The news that Jeff Shaara, author of Gods and Generals, will turn his novel of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville into a made-for-TV movie should give pause hereabouts. A lot of folks who live within a rebel yell of Malvern Hill recall what Hollywood, with Ted Turner commanding troop movements, did to The Killer Angels and Andersonville. It was not pretty.

Turner, who strikes Virginians as about as Southern in manner as George Steinbrenner, has not been entirely chivalrous to the Confederacy in his movie-house renderings of the War of the Rebellion. Civil War Times, which rather liked the Turner network’s adaptation of MacKinley Kantor’s Andersonville, nevertheless noted that the guards at that Georgia prison camp were not only well dressed in the movie but downright “fat.”

The reviewer’s observation was not simply an aesthetic judgment on the actors’ physiques; it implied a historical and moral judgment on the filmmakers’ part toward the South itself. Turner, it now seems clear, has been foisting upon an unsuspecting public a number of new theories to explain hitherto unanswered questions about the Civil War itself. which must be resisted.

In Turner’s version, the Confederates at Andersonville had plenty to eat themselves and deliberately starved their captives. There is nothing in the historical record to support such a claim, but this lack of evidence, we will no doubt be informed, only shows how crafty subsequent generations of Southern historians have been in covering up these sadistic misdeeds.

Watching Pickett’s Charge in Gettysburg for the umpteenth time on videocassette the other night, I began to appreciate how profoundly revisionist a filmmaker Turner is. I had never realized that Turner wants us to conclude the South lost the war because its men were so godawful fat.

The spectacle of all those portly Confederate soldiers trying to get their lard asses over the fence between Seminary Ridge and the Union Center said it all. The decision to send those butternut-and-blue Rush Limbaugh lookalikes huffing and puffing across that expanse of unprotected terrain could not have been accidental, on Turner’s part, or Robert E. Lee’s.

Either the South really was a decadent culture, whose menfolk had grown slothful and stout from too much bourbon and fried chicken, or forces more sinister were at work: The Army of North Virginia in Gettysburg is led by a diabolical genius whose enormous duplicity has not until now been hinted at in the history books, much less revealed on the big screen.

The histories tell us that by May 1865, when Lee took his army into Maryland and Pennsylvania, his men were wellnigh emaciated. The Southerners had been subsisting on the crops from Virginia farms which, by this time, were barren. Lee’s men needed food, so he took the war into the enemy’s territory, where his men could live off the land. Gettysburg suggests that this expedition in search of foodstuffs was all a clever ruse and that Lee may in fact have been a bass-ackwards Benedict Arnold who never left the employ of the United States Army.

Lee’s actions at Gettysburg and in Gettysburg have been interpreted by most movie critics and some historians to have been eerily “suicidal.” Turner would have us believe that they were rational calculations, designed to doom a Southern cause which Lee in his heart of hearts opposed. Knowing full well that his troops were too out of shape to make any such charge across open fields and over fences, Lee deliberately ordered them to their deaths—and so saved the Union.

There is still time to put forth alternative explanations for the events depicted on the screen, and it is not too soon to do so. There is the distinct possibility that the Confederate soldiers in Gettysburg were such slobs simply because Turner relied on the services of hundreds of 40- something reenactors who seem to spend the rest of their waking moments wedged into La-Z-Boy recliners and who ought to get lives.

When they go to film Gods and Generals, Hollywood can again be expected to take liberties with the story, though it would be to everyone’s benefit, and history’s, if less portly extras were used. It is entirely possible that Turner was simply too lavish in the feeding of his cast, which might have been better served had he issued them all Jane Fonda workout videos, to be put to good use, say, six months before filming began.

If that is the case, then Lee was mistaken when he told his men that the slaughter in Pickett’s Charge was “all my fault.” As usual, Marse Robert was being too hard on himself. The Southern defeat was not his fault at all. It was Ted Turner’s caterer’s.