Monday, October 9, 2017

The human side of the American Civil War

I came across this short (about 20 minutes) older black and white film which shows the human side of the American Civil War. It is available to see online at

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Free State of Jones Movie

I just viewed the movie, The Free State of Jones, on its debut in Newton, Kansas. I wanted to see this film because this group of anti-Confederates in Mississippi is in my book Hiram's Hope. After leaving the filthy prison at Andersonville for Vicksburg in the spring of 1865, the prisoners are forced to walk after being dumped off rickety rail cars in the war-torn, no-man's land around Jackson, Mississippi . They then come across some of these Free State men and warily engage in conversation. The prisoners learn about the hated conscription act and twenty slave rule, that along with Confederate army raids on their farms, drove these men to rebel against the Confederate government and to set up their own "country", The Free State of Jones. I believe this meeting was possible although I did not find any mention of it in the literature or writings of Andersonville prisoners.

The movie opens with graphic views of the fighting in the Civil War.  Although these made my wife cringe, I think seeing exploding heads, gaping abdominal wounds, hogs chewing on corpses, and screaming soldiers undergoing amputations is necessary to a proper view of the Civil War.  So much of the savagery is skipped over in discussions of war that we forget how awful it was for the soldiers on both sides.  Newton Knight, the historical figure who founded the Free State of Jones, flees the carnage (after carrying home the corpse of a young relative) and, now a deserter, makes his way to the swamps.  Here he meets up with escaped slaves and other deserters who he eventually organizes into a small army.  They join local families in defying Confederates trying to capture deserters and enforce conscription while raiding local farms to supply Southern armies fighting further north.  Knight's army of deserters and slaves grows as the war turns against the Confederacy.  So does the viciousness of the fighting and retributions. Young boys and slaves are hung after surrendering and  skirmishes and battles with Confederates are shown in gruesome detail.

Finally the war ends and reconstruction begins but the fires of joys are soon extinguished in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, black codes, and lynchings. Even the descendants of Knight are shown fighting laws against mixed marriage in the Mississippi courts decades later. While there are many fictional scenes in the movie, I believe it was well done and reflects not only history but the emotional human drama of the times. The Free State of Jones has an R rating but the violence underscores the realities of the times, something that we need to know and feel if we are to learn from history.

 Prisoners leaving for home at the end of the war.

  Book cover showing prisoners on the exploding Sultana after leaving Vicksburg.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Whirlwind of War by Stephen B. Oates

Front Cover 

I just finished reading one of the best books I have ever read on the Civil War. The Whirlwind of War by Stephen B. Oats is a very readable, intensively researched and documented, masterpiece. Oates employs a unique approach to the book's format--he writes in the first person from the views of leading characters in the Civil War such as Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, even John Wilkes Boothe. This he carries off masterfully with every event  portrayed meticulously documented and backed up by letters, diaries, biographies, and other well respected primary and secondary books and manuscripts. I am considering writing Hiram's Heart, the third book in my Civil War trilogy, using this first person viewpoint style with Hiram Terman, my ancestor as the main character supported by others such as Isaiah, Bushey, Seth, and other characters from Hiram's Honor and Hiram's Hope.  I certainly have a good example to try to emulate in this awesome book.  Michael Shara's novel The Killer Angels was also written in this way as was David Grub's novel The Voices of Glory and Cynthia Bass's novel Sherman's March.  I have read Shara's novel but need to check out the books by Grub and by Bass.