Tag Archives: Civil War

An Honest Review of Abraham Lincoln Portrayals

by Rick Bretz

A recent viewing of Raymond Massey’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln brought on a recollection of the actors trying their craft being Lincoln on the screen.  Many actors have attempted to flood the screen with the essence and character of our sixteenth President of the United States.  Three films stand out for capturing Lincoln’s personality on film.



Raymond Massey, a Canadian actor, in the movie “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and released in 1940,  shows the young politician’s ability to relate to people from every social and financial status.  Massey’s Lincoln tones down the ambitious side of the rising potential of the young lawyer in favor of his agreeable nature and storytelling expertise. He’s almost the reluctant politician in this movie.


The death of his first love interest, Ann Rutledge, is an important part of the movie and makes the audience aware of how important an event the death had on him for the rest of his life.

The selection of a young actress Ruth Gordon as Mary Todd Lincoln is perfect.  She realizes the young Lincoln will go places and understands him from the beginning.  Gordon gives the audience and idea of how the relationship between the two must have been and how Lincoln handled his equally ambitious wife. Massey’s voice is deeper than Lincoln’s from what historians have written, but the actor’s gangling frame gives the movie audience a sense of how he moved and how coordinated he was socially and physically. The movie ends after Lincoln is elected President as he and his family boards the train to Washington, DC, to begin the long, stressful work dealing with a rebellious south and a civil war.


Another movie has Henry Fonda showing us how effective a public speaker and lawyer Lincoln was during his travels in Illinois as an attorney.

Henry Fonda's Lincoln

Young Mr. Lincoln“, released in 1939, has Lincoln defending two suspects accused of murder.  It also introduces Ann Rutledge and Mary Todd as his love interest and future wife but the story centers on Fonda’s playing Lincoln in the courtroom. It seems when producing a movie about Lincoln it is mandatory to show his storytelling skills.  This movie is no exception but this movie also demonstrates his ability as a critical thinker and in the courtroom while cross examining witnesses on the stand.  Fonda captures Lincoln’s affable personality while also giving us a hint of his ambitious nature.  Fonda’s Lincoln has more confidence and the feeling that he is destined for great things and that he is in control of his surroundings.



The third and recent version of Lincoln is performed by Daniel Day-Lewis as “Lincoln“, released in 2012.


Day-Lewis, from what historians gather, has Lincoln’s voice close to the real Lincoln pitch.  He gives a performance showing a worn down Lincoln, after shouldering the responsibility of a long civil war, and enduring the grief of losing two of his children.  Day-Lewis shows Lincoln managing the many personalities of his cabinet as well as anger and other emotions that come with being the President of the United States.

Daniel Day-Lewis said of playing Lincoln, “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met. And that’s, I think, probably the effect that Lincoln has on most people that take the time to discover him… I wish he had stayed (with me) forever.”


The three movies show the many facets of Lincoln’s personality and ability to relate to people. It’s daunting task to take on a role from history’s greatest figures.  If you overplay it or make a mistake in the acting, then it misses the mark or worse, you can look foolish on screen.  The actors hit the mark.


Honorable Mention:

Walter Houston-Abraham Lincoln-1930


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When War Invades Your Personal Universe

tanks rolling through town


by Rick Bretz

“The Gate of Hell has opened and shrapnel came through the windows,” a Gaza resident said today. The Gaza resident’s statement could apply to any war throughout history.  One hard truth remains: Once the gate of hell opens it is difficult to close.

When people can’t settle their differences through diplomacy, civilians inevitably see the failed results at their front door step. History has proven that leaders and generals believe adversaries surrender when spears and arrows find their way to a civilian’s living space. News channel broadcasters describe horrific tragedies from current events daily.  It happened in Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Wars, the Vietnam War, Korean War, World War II, World War I all the way back to the first earthly disagreement over territorial rights.

It’s happening now in the Ukraine and in the Middle East while Hamas and Israel fire rockets at each other. For most non-combatant civilians, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. Some civilians even pick a side until they see at what a cause costs. What matters then is the smell of death has entered their universe and they want it to stop.

The First Battle of Manassas Battlefield
The First Battle of Manassas Battlefield

July 21st marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas or the First Battle of Bull Run as the Union Government called it. The battle marked the first major fight between the Armies of Virginia. If there is one truth other than death inside the universe of battle and that is the fight will always involve civilians on the battlefield. Such is the case at the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run depending on your loyalties during the Civil War.  The Confederates refer to the battle as Manassas while the Union called it Bull Run.  The signs leading to the battlefield today read “Manassas” as you travel down Interstate 66 in Virginia just outside Clifton and Centreville, Va.

Judith Henry's grave site along with her children.
Judith Henry’s grave site along with her children.

A key part of the Manassas battle occurred on Henry Hill around the Henry House. Judith Carter Henry, 84 or 85 years old, stubbornly refused to leave her upstairs bedroom while the battle continued around her house. Judith Henry was killed by a Union cannon shell meant for the snipers who were using her house. She was the first civilian killed at First Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861. The house had been in the family for a number of years and grave markers remain on the battlefield in front of the house rebuilt in1870.

General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's monument.
General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s monument.

The battlefield is a place where you can get a sense of the “Universe of Battle.”  This is where armies and governments from both sides may have formulated the idea that this war would be over later than sooner as General Tecumseh Sherman predicted at the beginning.  Another dynamic general,  General Thomas Jackson got his name that would go down in history when General Bernard Bee yelled, “There is Jackson standing there like a stone wall.”  So it was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as the name remained throughout history. Some accounts have claimed that the statement was meant as a criticism of Jackson’s refusal to move and help his fellow units. However, history proves that Jackson’s unit suffered many casualties during the battle.

When walking most battlefields including this one, the observer gets the sense that communication must have been difficult. They used flag signal codes and runners for communication. Command and control as well as integrating battle elements such as cannon units, cavalry and infantry must have been difficult. Today’s satellite communications and almost instant intelligence data from the field gives today’s commanders more time to make decisions.

The phrase “Universe of Battle” suggests different meanings to a person’s point of view. It can represent the horrors of war invading a civilian’s universe as in the case of the recent downing of Malaysian  Flight MH17 or the conflicts in the Middle East between Hamas and the Israeli defense forces.

The universe of battle could also mean the particular space you’re living in when fighting in a battle. The kind of universe where all your senses reach a new level  from hearing every audio wave,  and smelling the cannon’s gunpowder to seeing the blood on wounded soldiers and civilians.  It’s a bubble atmosphere until it’s all over.


I choose to visit battlefields to honor those who find themselves, through the accidental fate or personal choice, in a situation where they have to fight or die for a cause, defense of a country, for the elimination of a social system,  for a particular religion or for the continuance of mankind’s maturity.  Maybe there will be a time when people will cease creating new battlefield parks.  Imagine.


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