It Could Have Been Worse, Probably

By February 13, 2015Blog


Review of the new film Field of Lost Shoes:

I have written before here and here about the treatment of the South in film. A new entry into that dubious field is the recent “Field of Lost Shoes.” It purports to tell the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who at great sacrifice participated in driving back the invading Yankee arsonists and vandals at the Battle of New Market in 1864. It does enact this bit of history, sort of, after a fashion.

*In 96 minutes, including a half hour of battle action, you will not be offended by even a faint glimpse of a (shudder!) Confederate flag. (This horrid object is apparently now banned entirely from V.M.I., even in commemorations of New Market.)

*The first 10 minutes are devoted to a slave auction in which brutal Southerners break up a family—quite unlikely in Lexington, Virginia, in 1864. We see a flashback of this as the cadets march toward battle, reminding us that, after all, they were fighting against noble opponents who wanted only to free the slaves.

*At midpoint we have a severe beating given to an intelligent, kindly slave for something he did not do.

*We see Lincoln morally offended that the Confederates are sending “boys to be massacred.” But this is absurd. There were plenty of soldiers in both armies as young as were the Cadets . Besides, Lincoln inaugurated the bloodshed, although he doubtless did not anticipate the volume that followed, and he could have avoided it or stopped it at any moment if he had been willing to give up the benefits the war brought to his political party and to Northern Big Money men. (At least in this one, Lincoln is correctly ugly, does not look like a movie star.)

*The civilian population of Virginia seems to be fat and prosperous and suffering no privations in 1864.

*V.M.I.’s first Jewish cadet, Moses Ezekiel, later to become one of America’s greatest sculptors, is portrayed as being doubtful about the Confederate cause. There is no evidence that he was ever anything other than a loyal Southerners. I suppose it was thought that since he was Jewish he had to be a “Liberal.”

Grandmother always said that when you have to critisise you should add something nice if you can:

*There is a good and sympathetic portrayal of John C. Breckinridge by the Brit actor Jason Isaacs.

*The characters actually talk like Southerners and some of the time even act like Southerners.

*The battle scene is vivid, although not very accurate, I think.

It could have been worse, I suppose, but with a little honesty it could have been much better.

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, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.

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