Loosely based on Union soldier John Ransom’s diary, the made-for-television film Andersonville tells the true story of a Confederate prison camp near Andersonville, Ga. The soldiers and guards’ true human nature emerge as the men battle for scarce resources and fight to stay alive in the face of starvation and sickness. Director John Frankenheimer took home the 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special.
Birth of a Nation
D.W. Griffith's classic, controversial and, yes, racist 1915 film is the grandaddy of Civil War films. The director's staging, camera shots and pacing influenced generations of filmmakers. His pro-Ku Klux Klan, pro-Confederacy, anti-black spin on the post-Civil War Reconstruction of the South influenced popular understanding of the period for generations. The film is based on Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman.
Romania stands in for North Carolina in director Anthony Minghella’s epic war drama Cold Mountain, released in 2003. Populated with a gorgeous cast including Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger, Law plays a confederate soldier dead set on returning home to his belle, played by Kidman. The estimated $83 million gamble ended up raking in a global box office of $173 million and garnered seven Oscar nominations, including a best supporting actress win for Zellweger.
Dances With Wolves
Based upon Michael Blake's novel of the same name, 1990's Dances With Wolves won a total of seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director for Kevin Costner for his role in producing and directing the film. He also starred in the film, playing a Union lieutenant who finds himself in the company of a foreign Indian tribe upon being positioned at the deserted Western frontier.
Director Ronald F. Maxwell adapted the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Martin Sheen stars as General Robert E. Lee, who can’t agree on a plan of action with his second-in-command, General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger). Originally set to be distributed as a miniseries for TNT, Gettysburg debuted to a limited theatrical release in 1993. The film grossed a mere $11 million at the box office, but 23 million viewers tuned in to its television debut.
Gods and Generals
Written and produced by Ronald F. Maxwell, Gods and Generals is a prequel to the film Gettysburg. The 2003 release centers on the story of Stonewall Jackson, one of the most successful Confederate generals until his death in 1863.
Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel (originally published in 1936) made the transition to the silver screen in 1939. British actress Vivien Leigh embodied the iconic role of Scarlett O’Hara, beating out 1,400 other women for the part. Gone With the Wind follows the spoiled Scarlett as she encounters personal tragedy in the face of the Civil War, playing opposite Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. The film was a critical success and won eight Academy Awards.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Clint Eastwood (the good), Lee Van Cleef (the bad), and Eli Wallach (the ugly) star as a lawbreaking trio in Sergio Leone's 1966 film, which was first released in Italy. Embodying the different character personas of the title, the three men set out during the Civil War on a quest to steal a fortune in Confederate gold.
In the Steven Spielberg biopic, Daniel Day-Lewis played the titular role as the 16th president of the United States after Liam Neeson dropped out during preproduction. Spielberg used Doris Kearns Goodwin’s multiperson biography Team of Rivals, which chronicled Lincoln’s final months, as source material. Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar in 2013 for his portrayal of the embattled president.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
This funky 2012 adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup best-seller of the same name rewrites the story of the Civil War as Lincoln crusade to eradicate vampires by ending slavery. His actions to abolish slavery threaten vampires' food sources, since they masquerade as plantation owners and feed off of slaves (buying victims is easier than hunting them). The $69 million budget film failed to entice viewers and only grossed $37.5 million in North America.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Clint Eastwood takes on the role of both director and leading man in this 1976 Western. He plays Josey Wales, a farmer from Missouri whose revenge-seeking aim eventually makes him the target of Union soldiers and bounty hunters. In 1996 the movie was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane'sclassic turn-of-century novel came to thebig screen with John Huston's 1951 film adaptation that starred World War II hero Audie Murphy in the title role. The film tells the story of a Civil War soldier who falters under the pressure of overcoming his inner fear of combat and ultimately seeks to earn a "red badge of courage," a battle wound that symbolizes bravery.
Praised for its antiwar sentiment, this 1965 movie stars James Stewart as a Southern patriarch resisting the Civil War until his youngest son becomes a Northern prisoner. Ironically, despite the film’s antiwar message, Stewart himself fought in World War II as a bomber pilot and a squadron commander and served as a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve during filming.
Richard Gere and Jodie Foster star in the mystery-romance film set during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Gere plays Jack Sommersby, a callous and wealthy landowner who abuses his wife, Laurel (Foster), and is called away to join the Confederate Army. After a nine-year absence, Jack returns to his family a seemingly changed man. Soon Laurel and other town citizens wonder if the man who returned to them is who he says he is.
Passed over by critics and audiences alike during its original 1926 release, the silent comedy film The General was inspired by real events. The legendary Buster Keaton co-directed and starred in the film as Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who goes on a wild chase after Union spies steal his beloved locomotive and his girl Annabelle (Marion Mack). Today, critics worldwide herald the film as a masterpiece.
The Horse Soldiers
John Wayne leads his Union cavalry brigade into enemy territory as they set out to destroy a Confederate rail and supply depot in John Ford’s 1959 film The Horse Soldiers. A tragic accident occurred on set when veteran stuntman Fred Kennedy was killed in a horse fall. Ford closed the set that day, but the original scene remains in the film.
Photo by: TriStar Pictures
Glory highlights a little-known group of Civil War heroes: the soldiers of the 54thRegiment Massachusetts. Colonel Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) led the first all-African-American unit in the Union Army. Despite prejudice and racism from both sides, the regiment leads the assault on Fort Wagner. Though the attack was unsuccessful, historians credit the regiment’s bravery with the following rise in the enlistment of African-American volunteers, a pivotal move in the Union’s victory. Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for his role as soldier John Rawlins.