If you are a Civil War buff you will want to read this interview with University of Virginia historian Gary Gallagher conducted by Clayton Butler of The Civil War Trust. He talks about Civil War scholarship, some of the projects that his graduate students are tackling, and the movie Lincoln. In light of today’s 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, here is a taste of the interview:
CWT: I know you’ve written on the Civil War in film and popular art. What did you think of Lincoln?
GG: I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was transcendent. I don’t think any other actor should ever play Lincoln. I think the movie had some parts that don’t work very well at all, and I think it’s very much a reflection of how we understand the Civil War now, in the sesquicentennial. That is – it’s mainly important for emancipation. So you get the ludicrous early scenes where soldiers are reciting the Gettysburg Address, which is cast as a speech mainly about ending slavery, to Lincoln. Lincoln couldn’t have recited the Gettysburg Address at that point! The idea that anybody else would have memorized the Gettysburg Address is just ludicrous. Virtually no one paid much attention to the Gettysburg Address during the Civil War. Very few newspapers paid much attention to it, only the tiniest part of the loyal population paid much attention to it.
CWT: Edward Everett seemed to like it!
GG: Yes. He did. He seemed to like it. A couple of Democratic newspapers picked up on it, but for the most part it was met with absolute silence. Harper’s Weekly buried it. No commentary, just the text. It became much more important, of course, when Lincoln was assassinated, and now it’s one of the great American speeches. I think the greatest American political speech is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, by a pretty wide margin, but the Gettysburg Address is splendid as well. Lincoln actually could say something in a few words. That art has been lost by all our current politicians, who basically can’t say anything in many, many words.