Saturday, June 21, 2008

DVD Review: The Battle of Stones River

The Battle of Stones River: The Fight For Murfreesboro
Wide Awake Films, © 2006

After its defeat at Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862 the Confederate Army of the Tennessee led by General Braxton Bragg retreated to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to reorganize, while William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland followed their Confederate counterparts as far as Nashville. In the last week of December 1862 Roscrans’ 44,000 man army left Nashville to battle Bragg’s 37,000 rebel soldiers at Murfreesboro. The resulting three day fight along the banks of the Stones River, December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863, resulted in a tactical stalemate and nearly 19,000 men killed and wounded. Since the Confederate Army retreated from the field, The Battle of Stones River is viewed historically as a Union Victory.

Among Civil War battles, Stones River has a low profile, and is often overshadowed by other battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, or Gettysburg. It is also generally overlooked by historians, usually getting the briefest of mentions in the overall history of the war. Wide Awake Film’s 2006 documentary release, “The Battle of Stones River: The Fight for Murfreesboro,” places the battle in its rightful place along side her sister battles.

Using narration over a background of film footage of “one of the largest reenactments ever held in Tennessee,” period photographs of the participants and a few maps, the film attempts to create an impression of the battle. Sadly the impression it creates, and not a good one.

The 50 minute documentary is narrated entirely by Eben Fowler. Mr. Fowler’s narration seems distantly removed from the action on the screen. Though not monotone, his narration is reminiscent of films shown in your high school history classes of the 1950’s through the 80’s. Even when quoting from letters and diaries, Mr. Fowler’s narration lacks verve and vigor. Different voices, especially when quoting from period texts would have added layers of depth to this aspect of the film. There are several large gaps in the narration itself, in some cases lasting well over a couple of minutes, when nothing is heard but the cacophonous sound of battle. These gaps would have been better used by adding additional narration to tell the viewer more about the battle.

The footage of the reenactment seems often times at odds with the narration. Nothing is recognizable, and I found the use of a Hollywood-like set-piece of the shell of a burned out house (without a roof or windows and 2x4 braces visibly holding up the walls) laughable. With over 5,000 reenacters the screen was filled with soldiers, both blue and gray, but none of them were ever identifiable as Bragg, Hardy, Rosecrans, Thomas, Sheridan, etc.

Taken for what it is, this DVD, with its narration over a generic battle reenactment, is an acceptable introduction the battle and its participants. The disk also contains a two bonus features; footage of the 1992 reenactment (a video scrapbook for its participants, but of no redeeming use for anyone who wasn’t there), as well as a “Battlefield Park Tour” with noted Civil War Historian Ed Bearss, which isn’t a battlefield tour at all, but merely one stop on the tour: The Round Forest.

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