Civil War movies

Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader * Slaver * Raider

The Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis is now little remembered within the Civil War community, but in the war’s first year, 150 years ago, it was one of the most feared raiders. Preying on Union cargo ships and supply vessels, the Jefferson Davis enjoyed one of the most successful raiding expeditions of any Rebel ship, seizing nine prizes in one outing.

Pepe Productions sent me a copy of their fascinating DVD about the history of this ship, which ran aground  at St. Augustine Inlet in Florida on august 17, 1861, and was abandoned to the elements. Over time, the shipwreck was lost. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum sponsored a search for the Jefferson Davis, and a crew of divers and marine archaeologists discovered the decaying remains. Their 2010 DVD,  “Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader * Slaver * Raider” chronicles that search.

The story itself is interesting to any Civil War buff, particularly those who may be naval wargamers or naval history fans. The DVD is well done, with a good storyline and great underwater photography of the shipwreck, despite the poor visibility often associated with St. Augustine’s waters.

To view the trailer for this film, visit Pepe Productions’ website and have a look.

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Best selling book Manhunt to become HBO miniseries

HBO Developing Lincoln Miniseries Project reunites Homicide’s Simon, Fontana

By Marisa Guthrie — Broadcasting & Cable, 9/15/2008

HBO is developing Manhunt, a miniseries from David Simon and Tom Fontana about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the frantic 12-day hunt for his killer, John Wilkes Booth. The project reunites the network with the creative forces behind two of its former critical hit series—Simon created The Wire and Fontana created Oz—as well as the two writers themselves. Simon and Fontana have not collaborated since Fontana turned Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets into the cop drama Homicide for NBC. “The chance to put another project on the boards with [Fontana],” Simon told B&C, “there’s something psychically cool about that.”

The would-be mini comes at a time when HBO has continued to find critical and viewership success with miniseries while struggling to mount new, enduring series hits. HBO posted a less-than-spectacular open for its most recent series debut, the heavily marketed vampire drama True Blood, which attracted 1.4 million viewers to its Sept. 7 premiere. It was an anemic debut compared to recent HBO drama premieres including Big Love (4.6 million), Rome (3.8 million) and the failed John From Cincinnati (3.4 million).

It also comes on the heels of another HBO miniseries in the American history genre, John Adams, which enjoyed critical and viewership success, and piqued Fontana’s attention. A history buff, Fontana’s historical métier is the American Revolution and the Lincoln assassination. Fontana, in fact, grafted his Lincoln obsession onto one of his Homicide characters. Simon also possesses more than a passing interest in the Lincoln assassination. “So when HBO did John Adams, I was like, ‘What? You did John Adams without me? How is that possible?’” Fontana told B&C. Executives at HBO Films brought Manhunt to Simon, and Simon says he knew whom to call. “I have hundreds of books about the Lincoln assassination,” Fontana says.

The mini is based on James L. Swanson’s best-seller. HBO Films optioned the title from Walden Media, which scooped up Manhunt before it hit stores in 2006 with the intention of turning it into an action film. Simon and Fontana are writing the miniseries script, and if production is greenlighted by HBO Films, will serve as executive producers along with Lawrence Bender and Kevin Brown and Walden Media. Representatives for HBO and Walden declined to comment. Simon and Fontana will explore the assassination not from Lincoln’s or Booth’s point of view, but through the eyes of the little-known players, according to Fontana. “If you use Sept. 11 as the touchstone,” he explains, “I don’t want to see the story of Sept. 11 told through Rudy Giuliani’s eyes. I want to see it told through the fireman and the teacher and the guy working in the bakery on the corner and the wife sitting in Connecticut wondering how her husband is. That’s the approach we’re taking.”

When the project was being developed as an action picture, Harrison Ford was attached to star as the heroic cavalry officer who finally corners Booth near Port Royal, Va. That option ran out, and it’s highly unlikely that he will be re-approached given the new direction of the project in Simon and Fontana’s hands. Says Simon, “I don’t do action.” For Simon, Lincoln’s murder took on new relevancy with the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policies. “People have been fascinated by the Lincoln assassination since it happened,” he says. “It’s a pivotal moment in American history. The stakes were extremely high for the nation as a whole. The characters are grandly dramatic. So there would be reasons enough to be interested even if it were all an anachronism. But I don’t think it is an anachronism. If you look at everything from Guantanamo to the Patriot Act to the debate over military tribunals versus civil prosecution, there’s a lot of analogous stuff.”

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Deleted scenes from Gods and Generals

I looked forward so much to the release of Gods and Generals, which I feverishly hoped was even better than Gettysburg. I saw the trailer at a movie theater here in York PA, and that got my hopes up even further. When the movie came out, one of my sons invited me to see it with him. He was in central Ohio at the time in college, so I drove the seven hours to Columbus, picked him up, and went to a very nice modern multi-plex cinema. The room was packed, and an air of anticipation filled the room.

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New Civil War movie being released!


I grew up in central Ohio in the town of Zanesville, most noted for its unique Y-bridge and as the birthplace of Western author Zane Gray. Not too far away is the city of Newark, Ohio, the birthplace of John Clem (also spelled Klem), one of the 516,000 German-Americans to fight in the American Civil War. Clem, a young drummer boy in an Ohio regiment, gained national fame as “Johnny Shiloh” and “Johnny Chickamauga.” Years after the war, he became the youngest major general in U.S. Army history.In the 1960s, Disney make a somewhat fictionalized movie based loosely on Clem’s Civil War exploits, entitled Johnny Shiloh. Now, a relatively unknown film company, Historical Productions, has produced a new movie on John Clem’s service in the Union army. The movie trailer can be found at the company’s website. Directed by R. David Burns, this movie at least looks better than the classic Disney flick (at least, it has better reenactors and uniforms!).

I have fond memories of the Disney Johnny Shiloh flick from my childhood, although my favorite ACW movies are Glory and Gettysburg. What is your favorite Civil War movie, and why?

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Top 5 Civil War movies????




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.

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