The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986)

The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986)

In the eyes of many fans of the trilogy of miniseries based upon John Jakes’ saga, ”The NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy”, the only miniseries not worthy of the entire saga is the third one – ”HEAVEN AND HELL: North and South Book III”. I wish I could agree with them. After all, the production values for ”Book III” had not been as impressive as the other two. And of the three miniseries, ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” had the best costume designs. But looking at the three miniseries from the prospective of a writer, I have finally come to the conclusion that it was ”Book II” (set during the Civil War), and not ”Book III” that ended up being a lot more disappointing to me.

None of the three miniseries were exact copies of the novels from which they had been adapted. Changes were made in all three. Despite some flaws, I had no problems with most of the changes in ”Book I” and ”Book III”. But I found some of the changes in ”Book II” to be very questionable. In fact, some of these changes really did nothing to serve the miniseries’ story, except pad it unnecessarily in order to ensure that it would last six episodes.

Below are some examples of the questionable plotlines I found in ”BOOK II”:

*Around the end of Episode I, Brett Main Hazard (Genie Francis) – a South Carolina belle who had recently married Pennsylvania-born army officer, Billy Hazard (Parker Stevenson) – and her maid, Semiramis (Erica Gimpel), had left Washington D.C. just before the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). The former had received a written note about Madeline LaMotte (Lesley Anne Down)’s kidnapping by her estranged husband (David Carridine) and the injuries that Brett’s mother – Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) – had suffered following a barn fire at the Main’s South Carolina plantation, Mont Royal. Brett and Semiramis finally reached Mont Royal in November 1861. I have a lot of problems with this.

1) Why was the message about Clarissa and Madeline sent to Brett in
Washington D.C. and not to Brett’s older brother, General Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) in Richmond? It would have been easier to reach him, since Richmond was inside Confederate territory.

2) Would it have been easier for Brett and Semiramis remain in Richmond and wait for Orry to depart for South Carolina? What was the point of them leaving him a message and continuing their journey south? They would have reached Mont Royal a lot sooner.

3) Why did it take them three to four months to reach South Carolina? It took them at least less than a week to travel from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia – despite being delayed by Union troops. They were on horseback. So why did it take them an additional three-and-a-half months to reach Mont Royal in South Carolina?

*Episode I revealed that both George Hazard and Orry Main served as military aides for their respective political leaders – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Between Episode I and early Episode III, George provided information to Lincoln on battle results and on the President’s behalf, interviewed General Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, to see if the latter was the right man to take over the Army of the Potomoc in Virginia. George became a field commander right before the Battle of Gettysburg. Orry not only provided battle results and other information to Davis, he also served as some kind of quartermaster and investigator of corruption within the Confederacy. He became a field commander right before the Battle of Sayler’s Creek in Episode VI. I had a lot of problems with this.

1) Although both George and Orry had graduated from West Point’s Class of 1846 and served in the Mexican-American War, they only served for a duration of at least eighteen months. Both men, due to personal reasons, had left the Army by the late winter/early spring of 1848. How on earth did both managed to acquire such high positions – militarily and politically – at the start of the Civil War, thirteen years later? Even the younger members in their families – Billy Hazard and Charles Main – had more military experience before the war – nearly five years apiece.

2) Neither George or Orry had acquired any further military experiences or participated in any political movements or organizations in their respective home states of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, during those thirteen years between 1848 and 1861.

3) Although George primarily served as an adviser for Lincoln before becoming a field commander, Orry served in a confusing mixture of duties that included military adviser, quartermaster, and investigator. What the hell? It almost seemed as if the screenwriters could not make up their minds on what capacity Orry had served in the Confederate Army, before becoming a field commander during the war’s final month.

4) In the early summer of 1863, George became an artillery commander in the Army of the Potomoc. I am aware that he had graduated from West Point near the top of class, ranking sixth. But in 1846, George decided to choose the Infantry in which to serve. His only previous military experience before the Battle of Gettysburg was fifteen months as a junior infantry officer. How on earth did he end up in artillery, with no previous experience in that particular field?

George and Orry’s military experiences during the war smacked of a great deal of bad continuity, lack of logic and confusion.

*In Episode III, despondent over being unable to see Brett for two years, Billy decides to go AWOL, following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and head south to South Carolina to see Brett. Upon his arrival at Mont Royal, he stays there less than 24 hours and leaves to return to the Army. He returned to duty in Hiram Burdam (Kurtwood Smith)’s Sharpshooter regiment in late April/early May 1864, in time to participate in the Battle of the Wilderness. And I had problems with this.

1) It took Billy less than a month to travel from Southern Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) to Mont Royal in South Carolina. Yet, it took him at least eight to nine months to rejoin his regiment, who were back in Virginia by the time of his arrival. Why did it take him longer to travel from South Carolina to Virginia, than it did for him to travel from Southern Pennsylvania to South Carolina? He was on horseback.

2) Billy had been AWOL from the Army for at least nine to ten months (July 1863 – late April/early May 1864). Why did Colonel Burdan fail to punish him for abandoning his post without permission . . . for so long? In the spring of 1864, the Union Army was not exactly desperate for an increase in manpower, unlike the Confederate Army. In fact, Billy never even faced a court martial or trial of any kind for his actions. His only punishments were a stern lecture from Burdan and being passed over for a promotion to the rank of captain. This is illogical . . . even for a fictional story.

*Charles Main (Lewis Smith) and Augusta Barclay (Kate McNeil) first met each other while the former was on a scouting mission for the Confederacy and the latter was smuggling medicine in July 1861. They met again, the following year, when Charles appeared at her farm, wounded. In the spring of 1864, following the Battle of the Wilderness, they began a love affair that lasted until they said good-bye for the last time in February 1865. Two months later, following the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, Charles returned to Barclay Farm and learned that Augusta had died while giving birth to his son. Charles learned that Augusta’s South Carolina relatives had taken custody of Charles Augustus Main and returned to Charleston. There, Charles took custody of his son for the first time. I have a problem.

1) Charles and Augusta saw each other for the last time in February 1865. When Charles returned to her farm, two months later, her former servant – Washington (John Nixon) – informed him that she had recently died from giving birth to Charles’ son. Yet, Augusta certainly did not look pregnant, during Charles’ last visit two months ago – when the unborn baby should have been at least six to seven months old. And she was wearing a corset.

2) Following his discovery that he was a father, it did not take Charles very long to return to South Carolina and claim his child. Yet, the recently Charles Augustus Main looked at least between one to two years old. If that had been the child’s real age, Charles and Augusta’s son would have been born a year earlier – before they had consummated their relationship in May 1864.

*After being driven from Mont Royal by the discovery of a family secret by Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber), Madeline Main (Lesley Anne-Down) settles in Charleston around July-September 1863. The following spring in May 1864, she meets a former slave/refugee named Jim (Bumper Robinson) and his sick mother. Because of this meeting, Madeline decides to offer aid to many of Charleston’s war refugees – whether they are ex-slaves or poor whites. She also learns about Jim and his mother’s personal history. Apparently, they were Tennessee slaves who were freed upon the arrival of Union troops at their former master’s plantation, who decided to make their way to Charleston.

1) WHAT IN THE HELL IS THIS? Why on earth would recently emancipated slaves make their way deep into Confederate territory? Did the writers of the miniseries honestly believe that slaves were that stupid? Jim and his mother were from Tennessee. They could have made their way to any of the following cities:

*Nashville, Tennessee – which fell to Union troops in February 1862
*Memphis, Tennessee – captured by the Union in June 1862
*New Orleans, Louisiana – fell to Union troops in April 1862
*Louisville, Kentucky – which remained in the Union throughout the war

Any of the above cities were closer to the plantation owned by Michael’s master and could have provided safe refuge for him and his mother. Certainly not Charleston, South Carolina, which was too far and still Confederate territory by the spring of 1864.

2) The writers could have written Michael and his mother as South Carolina slaves. And yet . . . they would have been wiser to head for Hilton Head, the only safe refuge for runaway slaves in South Carolina, until February 1865.

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12 Responses

  1. Excellent review of the ridiculous storyline & its innacuracy. I absolutely agree with you as I do about Heaven & Hell. Aside from the fact that Bent survives an explosion that would have decimated the entire Union Army and survives to haunt George at the conclusion of Book 2. Plus, Orry should’ve probabably been killed off in the Book 2 miniseries as he was in ‘LOVE & WAR.’ It was obvious he was dropped to a co starring role in the second mini series because of Swayze’s growing popularity in feature films. Good job. Thank you.

  2. Is this seriously what you got from watching this wonderful miniseries??? Problems with timelines? IT’S A BOOK AND A MOVIE! Why not just enjoy the story and the efforts of the actors and beautiful costumes and landscapes and not get so caught up about timelines and mistakes that the writers made about timelines??? Not to be rude, but really, who cares?

    • I’m sorry if I had insulted your sensibilities regarding my criticisms. I didn’t realize you would take it so personally. Really? All of this emotion for a miniseries that aired nearly thirty years ago?

    • Thanks sandiwinters. I agree – it’s a wonderful, entertaining movie with great characters, costumes, and scenery. It is also educational. Watching it made me want to look further into the Civil War. Will watch Gettysburg next – and then the Winds of War.

  3. I agree there were serious issues in Book II, although I certainly enjoyed watching it and there are lots of great ‘moments’ in it. But a few things sort of prevent it from being a great drama:

    #1) The amount of times the various characters on opposite sides ‘run into’ each other during the war is not only implausible but gets to the point of ridiculous. I know there were a lot less people in the world then, than now, but it’s a big army and that just doesn’t happen that many numbers of times. I count…..5 times [Antietam, Bull Run, Petersburg and George/Orry in the woods, plus Virgilia and Orry in the hospital]

    #2) The series would have benefited if the relationship between Charles and Billy was given more attention as it did in the novel. In the novel it was Billy, not George who was imprisoned and then freed by Charles. I understand the audience was more attached to George/Orry relationship, I guess this is why it was done. But Billy and Charles could have at least said hi to each other more than they did. Their story had no closure – as best friends they met in battle but then didn’t have any conversation of consequence upon getting reunited after the war.

    #3) Chronology/believability of the stories and silly mistakes….you are right about the baby timing, the desertion story timing, and then a silly mistake in Ep #6 – Madeline’s baby changes to Blond Hair one scene after it has brown hair! Let alone that this baby, born in early 1864, is supposed to be about 1 1/2 years old – much older than Charles’ baby, born in 1865 – but it looks younger! Also the way the Aunt Barclay just handed the baby over to Charles was kind of silly – trying to wrap things up too fast and ‘neatly’ in the last episode – the novel did that scene much better.

    #4) Not including Orry’s Death in Book II: The fact that none of the 4 main characters actually die in the Civil war despite all of them being in so many battles is not very plausible, and I think the book does a better job at this:
    In Jakes’ Love and War, Charles is in lots of battles but never gets wounded and feels very guilt about why he is spared [he is actually saved one time by a book that Augusta gave him that blocks a bullet]. Billy is an engineer, and Orry actually doesn’t do combat until very late [due to the fact he has one arm]. Orry is killed by union troops in sort of a senseless act of violence/bitterness during the late days of the war [if I’m remembering right, Orry is shot by a dying Union soldier who he finds by the side of the road, and hid a gun behind his canteen]. I understand that in the book John Jakes was trying to make a statement about the war and about Orry as a tragic character. On TV this would have been a terrible way for Patrick Swayze’s heroic character to die. But the lame way he gets killed on TV at the beginning of Book III is not only doesn’t do justice to him as a character. I guess they had to do something to bridge Book II and III – and there was no good solution, it would have been silly to bring Patrick Swayze back just to face Bent [and then die].

    Despite all this, I think North and South, Book II is a good miniseries, is an interesting way to bring Civil War history to the average person, and is a lot more fun to watch than Book III. Book 1 was definitely the best though.

    • Was Book II more fun to watch that Book III? I don’t know. Perhaps for you, but I found the writing and the sanctimonious dialogue (especially from historical characters) too frustrating to watch. Book III had its flaws, but I didn’t find them as frustrating as I did toward the ones in Book II. My biggest problem with Book III is that I believe it could have had another episode and better production values.

  4. I have one to add. How about Tom the Drummer Boy? Tom served 4 years in the war and didn’t age a day. Especially at that young age. 9-13, 10-14, 11-15, and no aging!

  5. Lots of plot holes in all 3 books and movies. In the start of Heaven and Hell movie, Ashton and Bent were on their way to borrow money from Orry. WTF? Orry would likely shot them on sight!

    What happened to Resolute after Justin died and Madeline returned to Mont Royal? Someone would had to take charge of the estate and the servants. I know she sold it years later but it couldn’t just be abandoned.

    Cuffie was shown stealing Clarissa’s jewelry but no mention was made of the theft.

    As for Tom. I remember a scene which was obviously deleted. Billy returns as promised but someone else is in Tom’s bed. He is told that Tom died while he was away. He finds the grave and places the broken drum on it. I’ve been told that I imagined this scene since no one else remembers it. I don’t usually watch Civil War movies and the only other one I’ve seen is Blue and Gray.

    At the final scene of Love and War, when they are burying Clarissa, where did they get those new clothes?

    • I don’t know what happened to Resolute in the novel. However, Madeline had sold it in the second miniseries. Actually, Rafe Beaudine had purchased it behind her back so that she could have money to feed Charleston’s poor. I don’t know what happened to the estate after his death.

      Ashton was planning to blackmail Orry for money, using Madeline’s African-American ancestry. Bent simply wanted to kill Orry in revenge for the latter nearly killing him, near the end of “Book 2”.

      I don’t know how they got new clothes for Clarissa’s burial.

  6. I’d like to see a reboot of the whole darn thing that stays closer to the source material, without inventing characters or embellishing Jakes’ storyline, with more accurate costumes and hairstyles, actors who are at least close to the characters’ ages, actors who actually resemble their characters (Bent should NOT be good looking!), and more realism as far as the way the slaves are portrayed. There are more special effects available now, so Orry could actually be made to look like he lost an arm, the battle sequences could be more realistic, and there is less censorship on TV now, so the storyline wouldn’t have to be altered to suit the pearl-clutchers. But so many people have a sentimental attachment to the original, that I doubt it will happen.
    I’d say Book 3 was my least favorite-the girl who played Willa made me want to throw a brick at my TV. I wasn’t as invested in the whole Cousin Charles Goes West storyline anyway….

    • What do you mean by more realism by the way the slaves are portrayed? And to be honest, I was not that concerned by whether Orry had an arm missing or a bum knee, as long as he was physically disabled in some way.

      I’m not demanding that the adaptation should have completely faithful to the novel. There is no way that any television producer or movie producer could achieve that. But many of the changes made to Jakes’ novel DID NOT improve the story.

      I enjoyed Rya Kihlstedt’s portrayal of Willa Parker. And I thought Charles’ western experiences was a great follow-up to the the problems he had experienced during the war.

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