul V. Chiles ...
Scholar
Jim Choate ...
Gen. George Pickett
...
...
Sam Edens ...
Telegraph operator
Patrick Falci ...
Historical Consultant
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Scholar
Kurt Grauf ...
US & CS Soldier
Shaun C. Grenan ...
Allen Guelzo ...
Scholar (as Allen C. Guelzo)
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The Single Bloodiest Day in American History It's September 17, 1862 and President Abraham Lincoln needs a victory in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and end slavery in the South. But Robert E. Lee has other plans - invade the North. When Lee's strategy falls into the hands of the Union Army, the result is the single bloodiest day in American history at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Written by Anonymous

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union | south | slavery | robert e lee | north | See more »

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The Single Bloodiest Day in American History

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Documentary

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31 January 2006 (USA)  »

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1.85 : 1
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Everybody Loses.
26 December 2012 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

It's essentially a reenactment of the three major phases of the Battle of Antietam, supplemented by occasional maps, quotes from letters and reports of the time, and a handful of familiar experts contributing descriptions and analyses of the battle and the personalities in command.

It's well put together. The battle scenes are exciting and the interpretive comments on point. It was a horrible fight, with George B. McLellan in charge of the Union forces and Robert E. Lee commanding the Confederates. And the battle was important too, not adventitious. This was Lee's first attempt to invade the north, relieving Virginia of the burden of carrying the war, threatening the cities of Baltimore and Washington, and perhaps, by securing a victory, of enticing Europe to broker a peace between the North and the South. On the other hand, Lincoln needed to stop Lee and be handed a victory as an excuse to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed some of the slaves. Without a victory, such a move would have been seen as an act of desperation.

Well, nobody won. Lee's battle plan was most improbably revealed to McLellan by accident but it took the general a day and a half to get his rear end in gear. McLellan had several opportunities to reenforce breakthroughs but was wary of committing his reserves because he thought, mistakenly, that Lee was holding back his own. Lee was outnumbered and in the process of losing until the late arrival of reenforcements. The wind up was that Lee trudged back across the Potomac with his ragged army decimated, and McLellan hurried after him in slow motion. McLellan's last horses crossed the Potomac in pursuit nine days after Lee had gone. Still, McLellan claimed a great victory and Lincoln had to go along with it in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. That put an end to the idea of European intervention. No country was likely to intercede on behalf of the Confederacy now that the US has banned slavery.

Despite the momentousness of the battle and the gravity of the issue, it's kind of a weak documentary. It's narrated by Ronald F. Maxwell. I understand he directed the feature film "Gettysburg", and he did a professional job, but he does not have a dramatic voice. Nor does he sound matter-of-fact, resigned, sad, like David McCullough who provided the narration for Ric Burns' superb "The Civil War." The written narration is fine, and the quotations are appropriate, but the voices reading them are not. Robert E. Lee, a gentleman through and through, who rarely referred to Northerners as "the enemy" but preferred "these people," is made sometimes to sound angry and resentful. Some of his lieutenants sound enraged. Quotes from the letters of ordinary soldiers are sometimes read with too much emotion, sometimes quivering with fear and rising at the end into a falsetto. On top of that, Robert E. Lee looks less like Robert E. Lee than like Santa Claus after a quick trip to the barber. McClellan is a good likeness, but Lincoln has a bulbous nose and rough complexion.

It's not clear where the title came from. Lee is present often enough but we scarcely see Lincoln until the last few climactic moments. Come to think of it, I understand that Steven Spielberg's new movie, "Lincoln," deals with this same critical period in the president's life.

It's a worthwhile sketch of the battle but there are better descriptions around.


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