History of the World According to the Movies: Part 40 – The American Civil War: The North


As far as American Civil War movies go, Spielberg’s Lincoln from 2012 is one of the best as well as brings the beloved 16th president to life in a way nobody else has ever seen before which gave Daniel Day Lewis a well deserved Oscar for his performance. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones performed superbly as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens as well. Sure there may be some minor inaccuracies in this but the overall spirit rings true in almost every way. Still, perhaps the biggest historic atrocity about this film is that it lost to Argo at the Academy Awards. I totally love this film which is like historical C-SPAN but fun.

The American Civil War wasn’t much better in the North at first since they had a series of terrible generals who Abraham Lincoln had to select because he couldn’t find anyone else. However, once there were generals like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Chamberlain, and Thomas who won battles, then he focused his attention to them. In 1861, the primary reason for the North fighting this war was to save the union through any means necessary even if it meant not freeing a single slave. But once slaves began to flock to Union troops seeing them as liberators, Lincoln would later issue his Emancipation Proclamation the next year which called for slaves in areas controlled by the Confederacy to be forever free as of 1863. Then you have the battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg address. In 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed which abolished slavery once and for all. Still, national unity and freeing slaves weren’t the only things that the North one on. They also had factories, a strong centralized government, large populations, a good navy, good diplomatic ties, and a strong skilled leader in President Abraham Lincoln. Of course, despite a lot of these things, sometimes the North tends to be seen as the villain in Civil War movies which kind of give many inaccurate impressions of them. Still, there are plenty of historical errors relating to the Civil War North which I shall list accordingly.

Francis Preston Blair Sr. was a nice looking old man in 1865 with a full head of hair. (Unlike the Hal Holbrook portrayal in Lincoln, the real Blair kind of resembled some undead monster you’d see in a zombie film rising from his grave. Also, he had been bald since he was a young man. I’ll forgive Spielberg on this one. Elizabeth Keckley doesn’t look like the Gloria Reuben’s portrayal in Lincoln either according to her photograph, but we’re not sure when her picture was taken.)

Union soldiers took aim by standing forward with their left foot. (They would usually step back with their right foot bringing it behind their left. Stepping forward would desecrate the line according to 19th century warfare.)

Joshua Chamberlain died at 83. (He was 85.)

Thomas Chamberlain was an everyman who fitted throughout the Confederate camps and made friends with whomever he met at Gettysburg. (There’s no historical basis of this.)

There were no black Union soldiers involved in the Battle of the Crater. (They were heavily involved in this battle.)

Union officers drank Don Perignon champagne. (This brand wasn’t around until 1921 or sold until 1936.)

Union officers used “at ease.” (This command didn’t exist in the Civil War. It would’ve been “at rest” or “in place rest.”)

Union General Charles Garrison Harker was in South Carolina at the same time as the 54th Massachusetts. (He was part of the Army of the Cumberland and was fighting in the Tullahoma Campaign in Tennessee. Also, unlike his portrayal in Glory which has him as a man in his forties, he was only 25 at the time.)

Union Army sergeant insignias were sewn onto a blue cloth backing all at once. (This is common among Civil War reenactors. Yet, during the Civil War, the stripes of the era were individual stripes which had to be sewn on one by one.)

Union volunteer cavalry at Shiloh also served at Gettysburg. (The cavalry that served in Shiloh were in the Battle of Vicksburg which was being fought around the same time as Gettysburg. Those at Gettysburg were in Virginia during the Battle of Shiloh. No volunteer cavalry could be present in both battles.)

Secretary of State William Seward was patronizing and dismissive toward Lincoln. (By 1864, he was practically in love with the man, but not in a gay way. Also, Lincoln would sometimes go to Seward’s house for dinner and an evening of laughs, songs, and wine.)

There were black Union soldiers at Fort Monroe at the arrival of the Confederate Peace Commission. (Black soldiers greeting Confederate envoys, what could possibly go wrong with that?)

The Capitol Dome was gray in 1865. (It had always been white since its completion in 1863.)

Andrew Johnson last served in the US Senate in 1861. (He last served in 1862 before being appointed as military governor of Tennessee.)

Only one Connecticut representative voted for the 13th Amendment. (All four representatives did.)

Every seat in Congress was occupied during the vote on the 13th Amendment. (At least 18 were left empty which would’ve belonged to the states that seceded.)

Copperheads were peaceful people who just didn’t like war. (Actually they were the antiwar Northern faction of the Democratic Party who wanted immediate peace with the Confederacy. While the War Democrats didn’t care for Lincoln, they supported the Union war effort anyway. The Copperhead Peace Democrats, on the other hand, were more radical in their virulent racist, hatred, and demonization of Lincoln, as well as sympathy for the Confederacy. And some of their rhetoric is just so vile with so many n-words that it’s too offensive to quote {well, you can watch the scene in Lincoln with the introduction of Fernando Wood, but it’s pretty tame. Still, he was a notorious Copperhead who called for New York City’s secession in the war’s beginning}. Sure they opposed the draft, emancipation, and suspension of habeas corpus, but they weren’t pacifists or Quakers {who were deeply anti-slavery and supported the Underground Railroad}. They were an organized political movement with political aims to chiefly undermine the Union war effort and fed off defeatism. Nobody knows how large it was. But it wasn’t uncommon for Copperheads to coordinate their operations with the Confederate government to create havoc on the Union home front. There was also Copperhead agitation behind the New York City Draft Riots in July of 1863 which was the war’s largest mob action with 120 killed, including 11 lynched black men. They also had support and funds by the Confederate government pertaining to actions and schemes like: overthrowing Lincoln, tried to stage a secession of the Midwest, organized killings of Union soldiers in southern Illinois, etc. In short, Copperheads were traitors who make modern day Tea Party Republicans look benign in comparison.)

Abolitionists staged violent insurrections against those who attacked their opinions during the war. (While mobbing was quite common before and during the Civil War, not a single instance involved abolitionists attacking individuals of opposing opinions. That was not how abolitionists behaved. Yes, there was John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry but he was trying to arm blacks to rise against slave owners, which is another matter entirely. Also, no Copperhead was attacked in upstate New York during that time either. Still, abolitionists often were targets of mobs with pre-Civil War numbers as 73 in North and 19 in the South, many at abolitionist presses. Abolitionists have also been subject to numerous beatings as well as tar and featherings, and even murder, which were well known in Lincoln’s time. In fact, Lincoln’s first major political speech centered on the mob attack and murder of abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy in 1837.)

The dome of the US Capitol was completed by 1861. (It was finished in 1863.)

Union soldiers were flogged as punishment. (Since Colonel Shaw was a by-the-book man, no one in the 54th Massachusetts would’ve never gotten whipped {nor would Shaw order it} since flogging was banned in 1861. However, since slaves were often flogged, it kind of serves a purpose in Glory to have Private Tripp punished this way even if it was out of Shaw’s character to give such an order. Still, there were harsh punishments like being “spread eagled” on the spare wheel of an artillery limber which would’ve broken a man’s back.)

Colonel James Montgomery was a marauding racist and former slaveholder who made use of free slaves to pillage and burn towns. (Yes, he did pillage and burn but he was a staunch abolitionist in the vein of John Brown whose methods actually came from his days as an anti-slavery partisan during Bleeding Kansas. Also, he most likely didn’t own slaves at all.)

During his raid, Benjamin Grierson decided a deliberate retreat than to risk slaughtering Mississippi schoolboys. (This may not have happened. Yet, there’s a similar incident in the Battle of New Market with the Virginia Military Institute student body.)

White Union soldiers were thuggish and venal who tend to wonder why they’re in the army or why there was even a war going on. (I’m sure that many Confederate soldiers were like this, too, especially towards the end of the war when they started deserting the Army while Sherman’s Army marched to the sea. According to TTI: “Desertion was a serious problem in the South; by 1863 men were deserting faster than new recruits could be conscripted to replace them, and by war’s end over three-quarters of the Confederate army was AWOL. Entire Confederate divisions existed solely on paper, their men and command structure having walked out en masse, stealing as much equipment as they could carry. The most notable incidence of desertion was probably Confederate general Pemberton’s army, paroled after the surrender at Vicksburg. Mustered with 30,000 men, a month later fewer than 1,500 of them were left to report for duty, the rest having simply changed back into civilian clothes and gone home.”)

The Union Army had integrated regiments. (Blacks served in all black regiments but they were under the command of white officers but that’s as integrated as you’re going to get. Yet, white regiments did have black civilians working for them for a time though.)

White Union spies sometimes used blackface and pretended to be slaves in the South. (Many of them just used actual slaves mostly. Also, those posing as slaves were usually black to begin with.)

A 304th regiment existed in the Union Army. (No state assigned regimental numbers above the 100s.)

Benjamin Grierson’s raid consisted of the 1st Illinois, 1st Michigan, and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments. (It was composed of the 6th and 7th Illinois and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. Also the 1st Michigan served in the Army of the Potomac in 1863 so its presence would’ve been more appropriate for Gettysburg not Vicksburg.)

After laying mines in the Confederate trenches, Union soldiers lay in formation waiting to charge after they went off. (Union troops would’ve waited in their trenches because there would’ve been no open ground where they could lay in formation, they would’ve been hit by debris in the explosion, and the Confederates would’ve seen them getting out and lying in wait.)

The US Secret Service was around during the Civil War. (It was formed in July of 1865.)

The 116th Pennsylvania led the Irish Brigades charge at Maryes Heights. (It was the 28th Massachusetts.)

The 116th Pennsylvania had a green flag. (It was the only Irish Brigade regiment that didn’t. Theirs had the State of Pennsylvania. Also, before the Battle of Fredericksburg only the 28th Massachusetts had the famous green Irish Brigade flags. Most regiments received the green flags by General T.F. Maegher days after the battle. )

The 20th Maine charged independently at Fredericksburg. (No Union regiment charged at the Confederate position without supporting regiments around it during the battle.)

Union forces used the Gatling gun during the Civil War. (It wasn’t patented until 1865 and the US military didn’t adopt it formally until 1866.)

St. Clair Augustine Mulholland was a Lieutenant Colonel during the Battle of Fredericksburg. (He was a major and a commander of the 116th Pennsylvania which was part of Maegher’s brigade, not the brigade in total. Also, Maegher made his charge on horseback not on foot, and did not “protect the rear.”)

Brigadier General Thomas R. R. Cobb commanded an Irish regiment. (He commanded the Irish Brigade.)

Irish Union soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for. (There are historical documents in their own eloquent words of why they as immigrants believed they ought to fight for the Union. Of course, many were drafted like Gangs of New York implies but there were plenty of Irish immigrants who did fight voluntarily as well.)

Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were warmongers who pressured Abraham Lincoln to punish Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. (Actually Grant and Sherman would’ve wished nothing of the sort. Sure they got a lot of men killed and destroyed a lot of property but they considered such destruction as part of their duty as generals. Yet, once their enemies surrendered, they turned out to be very okay guys more interested in healing national ties than settling scores.)

Private Buster Kilrain was a grumpy Irishman from the 20th Maine demoted for drunkenness as well as delivered a very poignant speech at the Battle of Gettysburg. (This character from the movie Gettysburg is totally made up which is why his name isn’t on the 20th Maine monument at Little Round Top. The photo used to represent him in the opening credits was nothing more than an unknown ordinary Union soldier. However, there’s a cacophony of gullible individuals demand to know why that is on their trips to Gettysburg, which annoys the piss out of the tour guides in the process. )

Alexander H. Coffrot nervously voted for the 13th Amendment. (He was a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral so he was more than a simple political pawn to the White House.)

General Philip Sheridan commanded the Army of the Potomac. (He was the Commanding General of the Army of the Shenandoah. George Meade was commanded the Army of the Potomac during the last two years of the Civil War.)

Union cavalrymen always knew how to take care of their horses. (The Union Army actually lost more horses rendered unstable or even dead to sickness, exhaustion, etc. than to actual combat. While many volunteers in the first two years of the Civil War were from the farm, it wasn’t unusual for urban volunteers and  later conscripts to be assigned to cavalry units. So it’s possible that many Northern cavalrymen had no idea hot to take care of a horse because city horses were owned by commercial firms {like cabbies or wagoners} so many urbanites never learned how since horse care was left up to the professionals.)

Ulysses S. Grant:

Ulysses S. Grant was a four-star general in 1865. (He was a Lieutenant General which is a three star rank. However, many people believe that Lieutenant General is a four star rank anyway, which it’s not. Grant wouldn’t become a four-star general until 1866. Then again he was the first four star general this nation has had.)

Ulysses S. Grant swore and used firearms on a habitual basis. (He never used profanity and had an aversion to firearms {only using them when he needed to}.)

Ulysses S. Grant was a butcher who was willing to shed more lives because he could. (Though Grant’s strategy may be cold hearted, it worked and he wasn’t afraid to take advantage of having a superior numbers. Not to mention, he did feel the carnage deeply and was said to have wept after the first day of Wilderness. Then again, haven’t all generals done this even during the Civil War? At least Grant won battles and wasn’t a chickenshit unlike some of his counterparts. And by that time Lincoln was fed up with chickenshit generals.)

Ulysses S. Grant graduated at the bottom of his class. (He graduated 21st out of 39 in his class in 1843.)

Ulysses S. Grant was a short, coarse, rough man usually scowling as well as a drinker and smoker. (He was of average height in his era and “a man whose values and character often avoided the pitfalls that often face those who are given military and political blood and was painfully alive to every form of human suffering,” according to the site on his tomb. He was also a very creative strategist, a tough calm and collected leader, as well as was very nice to his adversaries who were willing to surrender. Also, he was an avid horse lover and once had a soldier beaten for mistreating one. Not to mention, he was a man of great humility as well as deeply respected by those who knew him {even by those who surrendered to him}, which was why he was so popular at the time of his death. Still, yes, he did smoke and was his tobacco habit that would kill him. As for his drinking, he probably wasn’t a drunk and more of a man who couldn’t hold his liquor.)

Ulysses S. Grant arrogantly and casually walked around the room smoking a big cigar during the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. (Grant may not have been one of the most formal men but he treated Appomattox with the utmost dignity and sensitivity for his defeated foe. Not so in Birth of a Nation.)

William Tecumseh Sherman:

William Tecumseh Sherman was a monster who burned down Southern towns for no reason. (The reason why Sherman was burning down areas of the South had to do with the strategy of total war which meant destroying resources and bringing the war to civilians so the South would be scrambling and have low morale and arguably his strategy worked. Not to mention, Sherman didn’t take delight doing any of that. He also had a reputation for leniency and mercy, regularly permitting defeated enemies to retrieve their belongings and go home without further incident.)

William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta in September in 1864 and at night. (He burned down Atlanta two months later. Yet at that time, retreating Confederate troops were torching ammunition dumps to keep the Union army from capturing them. However, the fire wouldn’t have been as spectacular as it was on Gone with the Wind.)

General Winfield Scott:

General Winfield Scott was in command at the Battle of Gettysburg. (The commander of Union forces was General George Meade. By Gettysburg, Scott had been retired from the army for over a year.)

General Winfield Scott was a buffoon over confident of a quick victory in the North. (He was one of the few people who knew the Civil War would be long, costly, and bloody. He also might’ve been taller than Lincoln at 6’ 5.” Not usually portrayed as such in movies.)

General Winfield Scott was in charge of the Union Army until after the end of the American Civil War. (He resigned in November in 1861 and was succeeded by a series of generals over the course of the war until Lincoln settled on  Ulysses S. Grant. If this were true, it might’ve saved Lincoln a lot of headache and he’d probably not appoint men like George B. McClellan, Joseph Hooker, Ambrose Burnside, Henry W. Halleck, Irvin McDowell, John Pope, and George Meade {though he was actually quite decent and won Gettysburg}. Yet, you don’t see this in They Died with Their Boots on.)

Thaddeus Stevens:

Thaddeus Stevens had a black live-in girlfriend. (He had a black housekeeper he was close to, but we’re not sure whether they were lovers or not. Still, he never married.)

Thaddeus Stevens disavowed his conviction that blacks were equal in all things in front of the House floor. (He didn’t, nor was his speech a decisive moment. Still, as far as historical inaccuracies go, Spielberg rates pretty low and actually tries to be historically correct. Also, in regards to historical accuracy in Civil War movies, Lincoln ranks pretty high on the list.)

Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln was an unambitious man who didn’t want to get into politics, and was called Abe. (Lincoln hated to be called Abe. As a politician, Lincoln combined his policy substance and electioneering skills and knew how to play the game. Lincoln also had plenty of ambitions of his own such as to leave the log cabin and never look back, to marry a woman who could speak French and had attended finishing school, to send his son to Exeter prep school and Harvard. His law partner William Herndon called him, “a little engine that knew no rest.”)

Abraham Lincoln was wrong to suspend habeas corpus and use his war powers. (Contrary to Copperhead, Lincoln only briefly suspended habeas corpus in Maryland to prevent insurrection and secession simply because having the state go would have Washington D.C. surrounded by the Confederacy. Most arrests in the North during the war mostly consisted of  insurrectionary acts like blockade running, gun running and desertion. And mostly to protect enlistment and conscription. Newspapers were suppressed but only for a short time but reopened acting through the War Department and the Copperhead press remained more or less intact and left alone throughout the war even as they advocated for Lincoln’s assassination. Oh, and Lincoln believed that the Emancipation Proclamation was totally constitutional.)

Abraham Lincoln had a deep and sonorous baritone voice. (His voice was a high pitched nasal tenor.)

Abraham Lincoln wasn’t offended by profanity and wouldn’t be upset for people swearing in front of his kids. (Though he was all right with the occasional swear word now and then as well as cursing in extreme frustration {which he probably did a lot himself during the war}, he was known to be very offended by profanity going so far as to rebuke generals in the field for cursing in his presence. Nevertheless, it’s highly unlikely he would’ve tolerated Preston Blair’s swearing in front of Tad.)

Abraham Lincoln managed to get the 13th Amendment passed in Congress mostly by his own efforts. (It was actually due to the work of black and women activists who managed to send a 400,000 signature petition organized by the Women’s Loyal League {headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton}. Also, Frederick Douglass should deserve considerable credit as well. Yet, as Lincoln notes, had Lincoln pressed Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, most of their efforts would’ve come to naught.)

William Henry Harrison’s portrait hung in Abraham Lincoln’s oval office. (It never did.)

Union soldiers could memorize the Gettysburg Address in Abraham Lincoln’s time. (The Gettysburg Address didn’t enter into the national vocabulary until the early 20th century. The chances of any Union soldier memorizing this speech, black or white, would’ve been far remote. Still, in Spielberg’s Lincoln, this is forgivable.)

Abraham Lincoln’s face was on coins during his lifetime. (It was on a $10 bill not coins. He didn’t appear on a coin until after his death with his first appearance being on a fourth series 50 cent piece.)

Abraham Lincoln was a homespun folk hero not fond of getting into fights or engaging in low brow humor. (TTI says he’s known for inventing the chokeslam as well as wrestled in his youth and nearly fought in a duel. As for low brown humor, Lincoln was notorious for these kind of jokes as seen in Lincoln. Folksy family friendly folk hero my ass.)

Mrs. Bixby’s five sons who served in the Union Army were all killed in the Civil War, which Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter for. (The Bixby legend is a myth plain and simple. Besides, Lincoln may not have written the Bixby letter himself {his secretary John Hay seems like a likely candidate}. Still, Mrs. Bixby only lost two sons in battle while her other boys survived the war with two being captured {one possibly deserting to the enemy} and one going AWOL. Bixby herself was said to be a Confederate sympathizer and had been described by her contemporaries as a madam and “untrustworthy and as bad as she could be.” It’s possible that she may have even been a con artist who exaggerated her claims for financial compensation. Still, this letter seems to have some prominence as setting up the plot in Saving Private Ryan.)

Abraham Lincoln sent an emissary to the Dakota Territory in order to negotiate a treaty with the Sioux which included a $130,000 payment for the tribe in gold. (Lincoln had bigger things to worry about than hostile Indian tribes.)

Abraham Lincoln arrived riding among piles and piles in a war torn battlefield after the fall of Petersburg and Richmond. (He was actually greeted by hundreds of ecstatic freed slaves.)

Mary Todd Lincoln:

Mary Todd Lincoln was a crazy bitch and there wasn’t much love between her and her husband. (Yes, she was feisty and had her moments as well as had a tendency to be misunderstood, but she was hardly as unpleasant as most film adaptations depict her with the exception of Spielberg’s Lincoln. The reason why she’s depicted like that is because Hollywood mostly likes to depict Abraham Lincoln as an unambitious man who had no interest in politics which is also inaccurate, thus, it’s up to Mary to push him into it so Abe could become president. As with the Lincolns’ marriage, Lincoln often said happily of her, “My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I…fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out.” Sure Abe and Mary didn’t have an easy life together but their marriage was anything but loveless. And as with the craziness, her mental state began to deteriorate after Lincoln’s assassination and the death of their son Tad. Mary Lincoln may not have been the crazy bitch depicted in earlier film adaptations, but she was much misunderstood.)

Mary Todd Lincoln attended debates in the House of Representatives. (She didn’t nor would she make a scene in public. As a woman, she’d also be scorned at the time for sitting in the House Gallery.)

Mary Todd Lincoln berated Thaddeus Stevens for his investigation into her lavish expenses. (She would’ve never made a scene like that.)

Tad Lincoln:

Alexander Gardiner sent fragile one-of-a-kind plates to Tad Lincoln. (He would never do such thing since Tad had once ruined several images by locking the developer in a closet.)

Tad Lincoln was a normal 11-year-old boy in 1865. (He had a very serious speech impediment to the point that only his closest teachers and family could understand him {he also had speech therapy to overcome this as a teenager}. Based on photographs, he may have had a cleft lip or cleft palate. It’s also said he had such uneven teeth that he had such difficulty chewing food, his meals had to be specially prepared. He also didn’t attend school until after his father’s death. Still, Lincoln portrays him as a normal kid because most children with Tad’s condition have usually gone through surgery and therapy by 11 years old anyway these days. So to find a white 11 year old American child with a cleft palate and speech impediment like Tad’s would’ve been extremely difficult, if not impossible. Yet, other than that, Tad was mostly a normal kid albeit rather impulsive and unrestrained that many of his numerous tutors quit in frustration. But that had more to do with his parents not being disciplinarians.)

Tad Lincoln’s uniformed was of a Union Lieutenant Colonel. (In 1863, Edwin Stanton “commissioned” Tad as an artillery 2nd lieutenant.)

54th Massachusetts Regiment:

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw asked who would carry the colors if they should fall during the assault on Fort Wagner. (It was General Strong who asked the question and it was Shaw who volunteered to carry them.)

Most of the Massachusetts 54th consisted of ex-slaves. (Actually most of that regiment was made up of free blacks at least initially. Most of the original soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts could read and write and one of their privates was a doctor {today, he would’ve been commissioned a captain though}. Glory just used the Massachusetts 54th as a way to tell the story of black soldiers and sailors during the Civil War who were mostly ex-slaves, some even a few months or days before they joined up.)

Sergeant William H. Carney took up the flag and never let it touch the ground during the battle of Fort Wagner, a battle in which he later died in. (He survived the battle despite being wounded a few times. Not to mention, he would later become the first black recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions 37 years later in 1900. His expy Tripp in Glory doesn’t survive Fort Wagner though. But like the Denzel Washington character in the film, he was indeed a former slave.)

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was thrown in a mass grave with everything on him minus his shoes. (According to Confederate General James Hagood, Shaw’s body was stripped and robbed before being thrown in the grave. Of course, you can’t have this in Glory.)

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was eager to be the CO of the 54th Massachusetts. (He was actually very reluctant but he soon came to respect them as fine soldiers. Still, unlike Glory says, the pay boycott depicted was actually his idea.)

Robert Gould Shaw received the request to be Colonel of the 54th Massachusetts at a Boston party and accepted it immediately. (He didn’t receive it at a party nor did he accept it right away. He actually refused it twice since he felt himself unworthy. He eventually accepted it after his friend and future brother-in-law Charles Russell Lowell {who commanded the 2nd Massachusetts cavalry which had 5 companies of Californians} talked him into it.)

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw died falling into a parapet. (He actually made it to the top of the hill and his body fell into the fort. Other than where his body fell, his death scene in Glory is mostly accurate.)

Over half of the 54th Massachusetts regiment was lost during the assault at Fort Wagner. (Official records state that 54th sustained 272 casualties which closer to 40% of its force and of these only 116 were fatalities which is under one fifth of the men who stormed the fort. If the 156 soldiers that were captured are included {which is rather likely they didn’t survive capture since most black Union troops didn’t}, it would bring the total to over half. In any event, these heavy casualties and the regiment was widely viewed as having performed bravely indeed.)

The 54th Massachusetts was raised and trained in the fall of 1862. (It formed in March of 1863 just four months before Fort Wagner. However, they also saw action on James Island two days before the Fort Wagner attack.)

The 54th Massachusetts didn’t survive without Colonel Robert Shaw. (It actually continued to see action in Olustee, Florida in February 1864, Honey Hill, South Carolina in November 1864, and Boykin’s Mill, South Carolina in April 1865.)

Robert Gould Shaw was Governor Andrew’s first choice to lead the 54th Massachusetts. (Shaw wasn’t but he was probably the best choice.)

New York Draft Riots:

Bill the Butcher was a dangerous man who was around during the New York Draft Riots. (Actually he died eight years before the riots happened and his name was William Poole not Bill Cutting. And contrary to Gangs of New York, it’s not known killed anyone though he was murdered and owned a butcher shop. Sorry, Martin Scorsese.)

Irish immigrants were drafted into the Union Army after they just left the boat. (I’m not sure that newly arrived immigrants were draft targets at the time but it’s in Gangs of New York.)

The Chinese had their own communities and venues in 1860s New York City. (Yes, there were Chinese living in New York as early as the 1840s but significant Chinese emigration to New York didn’t begin until 1869.)

John F. Schermerhorn was alive during the New York Draft Riots. (He died in 1851.)

US Navy vessels were fired at New York City during the draft riots. (Sorry, Martin Scorsese, but this never happened.)

Working class Irish immigrants in New York City rioted in response to the draft of 1863 because they didn’t want blacks taking their jobs and social space as well as wanted no part in the war to free slaves. They also were a rather rowdy bunch who turned on each other and mostly destroyed property. (It was also because Democratic propaganda in New York City stirred their racial hatreds with antiwar and antiblack sentiments. And contrary to what Gangs of New York said, the toll was not that high. Also, there were plenty of Irish immigrants who fought for the North during the Civil War and some of the guys who tried to clamp down on the riots were Irish themselves. And there were no riots in the Five Points area of New York.)

Hell-Cat Maggie was around during the New York Draft Riots. (She was around during the 1840s. However, her character on Gangs of New York is more of a composite of other female fighters.)

George Armstrong Custer:

George Armstrong Custer was given a medal for his actions during the Civil War. (He wasn’t given any decoration though he did receive honorary brevet promotions for gallantry. Only the newly developed, “Medal of Honor” was awarded in the US at the time, which Custer never won. However, his brother Thomas was one of the only three Civil War soldiers along with 16 others since them to receive it twice. Still, despite media portrayals, Custer was no idiot. Also, the Confederacy didn’t use decoration either but only added a few names to a “roll of honor.” Not to mention, they didn’t use the Southern Cross which was a memorial recognition created by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1890s.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 39 – The American Civil War: The South


No movie perhaps shows the American Civil War in the view of the South like Gone of the Wind, or at least one that is relatively fair enough to be seen as one of the greatest films of all time. Of course, this movie does tend to be rather racist in regards to the portrayal of black people but so did many films around 1939. However, though Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are fictional characters, there were many people just like them during the Civil War with these two being featured as the flawed and relateable human beings they are as played by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Not to mention, this film shows how much the South changed in the course of these critical four years. Though this is a flawed and romanticized historical interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the South, this is a classic that still flourishes and entertains.

For the next few posts in my movie history series, I’m going to cover films pertaining to the American Civil War. Two of these would feature photos of movies that I adore like Gone with the Wind and Lincoln. One will feature a movie which is historically significant in the history of film but one I sincerely despise because of its blatantly racist connotations and its message of racial hatred like Birth of a Nation. Nevertheless, the American Civil War may be a four year conflict but it’s one of the nastiest wars in American history that tore the US apart as well as families, towns, and even governments with implications that will not only have an impact on the United States as a nation (which you will get plenty of opinions on no matter where you are) but will also have ramifications worldwide, especially in how people fight wars in general (it’s not called the first modern war for nothing). The American Civil War is perhaps one of the bloodiest wars in American history in that it killed more Americans than any other war before or since as well as wiped out 2-5% of the US population at the time, and left many more impoverished, displaced, maimed, and traumatized. It was the first time waged in the battlefields and won in the factories as well as the introduction of the first military medical corps, war trenches, veterans organizations, and government involvement with the military dead. It was a war in which weapons like submarines, metal warships, repeating rifles, and others. It was also a war where many aspects like cavalry, Napoleonic battle tactics, wooden warships, cannon balls, and other things would become obsolete. However, many Civil War movies do tend to get things wrong like having soldiers using the wrong guns of the period or wearing the wrong kind of uniforms. Sometimes they tend to downplay the main cause of this conflict in the first place which was slavery.

Of course, as I said in the my post about the antebellum years, slavery was a major cause to why the American Civil War broke out or at least the expansion of it and the fact that Southern states wanted the whole country to recognize it but the North didn’t want that. Abraham Lincoln’s election of 1860 caused South Carolina to secede from the Union along with others from that time to early 1861. By 1861, these states eleven states formed the Confederacy and elected Mississippi politician Jefferson Davis as its first president. That April, the Confederates would fire upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina which kicked off the American Civil War as we know it. Of course, the South did luck out at first with good generals like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, and others. But things started taking a turn in the South such as Jefferson Davis’ propensity to pick generals he liked (instead of good ones), heavy losses that couldn’t be replaced, economic problems, limited industry, Northern blockades, and other things like Sherman’s march to the sea, Lee’s mistake at Gettysburg, and Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, the Confederacy would soon be doomed to defeat by 1865. Towards the end, the Confederacy had endured a great deal of destruction and suffered greatly in morale. Union capture of Richmond as well as Lee’s surrender would bring an end to the Confederacy as we know it. Still, there’s a lot of things movies get wrong about the Civil War in the South which I shall list accordingly.

The Southern whites during the Civil War just wanted to live in peace. (So they can continue owning slaves and expand into Latin America and the Caribbean.)

It wasn’t unusual late in the Civil war to see well-dressed Southern ladies having tea and slaves picking cotton. (This would’ve been highly unusual at this point in the war especially in 1864-1865.)

The Confederate Home Guard was a brutal organization which went around killing indiscriminately and torturing women. (Their main job was to return escaped slaves to their masters and sending deserters back to Confederate lines but they could certainly be this, especially towards the end of the war when Confederate morale was low. Still, it’s complicated.)

Confederate deserters were nice law abiding people worried about their starving families. (Many of them became mountain outlaws and some banded with Union guerrillas to plunder farms and towns.)

The Confederate flag was always used by the Confederacy during the Civil War. (Actually it was the “stars and bars” flag which looked very different. The Confederate flag came later.)

The Cherokee sided with the Confederates during the Civil War due to their mistreatment on the Trail of Tears. (Actually they fought on both sides for even though they were slave owners, many remembered they were forced out of a Southern state by a Southern president. Some volunteered to go to Oklahoma and supported the removal while others opposed it and were forced off. Even Indians weren’t that stupid to attribute the atrocities to just the North.)

Confederate soldiers wore gray uniforms. (Well, though the Union Army uniforms tend to be accurately depicted for the most part in movies, Confederate uniforms not so much. Also, early in the war there were Confederate units in blue and Union units in gray. Still, most Confederate soldiers usually wore what they had on at the time since many Confederates couldn’t produce or afford gray. And even soldiers who wore grey uniforms, each one varied considerably in hue.)

W. P Inman ditched the Confederate Army because of a serious injury in a calamitous battle. (It was actually for “cowardly desertion at his post.” Oh, and he signed an oath of allegiance to the US in December of 1864 in East Tennessee. Still, unlike what Cold Mountain says, Inman might’ve deserted multiple times.)

W. P. Inman’s wife was Ada Monroe and his daughter was named Grace. (Her name was Margaret Henson and his daughter’s name was Willie Ida. Still, Grace is a better name for your daughter.)

The South seceded from the Union over states’ rights. (Yes, if that includes the right to own slaves and treat black people as property. Yet, the South also wanted slavery to be recognized in the Northern states which opposed it. Also, until the Civil War Southern presidents and lawmakers dominated the federal government.)

Confederate soldiers were heroic and respectable men. Confederate officers were gentlemen while enlisted men were tough, had thicker accents, and were very loyal to their officers. (Yes, there were some noble Confederates, most of them would be all right as long as they weren’t against a black regiment.)

Confederate soldiers were superior to their Union counterparts in every way such as braver, more clever, more noble, and more tragic. (Ulysses S. Grant didn’t win the Battle of Vicksburg on significant numbers alone but on creative and innovative strategy. He also did a lot of things in battles that haven’t been done before as well as is sometimes referred to as a 20th century general. However, Hollywood and a lot of people tend to forget this and other battles. Still, the Confederate soldiers were no more superior than their Union counterparts, especially when it came to the treatment of blacks.)

The Confederate soldiers were nobly fighting for freedom. (Actually they were fighting for the freedom to subjugate black people under involuntary servitude under one of the most inhumane institutions known to history. I’m talking about slavery folks.)

Slavery had nothing to do with the Confederate cause. (It had everything to do with the Confederate cause and why the Southern states seceded from the Union. To quote from Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens, “Our new government [the C.S.A.] is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Pretty sums the whole thing up.)

Virginia regiments fought at Little Round Top. (No Virginia regiment fought there.)

Many Irish in the South sided with the Confederacy. (The Confederacy had some company sized Irish units while the Union Army of the Potomac had an Irish brigade. Gods and Generals exaggerates the Irish Confederate presence a bit. Oh, and there was at least one ethnically European {mostly Irish} regiment from every Confederate state fighting for the Union.)

People from the Southern Appalachian Mountains were Confederate diehards. (People from this area have often been portrayed this way. However, Appalachia was strongly pro-Union during the American Civil War {so much that West Virginia formed their own state} and many of these areas suffered in retaliation from the Confederacy. The reason why Appalachia was such a pro-Union hotbed was because the mountainous topography separated them from the government seats which prevented them from using plantations as a means of income. Most of the trade and transport in Appalachia came from Northern states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio. Thus, many areas in this region didn’t have as strong a loyalty to the state’s government as when they seceded. Because of economic and social differences, West Virginia pushed to have its own state as early 1820, yet secession just gave them an opportunity to do so. Other factors contributing to Appalachian Unionism included religious differences, class differences, and ethnic differences, which have not all been forgotten either.)

12lb Brooke guns were used as Confederate field pieces. (There’s no such thing as a 12lb Brooke gun nor were these guns ever used for field artillery. Brooke guns were used in the Confederate Navy and in some forts.)

Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were bearded at the start of the Civil War. (Both grew beards later on in the war. Also, Lee didn’t get his signature look until he served as Jefferson Davis’ military adviser. Before that, he had dark hair going gray with a 1850s military style mustache. As for Jackson, he had a well-known disinterest for personal grooming and appearance but he was clean shaven at the start of the war.)

Confederate General Sibley’s units consisted entirely of infantry. (They consisted entirely of cavalry units and a single battalion of artillery. No Confederate infantry was used in the New Mexico campaign.)

Andersonville accepted prisoners in 1862. (It didn’t accept prisoners until 1864 and only took enlisted men. Yet, Libby Prison in Richmond would, which took officers.)

The Confederate 3rd Army regiment served in the 1862 invasion of New Mexico. (The Confederates deployed the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 7th regiments of the Texas Mounted Rifles and some unnumbered territorial groups. There was no 3rd Confederate regiment of any sort there. Though there was a 3rd U. S. Cavalry on the Union side.)

The Confederate government sent agitators to the American West to incite Indian tribes against the Federal Government to draw troops away from battle in the East. (The Confederacy didn’t need to do this since the Western Indian tribes were agitated enough to fight the white guys already. Also, it probably wouldn’t have done much good since the Union Army was several times bigger than the Confederate Army throughout the Civil War. Besides, Sherman was more successful drawing Confederate troops away from battle through his March to the Sea.)

The Confederates were more Christian than those in the North. (Both sides were about equal in religious fervency.)

Virginia was one of the most pro-secessionist states in the Confederacy. (Remember that there was a group of Virginians who wanted to get out of there that they formed their own state. Also, there were so many Anti-Confederates in Richmond that the whole city was placed on martial law for a time. Not to mention, perhaps one of the only reasons why the Confederates picked Richmond as its capital was to keep halfheartedly-Confederate Virginia in the Confederacy.)

The Swangers were named Esco and Sally. (These people were real but their names were John and Margaret Steven Swanger.)

Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg was made during the morning. (It was made at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.)

Only the Confederates supported slavery. (There were many in the Union who did and there were four Union states that allowed it.)

Robert E. Lee:

Robert E. Lee’s surrender meant that the Civil War was over in Georgia as well as everywhere else. (The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia had no effect on Georgia. In fact, Georgia State troops didn’t surrender until almost a month after Lee {due to slow communication}. The surrender of General Kirby Smith at Galveston, Texas on May 26, 1865, is considered the end of the Civil War.)

Southern Slaves:

It wasn’t unusual for a Southern slave to turn down his chance of freedom or turn against his or her master. (Actually few slaves would turn down such offers because many slaves given the chance to do either usually did {Some of Jefferson Davis’ slaves helped spy for the Union}.)

Many Southern slaves tended to remain loyal to their masters during the Civil War. (Really? So why were so many slaves willing to join the Union Army when they arrived in their neck of the woods?)

Though they did desire freedom at some future date, many slaves were genuinely happy with their lot in life as well as faithful and supportive to their beloved masters and the cause of the Confederacy. (What kind of racist bullshit is this, Hollywood? Sure there may have been some slaves who remained faithful to their masters, but this didn’t consist of the majority. Rather most slaves were so committed to gaining their own freedom that many were willing to offer their services to the Union without making a fuss. Also, many ex-slaves ended up taking arms against their own masters. Oh, and during the war, slaves were defecting from their masters in droves. At least Gone with the Wind gets the defection part right, sort of but not too much.)

A. P Hill:

A.P. Hill was a Brigadier General during the Battle of Chancellorsville. (He had been a Major General for over a year at this point.)

J. E. B. Stuart:

J. E. B. Stuart’s wife was Kit Carson Holliday. (Her name was Flora Cooke. Seriously, Hollywood, why would anyone want to name their daughter after a noted frontiersman like Kit Carson {who was real, by the way but a man}? Still, it’s in The Santa Fe Trail.)

J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry adventure was a major impediment for Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg depriving him of information and cavalry support. (The Confederate cavalry was mainly used for raiding, not scouting. Though Lee rebuked Stuart, it wasn’t over leaving him blind in enemy country. The Confederate Army mainly relied on individual horsemen and overly-informative Union newspapers as intelligence sources. Thus, Stuart’s absence wasn’t of great importance to the battle of Gettysburg as Lee’s poor decision making was {and General James Longstreet knew it}. Still, many historians and Lost Cause advocates made Stuart’s supposed culpability a part of popular history which is why it’s in Gettysburg.)

The 5th Georgia Cavalry served with General J.E.B. Stuart. (They served exclusively in the Western Theater during the Civil War while Stuart was at Gettysburg.)

John Bell Hood:

When John Bell Hood was a Lieutenant General, he had both legs. (By the time he had this rank, he had already lost his leg at the Battle of Chickamauga and an arm at Gettysburg in 1863. Also, he never served in Louisiana during the war but lived and died in New Orleans after the war was over.)

Alexander Stephens:

Alexander Stephens was respectful to black Union soldiers. (He may have been nice the black Union soldiers as he was in Lincoln but he may not have had much choice. He’s also said to be nice to his slaves that many stayed with him as paid servants after the war {one served as his pallbearer} as well as campaigned for better treatment of slaves in general. However, he was a noted white supremacist and avid supporter of slavery {though he didn’t see it as a reason to mistreat or denigrate black people}. Even more interesting is that he was friends with Abraham Lincoln before the Civil War which Lincoln hints at when the 16th president calls him “Alex.”)

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson:

Stonewall Jackson favored an eventual abolition of slavery in the South. (There’s no historical evidence he believed this. Still, the first Confederate general to even consider freeing his slaves in order to have them fight against the North was Patrick Cleburne known as “the Stonewall of the West” in early 1864 when Jackson was long dead.)

Stonewall Jackson’s cook was a freed man. (He was a slave.)

General Stonewall Jackson’s men carried him on a stretcher which they dropped because of gun fire. (They dropped him because they slipped in the mud, not due to gunfire.)

Stonewall Jackson called his black cook, “Mr. Lewis.” (A lot of people in the South wouldn’t address black people this way at the time.)

Stonewall Jackson was a saint. (He was a religious man, but he had his flaws and eccentricities. However, he owned slaves, had a Christian Fundamentalist streak that contributed to his military prowess, as well as had a zealotry and causal disregard for human life, which made him so disturbing. Can’t have that in Gods and Generals.)