“The Burning of Atlanta,” 82 minutes. Produced and directed by Christopher Forbes.  2020.

I have written a great deal on the Abbeville Institute site in the past  on the portrayal of the South in films. I have tried to keep up with the subject.  So, I took this from the shelf in fond anticipation. Few times in my life have I been so abysmally disappointed.

I was encouraged  to hope by Forbes’s association with this film.  “Firetrail,” which was released by him in 2007, is a wonderful 179-minute historically sound portrayal of Sherman’s March. The participants on both sides of the camera are mostly Georgia and South Carolina folks who do a splendid job. The characters beautifully portray real Southern soldiers and civilians of the time and full account is shown of Yankee atrocities. (WARNING:  If you are interested in “Firetrail” get the long original version, not the  82 minute DVD which was released years later. The latter is so truncated as to be worthless.)

There could not possibly be more wrong with “The Burning of Atlanta.” The young aggressive battle-scarred General John Hood is played as a fat chairbound old man who is only interested in secret operations and without Hood’s missing limb.  The battle scenes are so bad as to be ridiculous. The Yankee cavalry general Kilpatrick, a ruthless, venereal-diseased Irishman, appears as a nice but firm young Northerner. 

But worst of all, the plot, as far as there is one, seems to be about how Confederates themselves burned Atlanta and blamed it on Sherman!  We see only a snippet of the damage done to civilian lives and property by Sherman’s pre-occupation bombardment and no mention of his brutal driving of the population out of the city.

The South could have a great cinema, a rival of the best national film industries around the world.  We have the stories and the talent.  Alas, we lack the freedom and the money.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.

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