The film begins with an account of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee, crossing the Potomac River to invade the North in June 1863, marching across Maryland and into Pennsylvania. On June 30, Confederate spy Henry Thomas Harrison reports to Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, commander of the First Corps, that the Union Army of the Potomac is moving in their direction, and that Union commander Joseph Hooker has been replaced by George Meade. Longstreet reports the information to General Lee, who is concerned that the army is moving "on the word of an actor", as opposed to that of his cavalry chief, J. E. B. Stuart. Nonetheless, Lee orders the army to concentrate near the town of Gettysburg. At the Union encampments near Union Mills, Maryland, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine is ordered to take in 120 men from the disbanded 2nd Maine who had resigned in protest, with orders to shoot any man who refuses to fight. Chamberlain speaks to the men, and is able to persuade all but six to take up arms.
In Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. John Buford and his cavalry division spot elements of Henry Heth's division of A. P. Hill's Third Corps approaching the town, and judging the terrain to be "lovely ground", elect to stand and fight there. Buford sends word to I Corps commander Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds to bring up reinforcements. Heth's troops engage Buford's cavalry the following morning, July 1, with Richard S. Ewell's Second Corps moving in to flank them. Reynolds brings his corps forward, but is killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. The Union army is pushed out of Gettysburg to Cemetery Ridge, and Lee - rejecting Longstreet's suggestion to redeploy south of Gettysburg and go on the defensive -- orders Ewell to take the Union position "if practicable"; however, Ewell hesitates, and does not engage. The armies concentrate at their chosen positions for the remainder of the first day. At Confederate headquarters at Seminary Ridge, Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble angrily denounces Ewell's inaction to Lee, and requests another assignment.
On the second day, July 2, Col. Strong Vincent's brigade from the Union V Corps is deployed to Little Round Top, and Vincent places the 20th Maine at the end of the line, warning Chamberlain that he and his regiment are the flank, and that if they retreat, the Confederate army can swing around behind them and rout the Union forces. Lee orders Longstreet to deploy his two available divisions to take Little Round Top and the neighboring Big Round Top. As Longstreet's corps deploys, Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood, commanding one of the divisions, protests to Longstreet; with the Union holding the high ground, he would lose half his forces if he attacked as ordered. Longstreet, despite his own protests to Lee, orders Hood to attack; Hood is later wounded fighting at Devil's Den. At the summit of Little Round Top, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine fight off wave after wave of advancing Confederates, and begin running out of ammunition. Colonel Vincent is mortally wounded, and none of the other three regiments in his brigade are able to provide support. Chamberlain orders his men to fix bayonets, and charge in a right wheel down the slope against the attacking Confederates. The attack successfully drives the Confederate assault back, and the Union flank holds. That evening, Stuart finally arrives, and Lee reprimands him for his being out of contact. At the same time, Longstreet's remaining division, under Maj. Gen. George Pickett, arrives on the field.
For the third day, July 3, Lee decides to send three divisions - Pickett's, Trimble's, and J. Johnston Pettigrew's - to attack the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet expresses his belief to Lee that the attack will fail, as the movement is a mile over open ground, and that the Union II Corps under Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock is deployed behind a stone wall, just as Longstreet's men had been at Fredericksburg. Lee nonetheless orders the attack to proceed. Longstreet then meets with the three division commanders and details the plan, beginning first with Colonel Edward Porter Alexander's artillery clearing the Union guns off the ridge, before deploying the men forward. Despite heavy Confederate fire, Alexander is unable to make an impact upon the Union guns; when Pickett asks to move forward, Longstreet simply nods. The Confederate divisions march across the open field, and Hancock is wounded as he commands from the front line. One of Pickett's brigades, commanded by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, makes it over the stone wall, but Armistead is wounded and captured by Union troops. Pickett's Charge ultimately fails; meeting with Longstreet that evening, Lee finally decides that they will withdraw. The film ends with the fates of the major figures of the battle.Tom Berenger as Lieutenant General James Longstreet
Jeff Daniels as Colonel Joshua Chamberlain
Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee
Kevin Conway as Sergeant "Buster" Kilrain
C. Thomas Howell as Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain
Richard Jordan as Brigadier General Lewis A. "Lo" Armistead
Richard Anderson as Major General George Meade
Royce D. Applegate as Brigadier General James L. Kemper
John Diehl as Private Joseph Bucklin
Maxwell Caulfield as Colonel Strong Vincent
Joshua D. Maurer as Colonel James Clay Rice
Patrick Gorman as Major General John Bell Hood
Cooper Huckabee as Henry Thomas Harrison
James Lancaster as Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle
Brian Mallon as Major General Winfield Scott Hancock
Andrew Prine as Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett
John Rothman as Major General John F. Reynolds
Tim Scott as Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell
Morgan Sheppard as Major General Isaac R. Trimble
Stephen Lang as Major General George Pickett
Sam Elliott as Brigadier General John Buford
Joseph Fuqua as Major General J. E. B. Stuart
Bo Brinkman as Major Walter H. Taylor
Kieran Mulroney as Major Moxley Sorrel
James Patrick Stuart as Colonel Edward Porter Alexander
Warren Burton as Major General Henry Heth
Buck Taylor as Colonel William Gamble
David Carpenter as Colonel Thomas C. Devin
Donal Logue as Captain Ellis Spear
Herb Mitchell as Sergeant Andrew J. Tozier
Dwier Brown as Captain Brewer
George Lazenby as General J. Johnston Pettigrew.
Civil War buff Ted Turner has a cameo appearance in one of the battle scenes as Colonel Waller T. Patton. During Major General Pickett's (Stephen Lang) charge, some Confederate troops come to a fence that they have to climb over. Turner plays the Confederate officer who leads the charge, then gets shot down.
Other cameo appearances include Ken Burns, who wrote and directed the PBS documentary, The Civil War (1990), portraying an aide to Major General Hancock during Pickett's Charge. Civil War historian Brian Pohanka has an uncredited cameo appearance as Union general Alexander S. Webb.
Gettysburg is the first film appearance of actor Matt Letscher as a solder in the 2nd Maine.
The producers originally pitched the project to ABC in 1991, as a TV miniseries. ABC initially agreed to back the project, but when a miniseries about George Armstrong Custer, Son of the Morning Star (1991), got low ratings, ABC pulled out. Shortly thereafter, media mogul Ted Turner picked it up, and the film went into production.
For the first time, the National Park Service allowed the motion picture industry to recreate and film battle scenes directly on the Gettysburg Battlefield, including scenes of Devil's Den and Little Round Top. However, much of the movie was shot at a nearby Adams County farm. Thousands of Civil War reenactors from across the country volunteered their time to come to Gettysburg to participate in the massive battle scenes.
The score was composed by Randy Edelman.
The soundtrack was composed by Randy Edelman.
- Main Title
- Men of Honor
- Battle of Little Round Top
- Fife and Gun
- General Lee at Twilight
- The First Battle
- From History to Legend
- Over the Fence
- We are the Flank
- Charging Up the Hill
- General Lee's Solitude
- Battle at Devil's Den
- Killer Angel
- March to Mortality (Pickett's Charge)
- Kathleen Mavourneen
- Reunion and Finale
- Exit Music
Two more soundtracks, More Songs and Music From Gettysburg and a Deluxe Commemorative Edition, were released as well. The first one included popular songs from the time period and a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by Jeff Daniels, while the second included several previously unreleased tracks from the score.
The miniseries was set to air on TNT, but when Turner saw part of the film during post-production, he realized it was much bigger than a miniseries and decided to release the film theatrically. The film was distributed by New Line Cinema which Turner had just acquired. Only released to 248 theaters at its widest release and limited to just one or two showings per day because of its length, the film still managed to gross $12,769,960 at the box office. It would go on to become an all-time high seller on the VHS and DVD market, and has become a staple of classroom history lessons. Its June 1994 broadcast TV premiere, on TNT, garnered over 34 million viewers, a record for cable TV.
One of the longest films ever released by a Hollywood studio, Gettysburg runs 254 minutes (4 hours, 14 minutes) on VHS and DVD. A "Director's Cut", 271-minute (4 hours, 31 minutes), with several extended or added scenes, was produced and sold as a part of a special "Collector's Edition" released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, to coincide with 150th commemoration of beginning of the Civil War in April, 1861.
Gettysburg received an 80% positive rating on the film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating, "This is a film that Civil War buffs will find indispensable, even if others might find it interminable." Ebert said that despite his initial indifference, he left the film with a new understanding of the Civil War, and that he felt Jeff Daniels deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance. Ebert also gave the film a "thumbs-up" on Siskel & Ebert, while Gene Siskel gave it a "thumbs-down", saying the film was "bloated Southern propaganda". He, however, also praised Daniels' performance and recommended its nomination for an Oscar.
A prequel film, Gods and Generals (2003), based on the eponymous 1996 prequel novel to The Killer Angels by Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, depicts events that take place prior to those shown in Gettysburg, with several actors reprising their roles. It was also directed by Maxwell.