When General Longstreet tells Harrison what will happen during Pickett's Charge, he says artillery canister fire consists of bits of shrapnel. At the time, canister and shrapnel were two completely different things, and Longstreet would not have confused them. Canister is a bag or tin of lead balls which, when fired from a cannon, act like projectiles from a large shotgun. Shrapnel is smaller balls packed into an explosive shell which are scattered when the shell explodes.
The opening scene is dated Tuesday, June 30, 1863. It appears to be first light on Monday, June 29. Harrison would've spent all day gathering information on Union troop strength and movement, then reported to Longstreet that evening. Longstreet and Lee would confer all that night, making plans based on Harrison's information. The scene in which Longstreet says "Let the boys sleep a little longer" would've been just before dawn on the 30th. That was also when Buster Kilrain woke Colonel Chamberlain with news of the arriving troops.
In the Director's Cut, where Buford discusses strategy with his officers in the Gettysburg cemetery, the tombstones are clearly from after the Civil War, with designs and craftsmanship from as late as the mid 20th century.
During Lee's planning session at the beginning of the second day, he shows a map with obvious modern printing. The neatly printed double lines of red rectangles representing the position of the Confederate troops is a convention that originated with maps produced for printed works during the war. There was no time during a battle for such neat printing, and those markings would make the map less usable in the future.
Before the third day of battle, General Armistead tells General Longstreet about a party in California, hosted by General Hancock, for various officers about to depart for service in the Confederate Army. Armistead says that Mrs. Myra Hancock sang the song Kathleen Mavourneen at the party. According to historian Bruce Catton Albert Sidney Johnston's wife sang Kathleen Mavourneen at the party.
At the start of the film and through July 1st, J.L. Chamberlain wears the shoulder straps of a Lt. Col. (silver oak leaves). Afterward, he wears the shoulder straps of a full Colonel (eagles), a rank he received May 20, 1863.
While General Longstreet talks to Colonel E. Porter Alexander during the bombardment of Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd, a Rebel gun emplacement is hit over Longstreet's shoulder, and the explosion throws a Confederate gunner over the earthworks. The camera turns to Colonel Alexander, then comes back to Longstreet. The same gun is shown intact,and the wounded Confederate is gone.
In the scene between Major Walter H. Taylor and General Lee at midnight July 3rd, Major Taylor's rank insignia changes to two stars (Lieutenant Colonel). In earlier scenes he wore only one star (Major).
Before Pickett's Charge, Armistead tells Garnett that he cannot ride into battle because he "will be the perfect target". However, other brigade commanders and their staffs ride in the charge. While officers on horseback suffered a disproportionately large percentage of casualties, it's inconsistent with what is shown later.
Col. Chamberlain has a pistol in his left hand throughout the Charge on Little Round Top. As soon as he confronts the Confederate officer that wants to take him prisoner, the pistol is gone from his hand.
During the up-close battle of Little Round Top, when the 20th Maine fight the Confederate Alabamians down the summit, Union Sergeant "Buster" Kilrain shoots a bearded Confederate Sergeant. Later in the battle, the same Confederate Sgt. is unhurt and charging up the hill just right before the main battle scene.
When Colonel Chamberlain is shot at Little Round Top, he lets go of his sword, and it ends up between his arms but not held. The next shot shows him with the sword held in his right hand, stretched out to the side.
Just before the battle begins, when Lee and Longstreet discuss positioning, the cigar in Longstreet's mouth is clearly intact. In the next shot, the wrapping on the cigar is coming undone as he holds it in his mouth. In the next scene, seconds later, the cigar is whole as if it were brand new.
When Tom Chamberlain talks to the captured Confederates, one of them says he is a Tennessean from Archer's Brigade of Heth's division. He then says he was captured in the railroad cut west of Gettysburg. The Confederates in the railroad cut were Mississippians from Davis's brigade of the same division. The Tennesseeans fought in McPherson's Woods, half a mile away.
When General Longstreet arrives at Lee's headquarters after the battle on July 2nd, General "Jeb" Stuart arrives at the headquarters at the same time. In real life, Stuart arrived in Gettysburg around noon, and Longstreet's attack finished around 6:30 p.m..
Before the July 2 fighting, Lee meets outdoors with several Confederate generals, and says "good morning." Gen. Heth is visible, with a bandage on his head. He was knocked unconscious during the afternoon fighting on July 1, and he was still unconscious the next morning.
Early in the fight by Buford's cavalry the camera pans past a U.S. flag behind a group of cavalry men. Cavalry did not normally carry a full sized U.S. flag. The flag is the size carried by infantry, not the smaller cavalry standard.
In the opening sequence, dated June 30, 1863, Harrison spots Federal cavalry and reports to Longstreet and Lee in daylight later that day. In real life, Harrison spotted them June 28, and reported to Longstreet and Lee during the night of June 28-29.
General Garnett tells Colonel Freemantle that Longstreet lost all three of his children to scarlet fever. He also says the youngest was ten years old. In real life, Longstreet had four children. Three died of scarlet fever in January 1862, including his youngest, a one-year-old. His oldest, 13-year-old Garland, survived.
General Garnett is obliged to ride during Pickett's charge; and General Armistead advances on foot. In real life, Armistead was also mounted at the start of the charge. His horse was killed under him, and he carried on by foot.
On the evening of June 30th, as Buford considers his options for the next morning, Col. Devin reminds him that he had held 6 hours against Longstreet at Thoroughfare Gap. Neither Buford nor any of the men under his command had been present at Thoroughfare Gap.
Contrary to popular rumor, Henry Thomas Harrison was not a stage actor. One of Harrison's friends bet him $50 that he would not walk on stage during a performance of a play in Richmond. Harrison walked across the stage, interrupting the play, and walked away $50 richer.
Fifty-five-year-old Ted Turner plays a clean-shaven Col. Waller T. Patton. On July 3, 1863, Patton was 28 years old and sported a full beard. At the climax of the charge, Patton is mortally wounded by a rifleman's bullet. In real life, his only wound was from artillery shrapnel to his face, which eventually killed him on July 21st.
Prior to Pickett's Charge, Longstreet gives orders to Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble. He draws a diagram in the dirt outlining the troops' intended position and movement. The orders for Pickett's division of three brigades on the right wing is correct. On the left wing, he has Trimble's brigades in the lead with Pettigrew's brigades in the rear. In real life, Pettigrew's division led the left wing of the charge while Trimble's brigades were in the rear.
When Gen. Meade first arrives at the battlefield, he says it's so dark out there he couldn't see a damn thing. Historical lunar data shows that the moon was 99% full, and with a cloudless night it should have been "bright as day" outside.
Everything in the conversation between Generals Armistead and Longstreet regarding Armistead communicating with Union General Hancock would have been common knowledge for senior Confederate officers. While it wasn't an everyday occurrence, senior officers corresponded with "enemy" friends, and knew what ranks and commands they held.
At the climax of the 20th Maine's counterattack on Little Round Top, a Confederate officer nearly shoots Col. Chamberlain with his pistol, a British-made Kerr revolver. Chamberlain's memoirs state that the Rebel carried a "big Navy revolver," which the Kerr was not.
In the long shot of Pickett's Charge, the object in the background is actually a flag, the Confederacy's "Second National" or "Stainless Banner," carried by a man on horseback. It's white with a dark canton, and moving at a gallop. From a distance, it looks like the outline of a van driving by.
After the first day of battle, General Hancock and General Buford make arrangements to send General Reynolds' body to "his folks in Lancaster." Reynolds' mother died in 1843, and his father died in 1853. "Folks" can refer to any family members, not just parents.
Some Confederate generals talk about Charles Darwin. General Pickett says that he refuses to believe that man descended from apes. Darwin's "The Descent of Man," which theorizes on the ape-like origins of the human species, was published in 1871. "On the Origin of Species," published in 1859, caused considerable scientific and religious debate in the early 1860s. Though the book explicitly avoided human evolution, the debate surrounding it did not. In 1863, educated people likely would have known about the controversy.
During Pickett's Charge, General Garnett says, "Give them the cold steel, boys!" General Armistead said it just before leading his men over the stone wall. However, troops leading bayonet charges used the phrase often during the Civil War. It's very likely that other commanders said it before July 3, 1863.
The director deliberately dressed Lieutenant Colonel Fremantle in a red uniform, carrying a cup of tea, to avoid confusing the audience. Fremantle's British uniform would have been dark blue, similar to that of a Union officer.
James Longstreet says to Arthur Fremantle "You English had your own civil war, didn't you?" Southern policy saw the war as being between two distinct nations, and preferred to call it The War Between the States or The War of Secession. They remained the preferred terms in Southern printed sources for about 100 years, until social changes caused the South to be a little more accepting of the term Civil War. Longstreet, who seems to be very well-read, could have heard what the "damnyankees" called their war, and used it to make a rhetorical point.
General Longstreet says to British Colonel Freemantle "You English had your own civil war, didn't you?" When the English Civil War broke out, Virginia and a few other colonies were already established. Many Britons migrated to America to leave behind the carnage of the war and its aftermath. However, most 19th Century Americans saw the English Civil War as a solely English affair.
The first evening of the battle, when Buford meets Hancock in the command post, Hancock mentions that Buford's cavalry will be pulled from the line and moved to cover the left against CSA cavalry, which was on the Union RIGHT (the REBEL left). In real life, Buford really was ordered to the left. His badly-mauled cavalry was pulled back to guard supply lines behind Union lines for the rest of the battle, but not until late on the morning of July 2nd.
At the beginning of the Battle of Little Round Top, the first three Confederate charges appear to start with the same scene of Confederates attacking uphill out of dense woods into a less densely wooded area with small clearings and no bodies in view, even though every charge resulted in a Confederate retreat with bodies scattered behind them. Each Confederate charge moved further to the 20th Maine's left, over new ground.
When General John Reynolds arrives at Seminary Hill, his corps HQ flag has a cross botonny (or bottony, depending on the reference) as the corps device. Reynolds was commander of the 1st Corps, whose device was a circle. The divisions of I Corps (not the Corps itself) were identified by three differently colored flags with circles. The flag shown is the "Headquarters I Corp Guidon," the only flag associated with I Corps, used with the Corps commanding officer. The same guidon was carried by all Union Corps commanders, with only a change in number. The flag carried by the 2nd Division of XVIII Corps is somewhat similar, but it's a flag, not a guidon.
The battle of Little Round top takes place on the afternoon of July 2. After the battle, as Chamberlain speaks to the wounded Sergeant Kilrain, the actor's breath is visible, indicating cold weather. Later in the film, when a messenger climbs Big Round Top to speak with Chamberlain, the messenger's breath is visible.
When the rebel sharpshooter hits General Reynolds, he falls from his horse onto his back. A soldier rushes to his side and cradles Reynolds' head with his left hand. A blood pack is clearly visible in the soldier's hand. The soldier moves his hand back, and his hand is bloody a minute later.
When Longstreet arrives at Lee's headquarters on the afternoon of the first day, shadows from the stage lights are visible on the farmhouse wall, cast by a light source off camera to the left. The position of the sun is to the right, and natural shadows are visible, cast right to left.
On the first day, Heth's Division formed on Herr's ridge and advanced in line of battle toward Buford's troopers, not 50 yards in front of Buford. Filming required the units to be positioned much closer to each other to be seen in the same picture. Long range lenses make things look closer together than they really are.