Top 7 Civil War Movies of All Time

As a military Officer, I have enjoyed being a student of history over the years.  Somewhere along the way I became very interested in the American Civil War. Out of all the American wars 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 or clear conclusions to the American Civil War.

Both sides sincerely believed in what they were doing. However, over the years I have watched some fantastic Civil War films and I would like to share some of them with you.  Some of these films are purely fictional and based on the time period and events…others are true, dramatic accounts of historical events.  The Bottom Line is that all of these movies are worth watching, so enjoy my Top 7 Civil War Movies of All Time!

The North And The South is the most comprehensive Civil War era film that I have seen. At around 12 hours long it is able to touch on every issue that the Civil War was fought over. The film also gives you 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.

Written by Stephen Crane and directed by John Huston The Red Badge Of Courage was based on Stephen Cranes classic short story published in 1894. The movie is also fairly short at about an hour long. The Red Badge Of Courage delves into the physic of warfare to the foot soldier..the questions that every Soldier going into war will ask himself. Some viewers will notice some 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 which is why it is one of my favorites. 

Shenandoah was a good movie with a good story line. Jimmy Stewart and Doug McClure were also very good. Jimmy Stewart plays a Virginia Farmer during the Civil War. He didn’t believe in the war personally 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.  

The Horse Soldiers was directed by John Ford and starred Wayne (a true, personal favorite!) and William Holden. This film is based on the true story of Colonel Benjamin Grierson and the Battle of New Station.  A Union Cavalry outfit is sent behind Confederate lines to destroy a railroad supply depot. The plan for the mission is overheard by a Southern belle who must be taken along to assure her silence.

Gettysburg the movie was based on a novel, “The Killer Angels”, written by Michael Shaara.  Interestingly, it was filmed on location at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Most everything in the film was true to recorded history. The film is extremely historically accurate. From the order of battle to when the different divisions showed up at Gettysburg… It includes Colonel Chamberlain’s infamous bayonet charge on Little Round Top as well!  You can’t forget about 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 movie (which is essentially a reenactment) of the battle at Gettysburg.

Glory is one of the best films ever made pertaining to the African American role in 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 a Civil War classic. 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, the first volunteer black infantry unit organized by the Union Army during the Civil War.

Last, but certainly not least is the prequel to “Gettysburg” and the second film in a Civil War trilogy produced by Ted Turner and that is Gods and Generals.  It is one of the few films that actually depict Stonewall Jackson in any detail, which is why I really enjoy the film.  Gods and Generals does a good job of starting out before the war and going all the way up through the Battle of Gettysburg. I really enjoyed the battle scenes in this film…they truly gave you a sense of what the war truly was like. 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.

What about you?  What Civil War movies rank at the top of your list?  Leave a comment below to tell us which movie is your favorite Civil War Movie of all time.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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8 thoughts on “Top 7 Civil War Movies of All Time”

  1. I wanted to add some more to the list that you may not have seen…. An old movie from 1926 entitled The General is great. Another old one from 1915 titled Birth of a Nation is a must watch. Who can forget Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which does portray Civil War carnage. Another Clint film The Outlaw Josie Wales also is about the Civil War.

  2. I’ve seen all of these except for North and South…though, like Chuck, maybe I did when I was younger as my father was the war movie buff. Of course, anything with Jimmy Stewart, William Holden, Audie Murphy, and the Duke were a must see! Of the list though, I’d have to say that Gods and Generals is my personal favorite. I can’t say if it’s the gritty realism, the cinematography or the troupe of actors. Robert Duvall continues to be one of my favorite actors to watch. Now, it’s not a war movie but it’s based in the Civil War era: I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out for Gone With the Wind.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      I have never seen this movie, thanks for the suggestion. I wonder if it is on Netflix. I love watching new military history movies! Civil War movies are fascinating, too. Especially since we can visit a lot of historical sites today.

  3. Wow, what a list Justin. Thank you for this excellent review. Like Chuck, I have also read the book Red Badge of Courage. I hope the movie is as good. I personally loved Shenandoah. Gettysburg was a very well made movie. I need to see the rest of these. They are going on my list for soon to be rentals.

  4. The only two movies on your Civil War movie list that I’ve watched are Glory and Gettysburg. I guess I need to add these other five movies to my list and watch them.

    I have read the book “The Red Badge of Courage” so I think I would enjoy the movie too.

    I’ve watched small parts of North and South, when I was like 10 years old, but don’t remember much about them.

    Thanks for sharing the list.


  5. Candace Ginestar

    Justin, what a great list of Civil War movies. I know my favorite is Gettysburg, closely followed by Glory. Gettysburg really opens your eyes to what happened there, and it helped me put it all in perspective when I went to Gettysburg for my OCS staff ride.

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