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.)

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

  1. I agree with most of the comments here, but you know i’m european and this battle flag is very very very far from the nazis for example. i don’t understand why some people are mixing them…..There was no concentration camps during the civil war, no holocost of civils, no universal view under an aryan race…
    I love the design of this flag, i think the best design ever made by humans. i think that it’s part of US history (right or wrong) but i consider that if you don’t directly make offence to a black guy, why searching to destroy this historic heritage?
    If you don’t know where you come from, how can you know where to go in your future ?
    i think that if you try to mask, destroy or deny the battle flag it will become stronger and stronger.
    the secret is, i suppose, live and…let live the others even if you d’on’t think the same. and this article is far too partial.

    • No, the Confederates were nowhere near the Nazis. But the Confederates wanted to keep a bunch of black people under an institution of involuntary servitude and subordination. They were not happy about slavery being abolished. The Confederate flag reflects that white supremacist sentiments and has been used to justify such ideas, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. Though some may say the Confederate flag is a symbol of historic heritage, it’s a shameful one. And while those displaying it might not directly make offense to a black guy, they don’t get to influence how it’s interpreted. And a lot of black people see such symbol with a lot of negative connotations.

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