Local Civil War re-enactor is an extra for Gods and Generals

Civil War re-enactor Robert Rannels of Tipton is an extra for numerous scenes in the Ted Turner Pictures production of Gods and Generals. The historical movie about the Civil War stars Robert Duvall and Jeff Daniels and is scheduled to be released on Friday, Feb. 21.
Originally from Lancaster County, Rannels moved to the Tipton area after marrying. He and his wife have four children together, and one of them, Michael, is also in the movie. Rannels is the nursing supervisor at the Tipton Medical and Diagnostic Center. He has been actively involved in re-enactments since 1971.
“I always liked history, and in fact one of my plans was to be a history teacher, which never happened,” said Rannels. “I also like muzzle-loading guns and things with historical-type weapons. And I got involved with a group in Lancaster with the Civil War and Revolutionary War. We did each for awhile, and then I got interested mostly in the Civil War.”
He is currently involved in a group in Altoona, the 46th Pennsylvania Logan Guard Band. It is made up of 12 active members, and they travel all over the east coast, south and west to perform at concerts, weddings and re-enactments.
“We’re actually a Civil War brass band, and we do infantry and band together,” said Rannels. “It’s pretty hard to find a Civil War band that has all original instruments.”
Rannels plays a coronet in the ensemble, and his instrument dates back to 1830. The only instrument in the band that is not of the original time period is the drums.
Also, he has taken part in several re-enactments and documentaries, but Gods and Generals is his first big movie production. Rannels explained that hundreds of people were working behind the scenes to make the movie a success.
“When I was down in the summer of 2001 at Gettysburg for the big re-enactment, they were taking applications for the movie,” he said. “Then we had to fill out the application and make numerous photos of ourselves for the different things that we could play and send them off. Then you were approved and sent a schedule and had to be there for certain times and things like that, so that’s basically how we got started.”
Jeff Shaara wrote the novel Gods and Generals, and Ron Maxwell adapted it as the director and writer of the movie. Shooting of the film took place in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Rannels needed to travel to these places because the crew tried to shoot the film as close to the authentic places as possible. Some computerized digitalizing of scenes was also performed in the studio to enhance the battle scenes of the movie.
“According to the statistics that I saw on a documentary about the making of Gods and Generals, there were probably 5000,” said Rannels of how many re-enactors took part in the filming of the movie. “One of the biggest groups we had for some battle scenes were 1,200 to 1,500 people at a time.”
Rannels volunteered most of his time for the filming. However, for the last two weeks he was hired by the production crew and paid for his work in the movie. His son, Michael, participated in the complete production of the movie, which took about three and a half months. Michael re-enacted basically the same type of parts that his father did.
“I play a Union infantry soldier; I play a confederate infantry soldier. I also do some scenes with artillery, and I also play a civilian,” said Rannels of his several parts in the movie. “In fact there is one shot where Robert Duvall whose one of the main characters who plays Robert E. Lee is in a courtroom, and he’s portraying actually taking over the army of West Virginia. He gave up his leadership with the Union, and I play a Virginia legislator in there. There’s a lot of people, but I’m in there somewhere.”
On the set, Rannels was able to meet Robert Duvall and shook his hand. He also met Jeff Daniels, who is another star of the movie. Rannels also said that a lot of time and energy is spent while filming for everyone involved.
“A lot of energy is burned getting up in the morning at 5:30 a.m. and sitting around all day for maybe a five minute scene that took you two to three days to do,” he said.
When the movie opens next Friday, Rannels says that a bunch of people are coming over to his house before the showing. Then, they are all going to the premiere together.
“My wife is going to go and buy tickets the first day. I’ve gotten calls from people that I haven’t heard from in years saying that they heard I was in this movie,” he said.
It seems like there is more acting in the future for Rannels because there is going to be another Civil War movie to follow Gods and Generals. Author of the novel, Jeff Shaara, has also written The Last Full Measure, which chronicles the time of Gettysburg up to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. Rannels said that he will hopefully be involved in the making of that movie as well.
“These are some of the most historically accurate movies that have ever been made,” said
. “Now of course, you have to enhance it somewhat, but the actors investigated their characters very well. I encourage people to see it not only for the historical fact but the way it develops the characters.”