It was directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, who had previously directed Gettysburg in 1993. After the box office underperformance of Gettysburg, Maxwell was unable to get the prequel greenlit until media mogul Ted Turner provided the entire $60 million budget.
Civil War historians and aficionados also criticized the film's radical departures from the novel, a significant change from the film Gettysburg, which remained exceptionally true to its novel. These differences include the omission of Winfield Hancock as a major character; the deletion of Stonewall Jackson's less savory characteristics and eccentricities; the introduction of scenes and characters not in the original novel (primarily during the battle and destruction of Fredericksburg); and the complete expulsion of the actions of Darius N. Couch, John F. Reynolds, and George G. Meade, which led to the successful preservation of the Army of the Potomac after the defeat at Chancellorsville.
In addition, the first third of the book that deals primarily with the events leading up to the Civil War and gave important background information of the characters was also entirely deleted, particularly the unrest in Southern California, which was put down peaceably by Hancock and Armistead — the final farewell in California between Hancock and Armistead alluded to in Gettysburg; John Brown's seizure of Harpers Ferry and the recapture of the arsenal by Marines led by Lee and Stuart; Texas Governor Sam Houston's refusal to support secession; and Lee's contempt for David E. Twiggs's surrender of the Department of Texas to the rebels. Similarly, critics claimed the film skirted the issue of slavery by having several Southern generals, particularly Stonewall Jackson, give historical anti-slavery speeches.. (The real Jackson had ambiguous views on slavery. He believed that slavery had been imposed by God and therefore did not oppose it openly. His family also owned six slaves. However, the slaves of Lexington, Virginia, generally held Jackson in high esteem for his kind treatment and his flouting of Virginia laws to teach slaves to read in Sunday school classes. The widely criticized scene in which a slave expresses enthusiasm for working for Jackson as a cook has some historic basis — two of his real slaves, Albert and Amy, requested that Jackson purchase them in the 1850s because of the treatment they expected from him.)
An early scene depicts cadets at VMI hauling down the flag upon hearing of President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers, and Jackson says that this action had provoked conflict. (A scene very much like this in fact took place in Richmond the day after Confederate forces fired on and forced the surrender of Fort Sumter, six days before Lincoln's call for volunteers.) The Confederates, some charge, are portrayed as the "good guys" throughout the film, and most of the main characters are on the Confederate side. This is very different from Gettysburg, where both sides are presented more equally. Only two African-American actors are depicted with speaking roles, and while both of them are depicted as somewhat pro-Confederate, one clearly expresses appreciation for the Union cause and both express the desire for themselves and their people to be freed from slavery. Also, the movie completely skips over the Battle of Antietam, but in this it is similar to the book.
Those in support of the film claim the contrary, pointing out that many Confederate generals and common soldiers first held the belief that they were fighting the war in protection of their homes and for the rights of the States, not in defense of slavery; in fact, the vast majority of Southerners did not own slaves (less than 10% of the white population were slave owners). As support of these arguments, it is pointed out that Robert E. Lee was critical of slavery, and did not own a single slave himself. Also, the film does include a speech, of sorts, from Chamberlain in which he criticizes the Confederacy for being hypocritical in supporting "States' Rights" while denying human rights to an entire race of people.
Ron Maxwell himself talked about the opposing views of slavery as depicted in the film during an interview on the 700 Club. During his interview, he stated that most of the Confederates were opposed to slavery, but viewed the abolition of slavery as "God's will, in God's time." The Union held the view that the abolition of slavery was "God's will, by their hands." Maxwell briefly explored these opposing views of slavery in his previous film, Gettysburg.
There have also been reports that the next film in the series, the still un-produced The Last Full Measure, will be the direct opposite of Gods and Generals, depicting the last two years of the war mostly from the Union side, and focusing on the characters of Chamberlain and Ulysses S. Grant. So, when the trilogy is complete, it is expected to give a balanced perspective of the war from both sides.
The "Director's Cut" version of Gods and Generals has an alleged running time of six hours, and has never been released to the public in any format despite pleas from fans. For the theatrical release, almost two-and-a-half hours of footage was removed to get the length down to approximately 3 hours, 39 minutes. Among the footage edited includes a sub-plot which follows John Wilkes Booth, the famous actor who would eventually become the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. One scene towards the end of the extended cut of the film features Chamberlain and his wife, Fanny, attending a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which Booth plays Brutus. Chamberlain and his wife have a conversation with Booth and his fellow actors following the end of the play.
Another scene cut from the film features a performance of Macbeth in Washington, D.C. Booth plays the role of Macbeth, which is being seen by President Lincoln. When he gives the famous "dagger of the mind" soliloquy, he looks directly at Lincoln while reciting it. Later, when Booth is offered the chance to meet with Lincoln, he refuses.
Possibly the one scene that historians were sad to see removed from the film was the sequence dealing with the Battle of Antietam. The battle was seen mostly from the perspectives of Jackson (who played a major strategic role in the battle) and Chamberlain (whose brigade was held in reserve). A few minutes of footage from this scene was available online, but since appears to have been removed.
When Ron Maxwell showed the director's cut of the film in a very early pre-screening, it received a standing ovation at the end. However, there are apparently no plans being made by Warner Bros. to release the extended version of the film on DVD. At one point, Dennis Frye, who served as associate producer and helped organize the units of reenactors used in the film, supposedly said that the film was intended for release in the fall of 2005. However, this did not occur.
CAST: Martin Clark played Dr. George Junkin; Stonewall Jackson's (Stephen Lang) Spiritual Leader and ex-father-in-law.
Some scenes in the movie were filmed at Robert Duvall's estate in Virginia. The estate was the scene of several skirmishes in the War. Many scenes were filmed on private farms and property including two scenes filmed at St. James School, Hagerstown.
Russell Crowe was the original choice to play Stonewall Jackson. He had begun reading and practicing for the role until his wife went into labor back in Australia, forcing him to drop out. Stephen Lang had begun to reprise his role as George Pickett, but instead was asked to fill in the role of Jackson. Billy Campbell, who had played a 44th New York lieutenant in Gettysburg was called in to hastily replace Lang in the role of Pickett. Although Tom Berenger greatly desired to reprise his Gettysburg role as James Longstreet (which he called his favorite role) he was unavailable because of scheduling difficulties. Bruce Boxleitner was instead cast in the role after his original character of Darius N. Couch was cut from the screenplay (but later readded, portrayed by Danish actor Carsten Norgaard). Martin Sheen was prevented from reprising his role as Lee due to contractural obligations to The West Wing.