I was unimpressed.
I almost fell asleep on a couple of occasions. The performances are top notch, but the overall story was handled in a very dull and hang-dog manner. What really irked me though, as a reenactor, was the lack of military historical accuracy. It was abysmal. I was embarrased by how cheesy and fake the film looked.
I saw more historical innacurracies in "Lincoln" than I expected. Speilberg didn't bother to hire decent military consultants, or at least if he did, didn't bother to listen to them. Of course, the film's focus is more on the political actions far behind the lines, but there are several crucial scenes in military settings and virtually none of them are accurate. Just a sampling:
1. Lincoln did not visit the Petersburg seige lines immediately after a battle. He visited Grant's headquarters area at City Point (now called Hopewell, VA) far behind the front. He later went to the fallen city of Richmond, but he never rode across a recent battlefield strew with freshly killed corpses as depicted in the movie.
2. General Grant was not at all like the tall, muscular, craggy-faced, 50+ Jared Harris, but rather he was a diminutive, thin, and somewhat stoop-shouldered young man in his early 40s. His hair was dark brown, not light brown. Harris looked more like Sherman.
3. Long hair on soldiers. Too many ordinary soldiers are depicted with shoulder-length long hair. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Lice was a huge problem in both armies and the only way to keep it from becoming a worse problem was to cut the hair. "Dandy" offices like Pickett or Custer could afford to keep their hair clean with oils and perfumes, but the common soldier in the ranks could not. Besides, regulations forbade hair past the collar on enlisted men for both armies.
4. Opening battle scene. This has to rank as one of the worst depictions of Civil War combat I've ever seen in a film (well, maybe the one in Wolverine is worse). Federal and Confederate Soldiers are shown in a massive hand-to-hand fight in a driving rainstorm. Each seem paired off with a single opponent. That is hilariouisly Hollywood. In reality, the converging lines would have come together in a group shoving match similar to rioters clashing with a line of police. Also, there is too much bayonet action in the scene. Of the all the weapons of the era, the bayonet was the least used in battle. Medical records show few men wounded by bayonet. It was primarily used as a digging tool. Muskets gripped by the barrel and used as a club was more common, but in the film they do this like baseball batters standing at the plate. The rifles of the time were too long and heavy to be swung like baseball bats; the possiblity of hitting one of your own comrades to your left or right was too great. The soldier would have simpley raised the stock of the rifle and tried to hit a enemy soldier with the butt plate straight into the face.
5. Black and white Federal troops on cozy terms. Units were racially segragated and there was little interaction or even much friendly feelings between black and white Federal troops. White Union soldiers eventually came to have a respect for hard-fighting black troops in the field, but they would not have stood around with them in a group, integrated among them them while waiting to hear news about the 13th Ammendment vote as it came across the telegraph wires. Yet, that very thing is depicted in the film. Indeed, had you asked a white Union soldier what he was fighting for, most would have said, "The old flag", meaning the concept of Union. Had you insisted he was fighting to free the slaves, he would have spat a wad of tobacco juice in your eye before beating the daylights out of you. I say this not to disparage them, but they were products of their time. Freeing slaves was not a high priority for the average white Union soldier. They may have been disgusted by it, especially when seeing its effects first hand while in the South, but they didn't much care for blacks one way or the other, if they didn't already despise them to begin with. Instead, Speilberg gives us a very false feeling of all Union troops, black and white, being on the verge of singing "Kumbaya" together.
There are more mistakes throughout the film, almost too numberous to mention. Why is this important? As Napoleon said, "God is in the details". This film is Gawd-awful when it comes to little details and it reflects badly on the military historical consultants hired for the film.... if there even were any.
- Ernesto Serna
"...I'm struck by the contradiction at the core of Civil War reenacting. On the surface it's a hyper-macho hobby, focused on guns and battle. But the longer I hang out with hardcores ... the more they remind me of supermodels, chatting endlessly about their jackets and shoes and hair and how many pounds they've lost since the last event." - Tony Horwitz