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Civil War movies

In light of the new movie coming out on the anniversary of the start of the Civil War,  The Conspirator, I thought I’d do a list of movies related. What does Hollywood know about the actual war? I guess we’ll find out what they took from history and what they made up.

Here’s the synopsis for The Conspirator:
In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, the Vice-President, and the Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt, 42, owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick Aiken, a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. As the trial unfolds, Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her own son.

Which brings up another good question: where is the line between historical accuracy and fictional narrative? A discussion for another time.

In the mean time, here are my 5 favorite Civil War movies in no particular order. Some are because of the drama and supurb acting (#1) and some because it was incredibly well done with great music (#2). Some (#3) because it’s a movie I grew up on. What are yours?

1. Gone With the Wind
It’s a classic, and yes, it spans pre-war through post-Reconstruction, but I love it. Scarlette is a strong-willed Southern woman who survives husbands, society, and the North in an effort to keep her family farm–with or without her self esteem. Plus, there’s Melanie. A true strong-willed woman, a match for Scarlette no matter what critics may say, she take no bull from anyone and knows the score better than most. Fromhe burning of Atlanta (filmed before Vivian Leigh was even cast as Scarlett) and Sherman’s March to the Sea, it takes a slice of war and turns it into a fight for love, survival, and acceptance.

2. Gettysburg
Possibly  longer than Gone with the Wind (at least a photo finish) this movie has one of the best soundtracks ever. I own it (back when you bought CDs) and love it. Filmed in Gettysburg, and based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Killer Angels, it shows the 3-day battle from all sides and with characters who are as real as their historical coutnerparts were. No cardboard cutouts here!


3. Shenandoah
A Virginia plantation owner who is unwilling to take sides but is forced to when the North captures his son as a Rebel soldier (sympathizer? I can’t remember, it’s been a while) Jimmy Stewart in one of many roles he shone in.

4. North and South (and not this North & South)
This made for TV mini-series is excellent. Rather, parts 1 and 2 are, I shall not utter a word about Heavan & Hell…it’s all too grousome. Read the books, they’re far superior, but the movies are great. And see if you can recognize the actors before they were famous!

5. Gods & Generals
Not as great as Gettysburg, but a very well done, well acted, well told movie. Nearly all the characters from Gettysburg returned to their roles to tell their story before the Battle of Gettysburg.

There are many more–take any Western movie made between 1930-1970 (and probably every single one today as well) and the hero inevitably returns from the war to A) his home which is never the same, B) escape the horrors of war, or C) make something of himself that ‘don’t involve killing’. John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry, Glenn Ford, Roy Rogers, and like 100 more that can be found here.


  1. I like all of these, Isabel! But I definitely have to add Glory as my favorite.

    I’m looking forward to this new CW movie and heard others will be coming out as well, due to the coming anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

  2. Isabel – Wonderful post!
    It’s hard to believe how many big movies have been made about the Civil War. The whole topic appears to bring out grandiose visions In the eyes of Hollywood film makers.
    I’m amazed by the sheer number of movies I’ve internalized during my (long) lifetime!
    Great kickoff to our Civil War commemoration!

  3. Courtney says:

    I love all of these, especially North and South but we can forget Glory. It is by far my favorite Civil War film.
    Beautifully acted, directed, lush, and moving.
    Good stuff!

  4. I love all of these!

    Another of my favorites, though it’s not technically a movie, is The Blue and the Gray, an old miniseries from the early 80s with Stacey Keach and Colleen Dewhurst. You can even play a fun game called “spot the 70s era TV actor ” while watching it!

    Great list and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who loves Shenandoah!

  5. Denise Eagan says:

    Gettysburge is definitely my favorite. I can almost quote it. But I can’t wait for this new one!

  6. Isabel Roman says:

    I forgot about the Blue & the Gray! Another great one. Glory, definitely yes, but I really don’t like Matthew Broderick except in Ferris Bueller. Something about him, I don’t know.

  7. Caroline Clemmons says:

    Isabel, great post. I loved “Shenandoah” so much. One you left out (well, there are probably lots but you only have so much room) is I think “Friendly Persuasion” with Gary Cooper. I can’t remember the female star. Who cares about her? LOL

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