Get ready for victory! You’re on the verge of a comprehensive and entertaining quiz about the 50 best Civil War movies ever made.
The American Civil War took place between April 12, 1861, and May 9, 1865. The four years, three weeks and six days for which it lasted proved to be a time of great upheaval, soul-searching, and eventual growth for the country. Over the decades, filmmakers have found wonderfully strong, riveting, and uplifting stories to retell about the encounter.
Some were, naturally, more historically accurate than others. Remember that film named for the famous Pennsylvania battle which turned the tide of the entire war? It focused on recreating the action in great detail. You know the one we’re talking about!
Others were more imaginative, adding intriguing twists to familiar tales, like a legendary president chasing the undead. It’s very symbolic, well-made, and keeps the suspense tuned way up all the way through. Surely, you’ve seen it, and it is definitely in our line-up.
You don’t have to spend your weekends doing Civil War reenactments to ace this quiz, although it definitely wouldn’t hurt! So, grab that bag of popcorn (or a bayonet, if you must) and wade right into the thick of things with this Civil War quiz.
The Red Badge of Courage is often referred to as a “minor masterpiece,” with its depiction of battle scenes being praised by critics. Although the current film is just 69 minutes long, director John Huston’s original final cut was a two-hour epic, which he has stated is among his favorite films. Sadly, no copies of that cut have survived.
In "Free State of Jones," Matthew McConaughey portrays Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who switches sides and leads a rebellion in favor of the Union. Although the film wasn’t a box office success, its attempt to be historically accurate was praised by several critics.
Before "The Horse Soldiers," director John Ford had made several films which indirectly portrayed the happenings and the effects of the American Civil War. They included his 1939 film "Stagecoach;" "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949);" and 1956’s "The Searchers." "The Horse Soldiers," however, is his first feature-length film to focus specifically on the Civil War.
"Shenandoah" features an isolationist family, the Andersons, who gets drawn into the horrors of the Civil War. The role of the family’s tough-minded patriarch, Charlie Anderson, is played by acting veteran Jimmy Stewart.
"Dark Command" is very loosely based on the actual Lawrence Massacre (or Quantrill's Raid) that took place on August 21, 1863. It was carried out by a Confederate guerilla group in the Kansas town of Lawrence, known to be home to Union sympathizers.
There were seven Academy Awards among the more than 70 industry awards for which "Cold Mountain" was nominated. The Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Renée Zellweger, who also won BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards for her role as the resilient and resourceful Ruby Thewes.
This highly acclaimed six-part miniseries was actually the first in the North and South trilogy shown on ABC. Its sequels were "Book II: Love and War" and "Book III: Heaven and Hell."
When William Holden, Eleanor Parker, and John Forsythe starred in "Escape from Fort Bravo," they were each already well-known performers who appeared in a number of feature films. In fact, both Holden and Parker were past Oscar nominees, with Holden actually winning the Best Actor Oscar for his role in another war film released in 1953: "Stalag 17."
The two-hour epic "How the West Was Won" features a star-studded cast that includes Spencer Tracey as narrator. The film, which is presented in five segments, covers four generations of a single family and the events leading up to, during and after the Civil War. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and walked away with three of them.
The movie is based loosely on the October 19, 1864 St. Albans Raid in Vermont. That event made St. Albans the site of the northernmost land conflict in the Civil War. A band of Confederate cavalrymen robbed a total of $208,000 from three banks in St. Albans and fled to Canada where officials were able to retrieve and return $88,000.
"Dances with Wolves" was Kevin Costner’s highly acclaimed directorial debut. He also stars in the film as Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, a Unionist soldier who ends up living with and learning the ways of a Sioux tribe. The film won seven of the 12 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including three wins for Costner: Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture.
Elvis Presley’s portrayal of Clint Reno in "Love Me Tender" may have been his first (of many) acting roles, but the young rock and roll star had quite an impact on the film. The movie’s original name, "The Reno Brothers," was ditched after advanced sales of Presley’s single, "Love Me Tender," surpassed one million copies.
Manhattan-born Martin Scorsese directed this realistic and often violent depiction of life on the streets of New York around the time of the Civil War. Scorsese has admitted that ever since his childhood, he was fascinated with the history of New York. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (but failed to win in any category).
"The Undefeated" is directed by Andrew McLaglen and stars John Wayne alongside Rock Hudson. Interestingly, noted film critic Roger Ebert compared McLaglen’s directorial work on "The Undefeated" to that of famed filmmaker John Ford who had directed both Wayne and McLaglen’s father, Victor, in at least seven films.
"Friendly Persuasion" is a depiction of how one southern Indiana Quaker family deals with the realities of the Civil War and its vivid contrasts to their own pacifist beliefs. The film received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics and was nominated for six Academy Awards, although it failed to win in any category.
At first glance, "The Conspirator" (directed by Robert Redford), seems to be simply about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and subsequent trial of Mary Surratt, a coconspirator in the act. As several critics have pointed out, however, the film is more a look at interpretation and application of the American Constitution.
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is the third installment in director Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the other two being "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More." Each film stars Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" has been hailed as the definitive example of the spaghetti western genre of films.
Gary Cooper portrays Major Lex Kearney, a Union intelligence officer who accepts a dishonorable discharge as cover for a top-secret mission. He is given the job of infiltrating a gang of rustlers who are suspected of supplying Confederate troops with horses.
Over the decades, "Major Dundee" has gained a much more favorable review than it was originally given by both critics and film audiences. Director Sam Peckinpah has reportedly stated that his original version (said to have been over four hours long) was one of the best films he ever made. The version released in theatres was cut down to just over two hours.
This film which covers the last four months in the life of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was both produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won in two categories. One of the Oscars went to Daniel Day-Lewis for his universally acclaimed portrayal of Lincoln.
William Holden portrays cattleman Alvarez Kelly in this vivid look at the dire need both Confederate and Union troops had for beef. The movie is based on the real Beefsteak Raid of September 1864, in which Confederate soldiers in Virginia captured over 2,000 head of cattle destined for Union forces.
Clint Eastwood stars as John McBurney, a wounded Union soldier who is assisted by students and teachers at an all-girls’ school. This film was released in the same year in which Eastwood appears in the first of his four Dirty Harry movies, as well as in the psychological thriller "Play Misty for Me." "The Beguiled" was remade in 2017 with Colin Farrell in the lead role.
"Gettysburg" attempts to recreate the famous battle which has gone down in history as crushing all Confederate hopes of victory in the Civil War. The film is four hours and 18 minutes long (four hours and 31 minutes for the director’s cut) and focuses almost entirely on the preparation for battle and re-enactment of the battle itself.
This made-for-television film earned an Emmy for director John Frankenheimer and was nominated (but failed to win) in six other categories. The movie looks closely at the horrors faced by prisoners-of-war during the Civil War, in particular, those Union soldiers held at Camp Sumter, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp near Andersonville, Georgia.
"Ride with the Devil" is director Ang Lee’s look at the localized guerrilla-type warfare which took place in Missouri just prior to the beginning of the Civil War. The film stars Toby McGuire as Jake Roedel, a member of the Confederate-linked Bushwhackers.
"The Hunley" is a made-for-television film about the first successful sinking of a vessel carried out by a submarine. That submarine was the H.L. Hunley of the Confederate States Navy and the vessel it attacked was the USS Housatonic, a Union Navy warship. The attack took place at night in Charleston Harbor and although it was a success, the Hunley was declared “lost” shortly after, some researchers say due to the explosion of the attack.
This almost four-hour epic is considered to be a masterpiece in Hollywood filmmaking and up to this time, Gone with the Wind still ranks as the most successful film ever at the box office. It received an astounding 13 Academy Awards nominations and won in 10 categories, with Hattie McDaniel making history by becoming the first African American to win an Oscar when she gained the award for Best Supporting Actress.
"The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams" is based on a true story with Adam’s descendants, United States Ambassador Weston Adams, and filmmaker Julian Adams taking on the roles of writers and co-producers. In the film, Robert is portrayed by both Weston (his great-grandson) and Julian (his great-great-grandson).
This film is based on the real Great Locomotive Chase which took place on April 12, 1862. The event is also called Andrews’ Raid after James J. Andrews, a civilian scout. Andrews led a group of Union Army volunteers in the capture a northbound train, with the intention of damaging bridges, telegraph wires, and railway lines used by the Confederate Army.
"Glory" tells the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the regiment was the first of its kind, made up of African-American freemen and escaped slaves led by white officers. The film is mainly based on letters written by commanding officer Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) and from whose point of view the story is told. Denzel Washington won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.
This made-for-television film zeroes in on the actions of Betty Stuart, a double agent for the North, portrayed by Virginia Madsen. The film was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards (for Special Effects, Costume Design, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing) but did not win in any category.
Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott star as brothers Dal and Mac Traven in this made-for-television movie. The brothers return home after having fought on opposite sides of the Civil War (a fact that bears no negative effects on their relationship) and go off in pursuit of raiders who have kidnapped their siblings. The film is based on a novel of the same name by prolific author Louis L’Amour.
"The Colt" is a Hallmark Channel original film about the actions of a Union cavalry unit when one of its mares gives birth to a foal during battle. The film received generally positive reviews for how it dealt with the humane choices the soldiers make, in particular how Union soldier Jim Rabb (portrayed by Ryan Merriman) lays his life on the line to rescue the colt when it is taken by Confederates.
Clint Eastwood is both director and lead actor in this film about the fictional Confederate guerrilla-fighter-turned-outlaw, Josey Wales. The character was created by author Forrest Carter and first appears in his 1973 novel "The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales."
"The General" is a silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, who is also the film’s co-director and co-producer, as well as a contributor to its screenplay. The film which is based on the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, has (retrospectively) been hailed as one of the best features to have come out of the American film industry.
"A Time for Killing" is significant for being the 100th role for veteran actor Glenn Ford and for being the first credited role for (soon to be acclaimed) actor Harrison Ford. Interestingly, Harrison Ford, who has no middle name, is credited as Harrison J. Ford, so as to avoid confusion with the (already deceased) Broadway actor and silent film star of the same name.
Legendary actor John Wayne and accomplished director Howard Hawks worked together on five films, of which, "Rio Lobo" is the last. Several critics have described it as a classic John Wayne western film, very much like Hawks’ "Rio Bravo" and "El Dorado." Their other two films are "Red River" and "Hatari!"
PBS first broadcast "The Civil War" as a nine-part documentary miniseries. Apart from numerous industry awards, the film has earned the distinction of being PBS’s most-watched program ever.
"Run of the Arrow" starred (a young) Charles Bronson in a supporting role. Although Bronson had been acting for several years in minor roles, it had been under his birth name of Charles Buchinsky. His role as Blue Buffalo in "Run of the Arrow" was one of the first in which he was credited under his new chosen surname “Bronson.”
"They Died with Their Boots On" attempted to depict the life of famed Union General, George Armstrong Custer, but is noted for being filled with historical inaccuracies. That did not (and has not) stopped audiences from liking the film, which proved to be a very successful venture for Warner Bros. Pictures.
Kevin Hershberger functions as director, writer, and co-producer of this Civil War film which he based loosely on a number of different incidents from the war. His efforts paid off, as "Wicked Spring" won several awards at various film festivals.
"Secret Service" stars Richard Dix, Shirley Grey. and Nance O'Neil who were all prolific actors during their careers. In fact, both Dix and O’Neil began acting in the silent film era and were well known long before “talkies” came on the scene.
"Sommersby" is a love story set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, but it is based on the true story of Martin Guerre, a 16th-century French peasant. Guerre abandoned his wife and child only to mysteriously resurface years later (through an imposter). The film, based on a 1982 film adaptation of Guerre’s story, was very successful at the box office and liked by most critics.
"Gods and Generals" was directed by Ronald F. Maxwell as a prequel to his more successful Civil War epic "Gettysburg." At the end of "Gods and Generals," mention is made of a third film, "The Last Full Measure," which to date, is yet to be made. It’s been said that this is due, in part, to the poor reviews and box office performance of "Gods and Generals."
The title of the film is the name which was historically given to Northerners (in particular, “peace” Democrats) who opposed the Civil War. The term is the name of a venomous snake and intended to be an insult. The “Copperheads,” however, bore it proudly, sticking to their opposition to the draft and maintaining their call for a cease-fire.
As its title suggests, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a tale of the 16th President of the United States with an alter ego as a vampire hunter. The movie is based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel of the same name. Smith also co-wrote the film’s screenplay.
"Drums in the Deep South" tells the story of two friends who end up on opposite sides of the Civil War and eventually in the same battle. The film stars James Craig, Guy Madison, and Barbara Payton.
By the time 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor appeared as Amy March in this film adaptation of Little Women, she was already a well-known actress on the verge of superstardom. In fact, this film is noted as the last one in which Taylor would play an adolescent role, graduating to more mature character portrayals, afterwards.
This Civil War drama is based on the May 15, 1864 Battle of New Market in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. The film’s focus is a number of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who took part in the battle, fighting on the side of the Confederacy and 47 of them were either wounded or killed. The movie’s title comes from the fact that many of the cadets lost their boots on account of the extremely muddy conditions.
"Journey to Shiloh" tells of the adventures of a group of young friends as they make their way to take part in the Battle of Shiloh (a.k.a. the Battle of Pittsburg Landing). The film stars James Caan, Harrison Ford, and Jan-Michael Vincent in early roles before they became much more well-known and sought-after in Hollywood.