The American Civil War continues to garner an inordinate amount of attention to this date, some 139 years since the guns fell silent near Appomattox. Some of this, no doubt, is because of the egocentric regards in which we Americans see ourselves among other nations. But much of this also comes from the very nature of the combatants themselves.
Our “civil” war had nothing to do with religious strife, such as when Bosnian Muslims duked it out with Croation Catholics and Serbian Christians when Yugoslavia imploded. Nor did it have anything to do with one ethnic group going after another, again, such as in Yugoslavia or the Tutsi vs. Hutu clashes cranking up again in Rwanda.
Instead, our boys — Yanks and Rebs alike — generally looked alike, spoke the same language, worshipped the same God, etc. Our familiarity with one another made the death and destruction all the more painful to endure…and the very reason the war remains so poignant to this date. This familiarity is a lesson the titular pickets learn all too well in director Mark Ciglar’s classy Civil War short film, “Pickets.”
Alden (John Short) is tired of the pointless exchange of gunfire with his dug-in Confederate counterpart Craig (Ray McKinnon) and proposes a truce until 4:00AM over the vociferous complaints of his hard-bitten comrade Conner (Barry Lynch). The rebel agrees and within minutes, the unlikely trio is staring warily at each other across a small moonlit pond. Hesitantly at first, then more freely, they begin bartering hard-tack rations for tobacco, exchanging fishing tips and firing good-natured, if pointed barbs rather than bullets at each other.
When, as the 4:00 AM deadline strikes, Connor hooks what he thinks is a monster catfish, only to haul in a morbid reminder that they’re at war, the subsequent events serve to remind the audience just how poignantly fratricidal the War Between the States truly was.
Based on a short story by Robert W. Chambers, this film recounts a tale that’s similar to the now famous soccer matches fought between German and British trench rats during W.W.I. It neatly captures one of what must have been hundreds or even thousands of such intimate moments during America’s most horrible conflict.
Yes, Ciglar’s film is a little too “scrubbed” and sanitized for its own good; the generally compelling performances at times feeling a little as if these talented actors were, to borrow a phrase from the times, putting on airs.
But so what. Because while the Civil War, like many other such conflicts, was fought over grand ideological and socioeconomic differences, “Pickets” reminds us that the men who did all the fighting and dying weren’t nearly as different as the conflicting ideals represented by the colors of their uniforms.