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The Intricate Detail of The “Copperhead” Set

Created on 24 August 2012

courier601Every picture is worth a thousand words (or in this case, 1131), so if you venture on over to the photo albums available on the film’s official Facebook page, you may find yourself at a loss for them. The latest photo collection, titled “The Many Faces”, gives us a close-up look at some of the many background extras from Kings Landing who are taking part in the filming. If you look closely at them, you will not see actors, no, you will see people who appear to have climbed out of an H.G Welles time-machine from the 1860′s and right into our present reality. Much like Gods and Generals and Gettysburg which used reenactors, for both soldiers and civilians, Copperhead: The War at Home is using so-called “Living Historians”, who work in a career that most history lovers would die to have: the chance to live in two different worlds on a daily basis—one at home in modern times, the other at work, in the past. The reason why these people are so important is because they do not have to be educated and trained on the mannerisms and lifestyles of the time period they are portraying, they simply have to be themselves. These pictures, if you include the outstanding scenery (and anticipated beautiful cinematography to be supplied by Kees Van Oostrum) along with the personalities present on set, it is hard to argue against Kings Landing being the most absolute perfect place for this film to be shot, despite some people being disappointed that the set for an American Civil War film is located in Canada. Anyway, the one piece of set detail that I wanted to point out occurs in this picture below. If you look at the right side, you will see two enlistment posters, asking for volunteers to join different units in the army. I have seen reproductions of these posters for sale in various gift shops, but never in color. After seeing so many old photographs, sometimes it is easy to forget that the Civil War—and also WWII, as historian Stephen Ambrose originally put it—was not fought in black and white. But for the real intricate detail, I ask that you draw your attention to the left side, for an image of a campaign election poster. Being that this film is set in New York during 1862, I decided to quickly research just what happened in the state election of that year. I found that the two men present on that poster are Republican Party (or pro-Lincoln) candidates for governor, James S. Wadsworth and Lyman Tremain, who was running as his Lt. Governor. On the opposition, and not present in the photograph, would have been Copperhead-supported Democratic candidates Horatio Seymour and David Floyd-Jones. Seymour, though from the north, was a volatile opponent of President Abraham Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation. He condemned Lincoln’s most famous accomplishment as, “…a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine…”, to which Lincoln responded in a speech a while later, tongue-in-cheek as he was known to do, “You say you will not fight to free Negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter.” If you thought Seymour’s comments were a bit offensive and controversial, you have not seen anything yet. From the website titled Abraham Lincoln and New York, it offers this nice little tidbit: “At a convention of State Democrats in early February 1861, Seymour spoke on behalf of the South: ‘All virtue, patriotism, and intelligence seem to have fled from our National Capitol; it has been well likened to a conflagration of an asylum for madmen—some look on with idiotic imbecility, some in sullen silence, and some scatter the firebrands which consume the fabric above them, and bring upon all a common destruction’. He added that Southerners were justified in at ‘their most bitter and unscrupulous assailants’.” Meanwhile, Wadsworth was seen as a war hero for the Union Army, and someone who was well respected by his own men because of how well he treated them, and was apparently so dedicated he did not abandon active-duty to actually campaign in the election. So how did the people of New York respond to this? Well, they elected the Copperhead Seymour to office, where he served from 1863-1864, before being defeated in the mid-term elections. This truly shows where the sentiment of the people laid at that point in the war. He was widely criticized during the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, including some who openly accused him of supporting the Confederacy instead of simply opposing the war effort. Perhaps he was defeated soon after because the Union Army began to finally show promise, and people had more positive feelings about the war, since it was finally looking to go their way. Nevertheless, Seymour did not disappear after leaving office. He became chairman of the Democratic National Convention and supported fellow Copperhead George B. McClellan for the presidency, where he ultimately lost out to Abraham Lincoln. Seymour would make a bid for president in 1868, running against Ulysses S. Grant, but lost the election mainly due to Grant’s popularity and the fodder the general had at his disposal, since he was a great war hero and could look upon Seymour as a traitor. He would stay active in state politics for many years after that, before dying in 1886 at age 75. Imagine that: all this back-story (and much more that I could not even fit here) stemming from a single aspect of one photograph. This is why history, and historically accurate films, are so exciting, because many times scenes have, as they call them, “Easter Eggs” hidden about, just waiting to be found. It can be assumed that there will be many instances like this all throughout the film, thanks to Ron Maxwell and Co.’s always-painstaking attention to detail. Go ahead and take a look through some of the other pictures…you many be very surprised by what you find!