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Actor Lang gives buffs insights on 'Stonewall'

April 28, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Actor Stephen Lang treated Civil War buffs to some "selected memories and vignettes and a few cold facts" from the life of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on Saturday night in a presentation that was not quite the typical historian's lecture.

At times, Lang seemed to take on the general's very persona - and he was well equipped to do that, having had to "inhabit the character of Stonewall Jackson," as he put it, while filming the Civil War epic "Gods and Generals."

"Scrupulous rigor and discipline was required, not only physically but intellectually" to portray Jackson, Lang told an enthusiastic audience in the historic Sharpsburg Christ Reformed Church. "There is always the easy way; and then there is Stonewall Jackson's way."

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Lang's lecture was the keynote address for the quarterly Chambersburg Civil War Seminar. This spring's three-day event focused on "The Footsteps of Stonewall Jackson" and was the first of the group's offerings that was not headquartered in Chambersburg, coordinator Ted Alexander said.

The event drew about 70 participants from around the country - and one from Australia. The Rev. David B. Smith of Dulwich Hill in New South Wales said his interest in the American Civil War was sparked when he saw the film "Gettysburg." He found the Chambersburg group on the Internet and visited a number of Civil War sites on a previous visit to the United States.

This time, he was hoping to get to see "Gods and Generals" in a local theater, but was disappointed to find it no longer playing.

"Now I'll have to wait for the DVD," he said.

Images of Jackson - as well as misconceptions - are many, Lang noted, "but the picture I've been enjoying the most lately is the picture of Jackson on his knees in his garden planting seeds. That was where he was most comfortable and unguarded.

"And I have a surprise surmise," he announced. "I am convinced that Jackson talked to his plants."

Back then, Lang said, "this might have been perceived as eccentric, but we know Jackson was just modern."

Lang encouraged his listeners to "get off the beaten path" and go beyond the historical record to understand Jackson's character.

"It is the secret, the private, the intimate part that is at the heart of my fascination with Stonewall," he said.

He added that his memory of what normally would have been a pleasant assignment during the fall 2001 filming "will always be bitterly and sadly tinged with the shock and grief that our nation suffered" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

If Jackson had been around for that event, Lang said he "would've praised God as he took up the sword and raised the black flag," allowing "no quarter" to the perpetrators.

"Amen," whispered Fred Williams of Frederick, Md., listening in the audience.

Lang said he believed that had Jackson survived the war, "he would've been called upon by his country to assist in the reunification" of North and South - and would have done so because "he would've considered it God's will."

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