On the left: Disney’s Johnny Shiloh
On the right: My grandson Tristan wearing part of my reenactor’s uniform. Now to get him a drum!
My son Tom recently picked up an old VCR tape of one of my all-time favorite “Wonderful World of Disney” made-for-TV flicks from the 1960s, the classic Johnny Shiloh. We had a delightful evening watching this during a snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. Starring Brian Keith and Kevin Corcoran, this tale of young drummer John Lincoln Clem was to me, as a small boy, an exciting story of the Civil War. When I found out that the real Clem was a native of nearby Newark, Ohio, and my Dad drove me there later to see his statue, I was HOOKED! I became a fan of “Johnny Shiloh” or “The Drummerboy of Chickamauga”. I read everything I could about him from the local library in Zanesville. One of my 54mm plastic Marx Union drummer toy soldiers quickly became my small personification of the character from the Disney movie. He heroically led many a charge in my sandbox under the old apple tree in back of my parents’ home (I still have the figure and most of my aging Marx toys).
Between Johnny Shiloh and Disney’s The Great Locomotive Chase with Fess Parker, I was enthralled by all things Civil War related. My Dad and Mom took my sister and I over to Columbus to view the actual General during its centennial tour, and I was mesmerized. I still treasure the family photos we took of us standing on the General. And then, to top it off, I found out that most of Andrews’ Raiders were also from southern Ohio!!!
Fast forward thirty-odd years, and Gettysburg came out, rekindling my childhood love for the Civil War (and resurrecting my desire to start wargaming again, something that I had essentially dropped after college at Miami of Ohio). I started collecting and viewing Civil War movies, old and new.
My favorite still has to be the 1988 Jeff Leighton film, Gettysburg in Miniature, which combined sprawling dioramas with thousands of painted wargaming figures to create a special treatment of the battle. However, since that is not a Hollywood flick, I omitted it from my list.
Here are my five all-time favorite Civil War movies (not necessarily the five all-time BEST, as that’s a different list. Some of these were not well written or acted, but are on the list for nostalgia).
1. Gettysburg – Who can top Buster Kilrain and Kevin Conway’s brilliant interpretation of the character?
2. Glory - Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman – what more can you say!
3. Johnny Shiloh - The poor librarians of Muskingum County! I searched everywhere for an much information on John Clem as I could find. He became my hero.
4. Wicked Spring - This movie has a classic message on the irony (and futility) of war.
5. The Great Locomotive Chase - Between coonskin caps and this movie, I was a big fan of Fess Parker’s.
Special mention: Andersonville
How would you rank your top 5 favorite Civil War movies??? Any that you particularly detest or hate, and would not recommend to Charge! readers? Any that particularly stand out as MUST SEE movies?? Please add your comments and opinions.