Photo Prompt Story: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

My thanks to Fraggle, from for this photo prompt. It has taken me a long time to getting round to using it.

Michigan was a long way from the south, and young John didn’t recall ever seeing a slave. But those rebs had started a ruckus by firing on a fort somewhere, and he had a mind to join in before it was all over. He talked to Caleb about it, and that boy was as keen as mustard. “Reckon we’ll have to lie about our age, John. But pa says they need a lot of soldiers, and they needs them now. Can’t see them bothering too much about a year or two”.

The recruiting sergeant shook his head as they stood in front of his desk. “You gotta be joshing me, boys. Why don’t you go home to your mommas afore they wonder where you got to?” The boys faces coloured red, and they put on their hats and walked off in a sulk.

His older sisters teased him when he got home, and mom cuffed him around the head. “What d’you think you’re playing at, boy? I never heard of such a thing. Soldiering at your age? And your pa dead but a year after that accident. Now get washed up for dinner!”

Things changed after Bull Run. Despite being the same age, they took Caleb. Well, he was a head taller, and they ignored the lie.

December was as cold as always, and John made up his mind. Come the new year of sixty-two, he would try again. The Federal Army was losing all over, and didn’t seem to have the sand to stand against those rebs. Some said it was bad generals, ’cause the rebs had better ones. John would read the newspapers he found thrown down in the streets, and became more determined he just had to go.

When the news came about Caleb, he was shocked. Hard to imagine Caleb gone, and in some place in Missouri that he had never heard of. Truth be told, John didn’t even know where Missouri was.

Two days later, he got up when it was still dark. Sneaking out, he took a spare shirt, and some bread from the larder, before making the long walk into Detroit. It was still cold, so he walked fast to stay warm. Someone at the edge of the city told him how to find the recruiting office, and he managed to keep the directions in his head in the city he had only been to once before in his short life.

The queue was small, and once the doors opened he was soon inside. This time, nobody mentioned his age, or that he was so short. Some doctor in a white coat looked him over, pronounced him fit for service, and he was sent to wait in a wagon with the others. Sitting on the rough plank, he swallowed hard. He was in the Union Army, 15th Michigan Infantry.

For the rest, it was mostly a blur. Training to march, training to carry and shoot the heavy rifle, trying to get on with the others who were mostly city boys from Detroit. They ragged him a lot, and made him do the unpleasant jobs. It was no never mind to John, as he would soon be fighting the rebs, and avenging Caleb. Then he had the blue uniform, and felt he stood taller in it. The rumours were all around the camp. They were heading south and west.


The next few days were all about marching, wagons, and trains. Sergeant Kraus pushed him awake as he dozed on a station platform. Kraus laughed, his teeth stained dark from chaw. “Hurry up and wait, little John. Hurry up and wait boy”. On the last train, John felt the heat down south. Packed into the carriages, it felt hotter than hell for October, and then they had to march to the defences at Corinth. He sweated right through the stiff uniform, and his backpack and rifle felt like they would drag him down to the ground. He saw his first artillery shells exploding as they dropped onto the works around the town.

Rebel shells.

Inside the dugout, they had to parade for Captain Stagle. He set his jaw, and told them the worst. “Boys, Van Dorn is out there with his rebel army. He reckons to attack soon, and we are going to be waiting for him”. He waited for the ragged cheer that followed. “I am pleased to tell you that we will be at the front. We are going to be outside the earthworks, and give those rebs a nasty surprise. Come on the fifteenth!” The next cheer was heartier, but John knew they were all hungry and tired.

All they had that night was hard biscuit and beans. And they had to sleep on the ground between the rebs and the trenches. Sergeant Kraus roused him at first light, and all he had was the water in his canteen. The humidity was awful, and he could not even recall the last time he had washed himself.

When the enemy artillery started just after nine, the only relief was that that death was falling on the defences to the rear. It was close to lunchtime when John saw his first reb, as they swarmed in front of him screeching that terrible yell. Sergeant Kraus shouted at him, “Fire your rifle, boy!” Then Kraus fell dead with a minie ball through his head.

John fired without seeing a target, and reloaded. But the rebs were upon them, and the company was running back to the trenches. He ran with the others, and didn’t see the man who fired the bullet into his back. Just felt the earth in his mouth as he fell, screaming in pain.

The Union Army won the battle of Corinth, after a hard fight.

But Johnny never marched home.

Just Been Watching… (118)

The Beguiled (2017)

***No Spoliers***

Just got around to watching this, which I had saved on my PVR. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a remake of the original 1971 film by Don Siegel, that starred Clint Eastwood.

Adapted from a novel of the same name, it is set during the US Civil War, in 1864. In war-torn Virginia, only a few girls remain at an academy for young ladies. Still being taught, and working the land to survive, they hope to see out the war safely, by staying in seclusion. Then one day, the youngest girl is searching for mushrooms in the woods, and comes across a wounded Union soldier. Despite him being an enemy, she takes pity on him, and helps him back to the school.

His arrival among the girls and two older women teachers causes a stir. At first they think to hand him over to Confederate patrols, but the novelty of having a man in the old plantation house makes the owner change her mind. She tends his wounds instead, and allows him to stay locked in a room until he has recovered enough to become a prisoner of war. The mixed ages of the women and girls means we see a range of emotions toward the man. From the repressed sexuality of the older lonely women, the curiousity of the pubescent younger girls, and the youngest one who looks upon him as an older brother.

The scene is set for a dangerous mix of passions to explode in the closed atmosphere of the school.

Director Sophia Coppola offers us a muted colour palette, a real sense of the summer heat in Virginia, and glances and nuances that betray the desire of the females, and their Union prisoner too. The casting is first-rate, with Colin Farrell as the Irishman who no longer wants to fight, seeing an easy life is possible by staying shut away with the women and girls. The owner of the school is played by Nicole Kidman with her usual flair, and the excellent Kirsten Dunst shines as the sexually-repressed woman who lusts after contact with the handsome man. The other girls in the cast capture the mood of the 19th century very well, and as each one encounters the man during his stay, they manage to perfectly convey their change in attitude to him.

As he grows stronger, and is able to mix with them, the soldier begins to take advantage of his unusual situation, and things build to a satisfying climax. All of this is packed into a suitably short running time that never stretches to boredom, or uses ‘fillers’. It sounds good, doesn’t it? And it is.

But, there’s a big BUT.

The whole thing is pretty much a scene by scene remake of the original 1971 film. In that one, Eastwood plays the soldier as a more sleazy and opportunistic character, and we always know his intentions. The women in that first film are less attractive too, explaining to some extent why they so easily succumb to his charms. Siegel gives us a more lurid film, as suits the story, and the sense of overwhelming repressed desire is better handled too.

In short, the remake was completely unnecessary. (They usually are) And the original, in my opinion, is a more satisfying film.

Many others don’t agree with me, I know. That’s up to them.

The Camera At War: Early War Photographs

Ever since 1914, we have been used to seeing images of wars. Soldiers, battles, and the mechanical weapons of war too. More recently, we can watch modern wars ‘live’ with reporters bringing us footage of battles as they are happening, in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.

But war photography goes back much further than that. In The Crimean War of 1853-1856, intrepid photographers travelled to Russia with the armies, to try to capture the life of the Victorian soldier.

A British Guards Sergeant, proudly posing in his uniform.

CRIMEAN WAR 1854-56 (Q 71631) Portrait of Sergeant William Knapp, Coldstream Guards, with his pack and equipment. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

British Lancers, from a regiment that would have charged into The ‘Valley of Death’, at Balaclava.
(Photo obviously ‘colourised’)

From 1899-1901, The British Empire fought the army of Dutch settlers in Africa, known as The Boers.
Both sides wanted to retain their influence in two areas of South Africa.

Boer fighters. They were a tough and determined enemy.

British Troops manning a machine gun, taken in 1900 during that war.

But no war was ever previously photographed as much as the US Civil War, from 1861-1865.

Boy drummers, who would have marched into action alongside fighting troops.

Freed slaves and free black men were allowed to fight in the Union Army, though they mainly had white officers commanding them.
Here, some new recruits pose with their weapons.

This was one of the first times that the carnage of war was photographed for public consumption.
The bodies of soldiers after the Battle of Antietam, in 1862.

Confederate dead in the trenches at Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1863.

The body of a dead confederate after the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1863.
It was later discovered that many such photos were ‘staged’ by some photographers.
The bodies would be moved into specific locations, or arranged in the pose of a supposedly ‘heroic’ death.

There was also some attempt to portray the devastation caused by this long war.
Here is the centre of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865.

Just been watching…(40)

Free State Of Jones (2016)

***As it is historical, there are some event spoilers***

As a real fan of films set during the U.S. Civil War, I was keen to see this film, which is based on real events. I am not normally a fan of Matthew McConaughey, who plays the lead, but if it is about the civil war, I can put up with that. It is worth mentioning that it is only ‘based’ on real events, and does not claim to show them all in order, or with complete accuracy.

The fist thing to note about this film is that it is not a conventional war film. Although it begins showing some action, and a battle, it is about a lot more than another attempt to show the war from one side or the other, or both at the same time, as in ‘Gettysburg’ for example.

After losing a young relative killed on his first day in action, Newton Knight is at the end of his tether. Already disillusioned by the feeling that Confederate soldiers like him are just fighting for the rich slave owners, he and some of his fellow soldiers are sickened to hear about a new law. This law states that men from families who ‘own twenty negroes’ are not compelled to do military service. He decides to desert, and to return the body of his young relative to their home county of Jones, Mississippi. Once there, he is further shocked to discover that the Confederate government is now taxing the poor ordinary people, taking their crops and livestock as well as household goods, to feed and clothe the army.

Knight soon organises the local people against the soldiers collecting these taxes. He has to go on the run, or be faced with arrest for desertion. He is helped to hide in the local impenetrable swamps, where he falls in with a group of runaway slaves. This ragtag group is later joined by more deserters from the Confederate Army, as the war begins to go badly for the Confederacy. Once organised, Newton leads his small army against the local troops and tax collectors, restoring the seized food to the farmers who had grown it. This soon breaks out into open warfare, and Knight’s company manages to capture the local large town, and hold it against larger numbers of troops sent from Alabama.

There are tensions within his group though, as the newly-arrived deserters resent his fair treatment of the freed slaves, and his open association with a mixed race woman. In an attempt to equip his men properly, Knight sends a delegation to the Union General, Sherman, asking for arms and reinforcements, with promises to hold the area for the Union against the Confederate troops. But Sherman isn’t really interested, and just sends some old rifles. At this point, realising that they have no friends on either side, the group declare themselves to be their own country, the ‘Free State of Jones.’

So, is it any good? If you are a fan of civil war films, or historical dramas, as I am, then I have no doubt you will like it. It not only covers a period from 1862 to 1876, there is also a small but interesting second story running through the narrative. Much later, one of Newton’s distant relatives is seen in a Mississippi court, being tried for the offence of being a ‘person of colour’ who has married a white woman. He is only one eighth related to Newton’s mixed race girlfriend, but considered by Mississippi at the time to be a black man. And this is in 1948.

Most of the film concentrates on slavery, and the plight of the poor white people during and after the Civil War. Even after emancipation, the former slaves are often forced to return to harsh conditions in the fields, under a Mississippi law which changed their status to ‘apprentices’, tied to their employer. When the local black men are organised to vote in the election, they are intimidated so badly, that Knight is only able to get twenty-three people to venture into town to vote. Even after they bravely stand up to the local authorities to cast their votes, the result is rigged to show that they didn’t actually vote. The activities of the Ku Klux Klan are covered too, with the burning of farms, and lynchings. The overall message is that Union victory in the war changed little or nothing for the poor people of any colour in the South.

As a film, it is well made, and often very good to look at. McConaughey is perfect in the role of Knight, and acts with conviction and some skill. The other characters are all roundly portrayed, and nobody is there just to fill the screen. It doesn’t shy away from the difficult issues, and there is much use of the word ‘Nigger’, as well as abuse and poor treatment of black people. It looks and feels historically accurate too, and cannot be faulted for genuine atmosphere. At times it feels somewhat ‘preaching’ in tone, but it is about something that actually happened, and you have to keep that in mind. It didn’t do well at the box office, and received mixed reviews. However, if you liked ’12 Years A Slave’, (I didn’t) ‘Glory’, or ‘Mississippi Burning’, then I am sure you will enjoy this too.

Film and Cinema: Another new article

I am happy to report that my latest article for another site has been published on Curnblog.
This is my twentieth article on there, and concerns the evolution of films looking at events during the American Civil War. I appreciate that this is something of a niche interest, but I would be pleased if you could take a little time to follow the link, and read it.

For any fan of film, especially those of you who like to dig a little deeper, or give the subject more thought, I can recommend this excellent site. It is run by Australian James Curnow, who has studied the subject in great detail, to an academic level. As well as his own excellent writing, he opens up the site for articles submitted by writers from all over the world.

If you have any comments to add, please make them on that site.

Thanks in advance, Pete.

The Blue and The Grey: The American Civil War on film

My DVD Films: Another random selection

After the first post in this series was well-received, I thought that I would quickly do a second. Not only do I enjoy recapping the films I have seen, it is also nice to think about them, when it has been some time since they were watched. Let me know if you want me to keep going though, as it could become a very long series. Once again, I chose a shelf, and slipped six films from the top of a stack. here’s what came out.

1) The Raid (2011)

Despite having a lot of foreign films in my collection, this is the only one from Indonesia. (Original language, English subtitles.) The tagline for the film reads, ’20 Elite Cops, 30 Floors Of Hell.’ This should give you some idea of what to expect, and it delivers. This is a rollicking roller-coaster of a film, (critics love that description) with a huge cast, an enormous amount of shooting and killing, and some first rate martial arts combat too. After a brief build up, it continues at a frantic pace until almost everyone has been killed. I needed a rest after watching this, it wore me out.
The plot is nothing special. The SWAT team are sent in to root out drug dealers and gangsters occupying a deserted tower block in the city. But they have an informer in their midst, and the criminals have been alerted to the raid. The police walk into an ambush, and have to fight for their lives, with no sign of any help arriving.
This is a great foreign film, that bars no holds, and pulls no punches. I loved it.

2) Ride With The Devil (1999)

Ang Lee’s award winning film set during the American Civil War is a must-see, for any fans of the genre. It is one of my favourite modern films, but I confess to being very interested in that war. I have reviewed it previously on my blog. Here is that review.

‘This 1999 film, directed by Ang Lee, eschews the huge battles and massed ranks of the more conventional Civil War films, to concentrate on an isolated aspect of the conflict. Missouri, in America’s mid-west, was a state divided against itself, as neighbours and former friends chose sides at the outbreak of hostilities. Here, there were no rules, no uniforms, and no mercy shown to the enemy. Armed bands of irregulars roamed the state, and crossed into Kansas, to pursue the causes of the sides that they had picked. The story concentrates on a band of Confederate sympathisers, and their exploits during a relatively short period. Historical accuracy is flawless, and period feel is so good, it often seems like a documentary that could have been made at the time, if such technology had existed then. The action, when it comes, is a series of frantic engagements, and uneven fire fights, though a lot of time is spent sitting out the weather, and avoiding capture. The main set piece of the film, a depiction of the real-life raid on the town of Lawrence, in Kansas, with the massacre that follows, is well portrayed, and convincing enough. Where the film scores is in how it handles the quiet moments, and the human impact of the war. Excellent performances, including an exceptional Tobey Maguire, lift this film far above what you might expect. This is not just for the Civil War enthusiast, as it works for lovers of film everywhere.’
Enough said.

3) Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

This is film from Canada, set in an Inukitut (Inuit) community, and entirely in their language. (Original language, English subtitles.) This film is worth watching for the cinematography and scenery alone. Critics at the time called it ‘Visually stunning.’ And it is. But it is also an insight into the Inuit community, and their legends and traditions, one of which is told in this story. The legend of Atanarjuat is the tale of evil, magic, and shamans. Two brothers try to overcome this this blight on their people, but one is killed, and the fast runner must complete the quest.
This film is just amazing, and will stay long in your memory. It is unlike anything else I have seen, except perhaps the pseudo-documentary ‘Nanook Of The North.’ (1922) And it will give you an glimpse into the rich culture of these people into the bargain.

4) Valhalla Rising (2009)

Another unusual film, this time with established credentials, and some familiar faces. Directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (‘Drive’,’Bronson’) and starring another Dane, Mads Mikkelsen. But it is not a foreign language film, and it is set in an unspecified Norse location, though filmed in Scotland, with a predominantly British cast. It is hard to properly review this film with limited space, but I will try to give some idea of it. it is told in six chapters.
It is 1000AD, and One Eye (Mikkelsen) is a fierce fighter, held captive by a local chieftain. He makes him fight to settle disputes with other clans and enemies. He escapes, accompanied by the young boy who is tasked with looking after him. One Eye has visions, and can see his own fate. Perhaps he is a mystical being? We can make up our own minds.

He comes across a group of Christian warriors, who are seeking a route to the Crusades. They decide to throw in with this strange pair, and events take strange turns as they set out on their voyage to find the Holy Land. Their navigation is unsuccessful, and they return to the river, arriving at a moody, mystical place. After being attacked by unseen enemies, and drinking a brew of hallucinogenic herbs, the group fragments, with some losing their minds. Much of this film is reminiscent of ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’, with its fruitless quest, and magical landscapes. Something different, for those who think that they have seen everything.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

A psychological thriller that is all the more disturbing as it is set inside a family group. This film got high praise from the critics on release, and I can only agree with them. I have already given it a very short review on my blog, in 2013. Since then, many of you will no doubt have seen it. Here is that review.
‘I will not add plot spoilers, or go into too much detail about events, as this should help you come fresh to the viewing. Dealing with a particularly difficult and disturbing subject, the 2011 film, ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, is a rare thing; an American film with the feel of European cinema. The performances by all the cast are excellent, with the English actress Tilda Swinton, outstanding in the lead role, of Kevin’s mother. This is not a comfortable, or feel-good film, so don’t expect to laugh, or for that matter cry. It is an experience to be had, at the hands of talented director and writer, Lynne Ramsay, and like nothing you will have ever seen before. If you are at all serious about film and cinema, I urge you to see this superb film.’
I still feel much the same about it now.

Arn: The Knight Templar (2007)

More Crusaders, this time in a full-blown epic. A big-budget Swedish film, the DVD copy is an edit of two films made as part of a trilogy, drawn from the books by Jan Guillou. This film has no less than five languages in it, including English. As a result, there are subtitles, then no subtitles, as and when necessary. The film starts with the young Arn at home in 12th century Sweden. He is part of a large and powerful family that are at war with another faction, for the control of the crown. After the King is killed, Arn is compelled to give twenty years of service as a penance, and he travels to Jerusalem, to become a Crusader.
Once in the Holy land, Arn gets involved in adventures and combat, and even manages to save the life of the Christians’ enemy, Saladin. The film has some good authentic touches, as well as some entertaining set piece battles. If you can forgive the odd liberty with historical facts, (and I can) this is an enjoyable epic film, made in the old way, and no less entertaining for that. The cast contains a few familiar faces, including Stellan Skarsgard and Simon Callow, but most of the Scandinavian stars will not be familiar to us. In my book, this helps to make it work.

Another six films for you to think about, if you haven’t seen them of course. A more mixed bag on this occasion, and despite two films featuring Crusaders, there should be something in here for everyone.

Some American Civil War films

Something that I have not previously mentioned, I have had a life long interest in the American Civil War. To be accurate, Civil Wars in general, though that will probably be the subject of another post, not in this category. When I was young, there was a television series, called ‘The Gray Ghost’. This was imported from the USA, and concerned the exploits of a Confederate irregular unit, led by the real life officer, Major Mosby. The issues surrounding the causes of the war, States’ rights, Industrialisation and immigration in the North, and the issue of slavery, were not really addressed of course, and it was all about the action. I later read a lot about this war, and carried on the interest into adulthood. Like many others, I favoured the Confederacy, though naturally not from a racist standpoint, more from admiration of the tactical skills of their generals, and the bravery and resourcefulness of their armies, against insurmountable opposition. Despite the impact of this war, to the extent that even today, some Southern states display the Confederate flag in courthouses, and fly it above public buildings, comparatively few films have been made about it. I have made it my business to collect all those available on DVD, and the following are my choices from that small number. I appreciate that this is the very definition of a ‘niche interest’, and will forgive all those who take this no further.

Gods and Generals. This 2003 film is a ‘prequel’ to ‘Gettysburg’, made ten years earlier, and part of a trilogy, the third part of which has not yet been made, and is said to be ‘in production’ for next year. This film is superior to the first, and ends at exactly the correct time, for the previous film to pick up the events that followed. Concentrating on the short career of the Confederate general, Thomas Jackson, famously nicknamed ‘Stonewall’ by his men, and filmed on and around actual Civil War battlefields, with a huge cast of amateur enthusiasts, who re-enact the fierce fighting, in addition to the well-known leads. The overwhelming impression is one of complete authenticity, though violence, and portrayal of injury and death is restricted in intensity, to allow for a lower age certification. Stephen Lang turns in a memorable performance as the religious and troubled Jackson, a man whose skill as a military tactician might not have been as great as it was painted. There is also able support from a restrained Robert Duvall, as Robert. E. Lee, and Jeff Daniels, as the Union Colonel Chamberlain. It is when the battles are raging that this production comes into its own. Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, are all recreated with great care and skill, and the scope of the film, with a running time of well over three hours, allows every detail to be shown. This film, and the earlier Gettysburg, were panned by critics, who mainly attacked the clumsy beards worn by the actors, and also complained about the occasional long monologues. If you like war films on this scale, and have the remotest interest in those troubled times, you will not be disappointed. Here is a trailer.

Ride with the Devil. By contrast, this 1999 film, directed by Ang Lee, eschews the huge battles and massed ranks of the more conventional Civil War films, to concentrate on an isolated aspect of the conflict. Missouri, in America’s mid-west, was a state divided against itself, as neighbours and former friends chose sides at the outbreak of hostilities. Here, there were no rules, no uniforms, and no mercy shown to the enemy. Armed bands of irregulars roamed the state, and crossed into Kansas, to pursue the causes of the sides that they had picked. The story concentrates on a band of Confederate sympathisers, and their exploits during a relatively short period. Historical accuracy is flawless, and period feel is so good, it often seems like a documentary that could have been made at the time, if such technology had existed then. The action, when it comes, is a series of frantic engagements, and uneven fire fights, though a lot of time is spent sitting out the weather, and avoiding capture. The main set piece of the film, a depiction of the real-life raid on the town of Lawrence, in Kansas, with the massacre that follows, is well portrayed, and convincing enough. Where the film scores is in how it handles the quiet moments, and the human impact of the war. Excellent performances, including an exceptional Tobey Maguire, lift this film far above what you might expect. This is not just for the Civil War enthusiast, as it works for lovers of film everywhere. Here is an intense scene, from the raid at Lawrence, Kansas.

Glory. In 1990, this film, made the year before, won three Oscars. It shows something of the gravity of this production, that a film about events in the American Civil War, should achieve this. The reason why is well-known, as this deals with the formation of the first Black regiment in the Union Army, to actually be allowed to fight in battle, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. The first part of the film concentrates on the racism that was still widespread in the North, and the opposition to arming black troops. There are the scenes from the training camp, the difficulties experienced by the all-white officers, and the eventual move South, to fight in the campaign in Georgia, and South Carolina. The predominantly black cast gave the producers a great opportunity to recruit the best black actors in the USA. Denzel Washington, (winning an Oscar) Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, as an educated Bostonian, and many more. The white officers are well cast also, with Matthew Broderick superb in the starring role, and Cary Elwes solid, as his second in command. In the latter part of the film, the regiment is finally given the chance to fight, and the first battle scene, involving hand to hand fighting in woodland, is edge of the seat stuff. Later, they arrive at the siege of Fort Wagner, an almost impregnable Confederate position on the coast. Expected to take a place at the rear, Broderick’s character pleads to be allowed to lead the forthcoming assault, and is allowed to do so. The futile attack is brilliantly portrayed on film, and despite failing to capture the fort, and suffering terrible losses, the 54th earn the respect of their fellow soldiers, as well as a place in history. A moving war film, with an engrossing plot, good script, and a great cast. Here is an early scene, depicting the battle of Antietam.

The Horse Soldiers. This 1959 film is essentially a mainstream western, and a vehicle for the stars, John Wayne, and William Holden. Directed by the master of the western film, John Ford, it tells the true story of a famous Union raid, deep into enemy territory, in 1863; when almost 2,000 cavalry made the journey of over 200 miles to Newton Station, to destroy the railroad connection to Vicksburg. As this is very much a Hollywood action film, some liberties are taken. Holden plays the part of an Army doctor, constantly at loggerheads with Wayne’s character, and there is a female interest, in the shape of a Southern belle, and would-be spy, played by Constance Towers. All this froth aside, the film actually manages to give an exciting and accurate portrayal of these events during the Civil War, as well as allowing the Confederates encountered, to be shown as brave and dignified opponents. Although it tries to be more of a cowboy film, than a serious film about an actual battle, it strangely succeeds in ending up as both. Two memorable set pieces involve the students from a Confederate Military Academy, attempting to stop the Union column, and the Rebel attack at Newton Station, as ragged troops arrive by train, to mount a forlorn charge. Surprisingly good. This is the memorable scene, when Confederate cadets are mobilised against the Union troops.

The Red Badge of Courage. This film is from 1951, directed by John Huston, and filmed in black and white. Based on the classic short novel by Stephen Crane, the film is also unusually short, running for only 69 minutes, a result of unforgiveable cutting by the studio. It also famously suffers from obvious continuity errors, and the potentially disastrous casting of Audie Murphy in the lead role. Murphy was the most decorated soldier in the US Army in World War Two, and used this fame to launch an acting career in Hollywood. Luckily, he suits this role, of the boastful, untried soldier, about to take part in his first action. The young man soon becomes terrified in battle, and runs away, hiding in shame. He later receives a small injury, and returns to his unit, wearing his ‘Red Badge of Courage’, the bandaged wound. At first he lies about his desertion, though later confesses, and redeems himself in the next attack. Despite all these shortcomings, this is a truly classic film. Huston uses extreme close ups to good effect, and the other actors in the cast, for the most part all relatively unknown, are a pleasure to watch. It says a lot about bravery and manhood, and of course, is anti-war in sentiment, and could just as easily be set during any conflict. Here is a clip of a battle scene, featuring most of the cast.

That is my somewhat selfish exploration of films set during the US Civil War. I hope that it prompts you to watch some of them, but I will be more than usually understanding, if you think that I am off the rails a bit, with this offering.