10 Classic Films About The Civil War

10 Classic Films About The Civil War

Some students learn by doing, some by reading, and some by watching. Here is a list of 10 Classic Films About The Civil War. From the perspective of the Union soldiers, to the Southern plantations, to the early forms of guerrilla warfare, your student will learn so much about the bloodiest war fought on American soil by watching these films.

Lesson 21: A House Divided II: Lincoln and Secession in Dave Raymond’s American History Series.

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10 Classic Films About The Civil War

Gone With The Wind (1939) PG-13

Listed in the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Films, Gone With The Wind has remained popular since its premier in 1939. Based on the novel of the same name, the film is a sweeping romance filled with the drama and tragedy that defines the South. It stars Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard and is a film everyone should see at some point in their lives.

There are references to sex and adultery. One scene takes place in a war hospital where a man (in shadow) is getting his leg amputated. However, none of this is graphic and if your student has seen any PG-13 movie post 1980, they will be able to handle this.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

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Looking for an American history curriculum?

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The Birth of a Nation (1915) PG

Like Gone With The Wind, this film proved to be a favorite among audiences of the mid 1910s. One of the most famous directors in Hollywood, D. W. Griffith put his skill to try to recreate the world of the Civil War without the use of sound or color. Despite this, the result is an amazing representation of the war from its beginning to Lincoln’s assassination to the end of Reconstruction. 

Since it is a silent film, there is very little violence. However, this will spark conversations among you and your students given our cultural climate and the way slaves are portrayed in the film. It is a picture of our country a century ago and it does not do us any credit to blacklist parts of our history. Instead, it is an opportunity to have discussions with our children.

You can watch this film on Youtube.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) PG

Another novel-turned-film, one of the best things about this visual rendition is the lead actor. When he was cast as Henry Fleming, Audie Murphy had recently returned from WW2, which makes his portrayal that much more amazing. If your student has read the novel, they will really enjoy seeing this visual rendition of story of this young Northern private.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

The Horse Soldiers (1959) PG

A group of Union soldiers led by John Wayne and William Holden are sent behind Confederate lines to blow up a railroad and supply depot. This story beautifully blends the duty these soldiers feel and love that drives them into a moving representation of a complicated war.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

Shenandoah (1965) PG (11+)

This film will move you like only a few films do. It is the story of a tough patriarch (Jimmy Stewart) and his family trying to live their lives despite the war raging around them. Shenandoah will give your students a different perspective of the war and spark conversations about why soldiers fought then and why they fight now.

There is very little violence but a couple is killed by Union soldiers and it is suggested the woman was raped but does not show anything. 

You can watch this film on Amazon.

The Littlest Rebel (1935) G

Starring Shirley Temple in all her sweetness, one would assume this film is just another B-grade showcase for her talent. On the contrary, it is surprisingly touching. It looks at what families in the South had to endure when the Union army swept through to the sea. 

Like The Birth of a Nation, this film is not Politically Correct in any way, but the beauty of homeschooling is the ability to have controversial conversations in a safe environment.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

The Tall Target (1951) PG

Loosely based on the “Baltimore Plot,” The Tall Target is an espionage film starring Dick Powell. His character Kennedy uncovers a plot to assassinate Lincoln at his inauguration and tries to stop the assassin on a moving train as time runs out. Though the film technically isn’t about the Civil War, it is an interesting and thrilling adaptation of an event that would have changed history.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

They Died With Their Boots On (1941) G

Starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in their eighth and final film together, this is a broad account of the life of General George Custer of the Union Army. Flynn and de Havilland’s chemistry is unparalleled and Flynn is the perfect choice for the brash and brilliant Custer.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

The General (1926) G

The second silent film on this list stars Buster Keaton and is also classified as one of the greatest American films. Keaton plays Johnnie, a locomotive engineer who is refused service in the Confederate army due to his vocation. The film is a fictionalized comedy of the story of the real train, The General. This is a great choice if you have younger students.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

Love Me Tender (1956) PG

Always save the best for last. In this case, Elvis Presley in a Civil War film. The idea seems ludicrous but it is actually quite touching and funny. Presley plays the youngest Reno brother who stays home to take care of his mother while his brothers join the Confederate Army. The only film where Presley did not receive top billing, it is a sweetly surprising mix of emotion and Elvis songs.

You can watch this film on Amazon.

Some movie links are from Amazon and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

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