The Ten Best American Civil War Films

Jul 25, 2004 (Updated Nov 21, 2005)

The Bottom Line All ten of these movies are worth watching, enjoy.

I have been a student of history for quite sometime. I have also been in the military for the better part of my life. Somewhere along the way I became very interested in the American Civil War. It seems, the more I study the Civil War, the more questions I have. I have come to realize that there are no easy answers to the American Civil War. Both sides sincerely believed in what they were doing. Over the years I have watched some fantastic Civil War era films and I would like to share some of them with you.


10. Cold Mountain (2003)

Written by Charles Frazier
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Jude Law as Inman
Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe
Renée Zellweger as Ruby
Natalie Portman as Sara
Donald Sutherland as Preacher Monroe

Cold Mountain is about as exciting as watching Old Yeller for the first time. Is that good or bad? It was not the best love story that I have ever seen. Furthermore it‘s not the best Civil War or action movie around. I found Cold Mountain to be decent romantic drama set in the year 1864 so they could use the Civil War as a back ground. There was some very good acting, I was all pumped up looking for something great. Although Cold Mountain is not great, it is worth seeing.

Although the movie was a bit of a let down to me, others really enjoyed it. The acting in the film was very good on all accounts. I think that Renée Zellweger was flat out awesome and deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Her acting is great. Cold Mountain will not be remembered as a great movie. The plot was not that good. It needed more depth and a better dialog. On the upside the music was great! The cast was great and the acting very well done. I’d recommend Cold Mountain to someone who enjoys romantic dramas, westerns or Civil War flicks.

Quote From Cold Mountain

Ruby: They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, shit it's raining.


9. Shenandoah (1965)

Directed by Andrew McLaglen
James Stewart as Charlie Anderson
Doug McClure as Sam
Katharine Ross as Ann Anderson
Patrick Wayne as James Anderson

Shenandoah was a good movie with a good story line. The cast with Jimmy Steward and Doug McClure were very good. Stewart plays a Virginia Farmer during the Civil War. He didn't believe in the war and didn't want to have a thing to do with it let a lone choose a side. The problem was that his land was in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley which was dead center in the middle of the war.

I enjoyed the movie Shenandoah for a couple of reasons. First off the acting and cast were very good. Another reason that I enjoyed the movie was that it offers the viewer a whole new perspective on the American Civil War. Mr. Anderson didn't believe in the war at all, north or south. The script was also very realistic. I would recommend Shenandoah to someone who enjoys westerns, civil war movies or James Stewart.

Quotes from Shenandoah

Lieutenant Johnson: When are you going to take this war seriously, Anderson?
Charlie Anderson: Now let me tell you something Johnson, before you get on my wrong side. My corn I take seriously, because it's mine. And my potatoes and tomatoes and my fence I take note of because they're mine. But this war is not mine and I don't take note of it.
Charlie Anderson: I'm glad you're here, Johnson. I've been meaning to have a word with your people about those cannons of yours. The chickens have stopped laying, the cows have dried up. Who do I send the bill to?


8. Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales
Chief Dan George as Lone Watie
Sondra Locke as Laura Lee
Bill McKinney as Terrill
John Vernon as Fletcher

Outlaw Josey Wales is a film about the Kansas Jayhawkers (Red legs) and the Missouri Bushwackers. The warfare that took place out west between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War, was nothing less than brutal murder. Both sides would invade each others states and kill, rape, pillage and burn. The movie Outlaw Josey Wales is about a farmer who was living in Missouri minding his own business when a band of Red legs kill his family. The only mistake they make is not killing Josey Wales when they had a chance!

Quotes from Outlaw Josey Wales

Josey: When I get to likin someone, they ain't around long.
Watie: I notice when you get to dislikin' someone they ain't around for long neither.
Josey: You a bounty hunter?
Bounty Hunter: A man has to do something these days to earn a living.
Josey: Dyin ain't much of a living boy.
Senator: There's a saying, Fletcher: To the victor belongs the spoils.
Fletcher: There's another saying, Senator, don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.


7. North And The South ( 1985, Warner Bros, ABC Mini-Series)

Directed by Richard T. Heffron

Patrick Swayze as Orry Main
James Read as George Hazard
Kirstie Alley as Virgilia Hazard
David Carradine as Justin LaMotte
Lesley-Anne Down as Madeline Fabray LaMotte
Johnny Cash as John Brown
Morgan Fairchild as Burdetta Halloran
Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln
Robert Mitchum as Patrick Flynn
Elizabeth Taylor as Madam Conti
John Anderson as William Hazard
Jonathan Frakes as Stanley Hazard
Forest Whitaker as Cuffey

The North And The South is the most complete Civil War era film that I have seen. At 12 hours long it is able to touch on every issue that the Civil War was fought over. The film also gives the viewer an in-depth look at both sides from two completely different perspectives. Two men, one from the north, George Hazzard and one from the South, Orry Main are best friends before the war between the states. After the war breaks out it tests their friendship to it’s very core. North And The South is an excellent movie with an all-star cast! It is well worth the watch.

Quotes from North And The South

Orry: This is our way of life, it has been for more than a hundred years!
Orry: How would you like me, to come up to Lehigh Station, telling you how to run your life, to change the way you have always lived?
Orry: But I mean this George. You and me... we're good friends, and if we want to keep that friendship, there are certain things we can never say to each other. Some things we can never talk about.
George: I guess you're right.
George: We're supposed to be fighting Mexicans... not each other!
Ashton Main: {Spoiled Southern Bell} I couldn't possibly love just one man, think how disappointed the rest would be.


6. The Red Badge Of Courage (1951)

Written by Stephen Crane
Directed by John Huston

Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming
John Dierkes as Jim Conklin
Bill Mauldin as Tom Wilson
Douglas Dick as The Lieutenant
Tim Durant The General

The Red Badge Of Courage was based on Stephen Cranes classic short story published in 1894. The movie is also fairly short at one hour nine minutes long. The Red Badge Of Courage delves into the physic of warfare to the foot soldier. The questions that every soldier going to and in war will ask himself. Some viewers will notice sub plots such as war itself and it’s effect on soldiers as well as the inhumanity of war. The Red Badge Of Courage takes a look into the soul of a soldier. What better person to play the part than the most decorated war hero the United States has ever had, Audie Murphy


5. Gods & Generals (2003)

Directed By Ronald F. Maxwell [Gettysburg & Joan of Arc]
Jell Daniels as Lt Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain [Gettysburg & Blood Work]
Stephen Lang as General "Stonewall" Jackson [Gettysburg]
Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee [ Lonesome Dove]
Kevin Conway as Sergeant 'Buster' Kilrain [Gettysburg & Joan Of Arc]
Mira Sorvino as Fanny Chamberlain [Joan Of Arc]
Kali Rocha as Anna Jackson

Gods and Generals does a good job of starting out before the war and going all the way up to Gettysburg. I really enjoyed the battle scenes. I also thought it was neat how most of the cast came back to play their parts. I must say they played the parts well! What I liked most about Gods and General was how Maxwell is so meticulous in his historical accuracy! For example, there must be a hundred things said or done in the movie that were right on the money! One thing that I really enjoyed about Gettysburg is how the movie portrayed the views of both sides during the war. Gods and Generals didn't do nearly as much of the Union side as I had hoped. The movie was constantly on Stonewall Jackson. I believe it would have been better if Maxwell would have cut out most of the Stonewall prayer scenes and replaced them with scenes of Colonel Chamberlain and his Maine men.

I must admit that I was expecting something more along the lines of Gettysburg. This was more of a biography of Thomas Stonewall Jackson. I have a few friends that were re-enactors for the movie. For their help with making the movie 500,000.00 was donated to preserve civil war battlefields. I wish more movies were as historically accurate. I say a job well done Ron Maxwell, sir. I am looking forward to the release of The Last Full Measure!

Quotes from Gods and Generals

General Lee: Though I love the Union, I love Virginia more.

[Stonewalls last words]
General "Stonewall" Jackson: Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.


4. Andersonville

Directeed by John Frankenhiemer

Jarrod Emick as Josiah Day
Frederic Forrest as Sgt. McSpadden
Ted Marcoux as Martin Blackburn
Carmen Argenziano as Hopkins
William H. Macy as Colonel Chandler
Cliff De Young as Sgt. John Gleason

Andersonville may the most inhuman prisoner of war camp to ever existed. Even Sobibor and Auschwitz gave P.O.W.'s drinking water and a shack to stay in. Andersonville tells the daunting true story of a Confederate prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War. You couldn't call it a camp really, it was simply a ringed log wall with guard towers and a small nasty creek running through the edge of it. This creek was their, drinking water, bathing water and sewer system. There was upwards of thirty thousand Union soldiers living in this HELL HOLE, of a world. They would dig a hole in the ground and try and cover it with old shirts, pants, anything they could get their hands on. On top of all this they were starving to death. The odds of getting out of this place alive were slim to none. The prison was built for 8,000 prisoners, before the war's end it would see over 30,000 men stuffed in this place. During the last couple of years nearly 13,000 men died in Andersonville.

I have nothing but praise for this movie. The acting was superb! The dialog, directing, cinematography and score were all outstanding. I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys history or the American Civil War. I would also like to give praise to Ted Turner (Turner Productions & Turner Network Television - TNT). If it wasn't for Turner's great interest in with American history we wouldn't have movies such as Andersonville, (Gettysburg & Gods And Generals).


3. Ride With The Devil (1999)

Directed by Ang Lee
Tobey Maguire as Jake (Dutchy) Roedel
Skeet Ulrich as Jack Bull Chiles
Jeffery Wright as Holt
Jewel as Sue Lee

Ride With The Devil does not get into the Politics of the war or "The Cause". Instead it focuses on the ruthless, savage clan type warfare that took place in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War. Nothing less than cold blooded murder took place quite frequently in these two states during the Civil War years. There were no Armies per say, out west where they were. The Pro Confederate folks formed bands called Bushwhackers. The Pro Union folks formed bands called Jayhawkers. If either side found out you were on the wrong side they would burn your house down and murder you and your sons. In my humble opinion Ang Lee did a splendid job, portraying this brutal and largely unknown side of the American Civil War.

The movie is set in Missouri in the early years of the Civil War. Ang Lee focuses on a small group of Missouri men and boys that that are forced to choose a side and fight like hell! The Jayhawkers had found out that Jack Bulls Father was a southern sympathizer. They Burnt down the family house and Jack Bull's father was dragged into the front yard and shot. Jack Bull was able to escape.

Jack Bull and his friend Jake Roedel got out of town in a hurry. They would join the local band of Bushwhackers and avenge the death of Jack Bull's father. One of the may ironies of the movie was Holt. A black man who was fighting with the pro Confederate Bushwhackers. There wasn't much concern about States rights or freeing slaves were they were. The concern was staying alive and avenging murders committed against their friends and families.

Quotes from Ride With The Devil

Jake: [Discussing his missing finger that had been shot off with Jack Bull] No. It was a fine finger and I'd rather have it still, but... it was took from me and it's been et by chickens for sure. And I say, what is the good side to this amputation? And there is one.
Sue Lee: So do you wanna marry me?
Jake: No, not too bad.
Sue Lee: Good. That's good news, 'cause I wouldn't marry you for a wagonload full of gold.


2. Glory (1989)

Directed by Edward Zwick
Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Shaw
Denzel Washington as Pvt. Trip
Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes
Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins
John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy

Glory is one of the finest films ever made pertaining to the American Civil War. The film was based on letters that Colonel Robert Shaw wrote. The all-star cast did an excellent piece of work in making this Civil War classic. The directing by Edward Zwick is exceptional. The score is very good as well. The story was about the 54th Massachusetts, an all-black Union Infantry regiment. The film was based on their actual story and the events that took place with their regiment, The 54th Massachusetts.

It is a very thought provoking film with several disturbing issues. The story was very good. The acting doesn’t get any better. Denzel Washington’s performance was brilliant and won him an Academy Award. The Cinematography was also as good as it gets, and also won an Academy Award. The score was excellent. Morgan Freeman gives us his usual perfect performance and Broderick is at his best in Glory. I would recommend this movie to anyone. I give Glory two thumps up and 5 big stars.

Quote From Glory

Colonel Shaw There's more to fighting than rest, sir. There's character. There's strength of heart. You should have seen us in action two days ago. We were a sight to see! We'll be ready, sir. When do you want us?


1. Gettysburg (1993)

The movie was based on the epic novel The Killer Angels, written in 1974 by Michael Shaara.
Gettysburg was Produced and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell in 1993. It was filmed on location at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Most everything in the film was true. The film is extremely historically accurate. From The order of battle to when the different divisions showed up at Gettysburg. Colonel Chamberlains infamous bayonet charge on little round top. General James Longstreet's objection to Lee's order to advance on the Angle. You will never have a real idea of what really happened at Gettysburg until you see this great reenactment (movie) of the battle at Gettysburg. Gettysburg is the best all around civil war film that I have seen to date.

Quotes From Gettysburg

Colonel Chamberlain: [Quoting Hamlet] "What a piece of work is man, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god."
Sergeant Kilrain: Well, man may be an angel. But he damn well must be a killer angel.
Robert E. Lee: To be a good soldier you must love the army. To be a good commander you must be able to order the death of the thing you love.
General Longstreet: We should have freed the slaves, then fired on Fort Sumter.
General Pickett: Up men! And to your posts! And let no man forget today, that you are from Old Virginia!
General Armistead: Virginians! For your land - for your homes - for your sweethearts - for your wives - for Virginia! Forward... march!
General Kemper: Well, I got to hand it to you, George. You sure got a talent for trivializing the momentous and complicating the obvious. You ever consider running for Congress?

That's my list of the best American Civil War movies that I have ever seen. I hope you found a movie that you have not seen.

More American Civil War Movies

• The Blue And The Gray (1982, CBS Mini-Series)
• An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (1962)
• How The West Was Won (1962)
• Gone With The Wind (1939)
• USS Hunley (1999)
• The Good The Bad And The Ugly
• Wicked Spring (2002)
• Major Dundee (1965)
• The General (1927)
• The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
• Shadow Riders (1982)
Gettysburg Three Days Of Destiny (2003)
• Drums In The Deep South (1951)

American Civil War Documentaries

• Ken Burns, The Civil War (1990 Mini-Series PBS & Turner Home Entertainment)
Civil War Journal II

Thanks for the read,

©2004 Joe McMaster

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