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post Reflections on The High Chaparral and the Civil War

January 19th, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:21 am

By Jane Rodgers

“Gettysburg was the price the South paid for Robert E. Lee.” Historian Shelby Foote

The High Chaparral is rife with allusions to the Civil War.  Even the most casual viewer quickly learns John fought for the Union while Buck signed on with the Confederacy. Arizona provides a new post-Civil War start for the brothers Cannon and family.

In the fourth season’s episode “The Badge,” John and Buck recall Gettysburg.
“You were at Gettysburg?” Buck asks John.
“You too?” the elder Cannon replies.
“Ain’t that something? You and me takin’ pot shots at Gettysburg without knowin’ it,” says Buck, who in this prequel episode set in 1866 is clearly more interested in avoiding a murder charge than in reminiscing about the good old days in Pennsylvania.

“The Badge” is not the first High Chaparral episode to include references to Gettysburg.

Buck tells Jake Lanier, his former captain who has commandeered the Hacienda Montoya in “The Filibusteros,” that experiences at Gettysburg and elsewhere in the war have made him think little worth dying for any more. Lanier recalls seeing Buck “high tailing it across that field in Pennsylvania with five of my best men, blowing up that ammunition pile.”

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, in which Buck often proclaims having served as part of the Fifth Virginia infantry, only crossed into northern territory twice during the war: once at Antietam in Maryland, and the other, into Gettysburg.  After turning down Lincoln’s offer of the Union command in the early days of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee had resigned his commission in the United States Army, pledging in a letter to his old commander, General Winfield Scott, “Save in defense of my native state shall I never again draw my sword.” Lee’s words prove prophetic. Each time Lee took the offensive in the Civil War, venturing north of Virginia, he failed. As long as Lee kept the war on a defensive footing, he generally won.

If Buck Cannon did serve at Gettysburg, he was as lucky to make it out alive as Lee’s army was to escape across the Potomac after the third day of the carnage.

Actually, if Buck were at Gettysburg, it’s likely he was more than lucky. It’s likely he was nearly superhuman, the 19th century equivalent of Superman or the Flash, because it seems Buck also served at Vicksburg. In “The Buffalo Soldiers,” Buck remembers serving in Mississippi when talking to the soldier who is fixing Mano’s boot.

“Hey, Corporal, small world. I was at Vicksburg fighting for the Rebels,” Buck announces.
“I was on the other side of the creek, Mister, firing right back at you,” rejoins the corporal.

The battle of Gettysburg occurred from July 1-3, 1863. It involved Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, to which the Fifth Virginia, Buck’s regiment, was attached. The 47 day siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863, when CSA Lieutenant General Pemberton and his half-starved men surrendered the city to Grant’s forces. Could even Buck Cannon be in two places at once? Had he been present at the siege of Vicksburg, he would have been trapped inside the city. And Buck would not have been with his oft touted Fifth Virginia regiment. Pemberton’s unit was under the overall command of General Joseph E. Johnson in what was considered the western theater of the war.

How could even Buck have been in two places at once? True, throughout the course of the series, he manages to sport enough hair colors to make a stylist do a double take, sometimes in the same season. Maybe Buck’s mysterious military service is as magical as Victoria’s magic closet which seamlessly offers clothes of every size to whatever underdressed female happens along. Fashion is uppermost on the High Chaparral.

Here’s my theory, because we know Buck would not lie. Nor could avid historian David Dortort have allowed such mistakes, although he may have misjudged the Civil War savvy of his audience.

Buck must have been dispatched from the Fifth Virginia as a messenger to Pemberton in Mississippi, tasked with acquiring intelligence and returning to report to Lee. I refuse to think that Jake Lanier had the authority to send Buck on such a mission, but no one could say no to Bobby Lee, least of all good old Virginia boy Buck.

Buck was not in the prolonged siege of Vicksburg, but rather participated in the battle preceding the siege: the initial assault upon Vicksburg which occurred on May 19 and 22. Pemberton inflicted massive casualties upon Grant as the assault was fought to a bloody draw. Grant realized he could only win by waiting out the Confederates who had retreated within the city walls. Grant, at his best when fighting, eventually turned to drinking during the waiting game. Somehow, in the early days of the siege, Buck must have escaped through enemy lines in the confusion. Perhaps he shed his Confederate grays for black leather…and changed his height by donning those moccasin boots he favored in season one. Buck Cannon can do anything.

Regardless, he must have hoofed it up to Pennsylvania just in time for the three days of hell called Gettysburg.  Knowing Buck, he likely ran across that “field in Pennsylvania” with the division of dandified General George Pickett, whose casualties were massive in the third day’s bloodbath, Pickett’s Charge—a futile infantry attack across an open field into the jaws of death, or in this case, massive Yankee artillery. Possibly Jake Lanier lurked safely behind some tree during the slaughter. Pickett never forgave Lee for sacrificing his men needlessly. Jake Lanier never forgot Buck.

We know that John Cannon recovered from Gettysburg in time to be present at Petersburg where he cut off the arm of Finley Carr in one of the final engagements of the Civil War.  Somewhere along the way, John, rigid and rule abiding, also found time to capture and turn in his old pal from back home, Jim Forrest, to a Union POW camp, thus adding Forrest to the long list of ex-Confederates who wished to see John Cannon dead.

Thankfully, none succeed and the Cannons live on at the High Chaparral, having survived the war, Cochise, and numerous former Confederates with grudges aplenty. Perhaps a fifth season would have brought still another Rebel blast from the past…Blue, returning from his mysterious absence, toting a mysterious stranger: his fiancée—a young lady who is the daughter of another crazed ex-Confederate seeking retribution. Alas, we shall never know.

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