Of Gods and Generals


There have never been too many references to the American Civil War in the work of Bob Dylan, yet I believe that there must be a feeling for the events that shaped America in him. 

Of Gods and Generals

The celebrated historian Shelby Foote said in the 1960ís that for anyone to have an understanding of America at that time, one needed to have a grasp on the roots and causes of the Civil War, which I believe to be true. By now most will have seen the dvd from Gods and Generals. For many the interest is in Dylanís video for ĎCross The Green Mountain. Personally I find the song rather plodding but the video is quite atmospheric and I would have liked to have seen a longer film as it brings the song to life, interspersed with scenes and characters from the film. 

I have a far longer and deeper rooted interest in the civil war that stretches back many years before I became interested in Dylan and look forward to the 5-hour version of the film that is to be released later this year. 

I donít know how many of you will have seen the film Gettysburg. Based on Michael Shaaraís Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels it runs over three hours long and is made by the same makers of Gods and Generals, part of a trilogy of films to be made about the war, Gods and Generals being the second. Many of the characters in Gettysburg replay their roles in Gods and Generals. In fact it makes more sense to see Gods and Generals before Gettysburg as the events in Gods and Generals take place before Gettysburg (can you follow all this?). 

Often when people visit my home they comment on the lack of Dylan pictures around the house that they expect to see but there are none. Yet in my back living room there is a picture of a man I was intrigued to find more about after watching the film Gettysburg named Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain who is played by Jeff Daniels (heís the one sitting at the piano with his wife singing Kathleen Mavoureen. At least in Gods and Generals he has been able to grow his own moustache as opposed to the one put on him in Gettysburg (youíll notice a difference!). 

Born in Maine in 1828 he graduated to Bowdoin College and in 1855 he became professor of rhetoric and modern languages. After the outbreak of the war he asked his superiors to allow him leave as he felt he had to become involved in the war but was refused. In 1862 he asked permission to study in Europe and this request was granted, only for him then to enlist and join the 20th Maine as lieutenant colonel, his brother Tom also serving under his command. Throughout the duration of the war he served in 24 engagements but is best remembered for his defence of the union line at Little Round Top on 2 July 1863, the second day of the battle of Gettysburg. His tactics that day are still used as a source of study in leadership classes and for it was awarded the Medal of Honour. Following the war he returned to Maine and served three terms as governor. He returned later to Bowdoin College as professor of mental and moral philosophy. As president of the college he served for 13 years and was said to have lectured in every department there until 1885. He became a successful businessman and wrote many accounts of his involvement in the war. He died in 1914. 

Joshua L. Chamberlain was a deep thinker and a man of high moral standing who from my readings by and about him had a conscience about the struggle and what fellow man was capable of doing to each other and often struggled to make sense of it all. His character was similar in some was to that of Dick Winters who belonged to 506th Regiment, Easy Company from 101st Airborne who served in the Normandy campaign in Europe 1944 portrayed in Band Of Brothers. 

These were some of the what has become known as citizen soldiers throughout wartime and I have thought a lot about this recently through times of conflict, ordinary people who for whatever reason become entangled in the great mess that this world throws up constantly since time started. 

Lessons donít appear to be ever learnt but I am constantly intrigued about these types of people who for whatever reasons become embroiled in warfare, and sadly, will always be.