Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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Class of ’61: Disappointing and Forgettable Historical Drama

This made-for-TV drama meanders through the opening salvos of the American Civil War.

Written by Jonas McCord, directed by Gregory Hoblit, and produced by Steven Spielberg, Class of ’61 premiered on ABC in April 1993. This confusing drama follows members of the West Point class of 1861 and their families as they head off to join opposing sides of the war. It’s notable for an early appearance by Clive Owen, who is the only actor to stand out among the myriad of stock characters.

As the film opens, three friends, Shelby Peyton (Dan Futterman), George Armstrong Custer (Josh Lucas), and Devin O’Neil (Clive Owen), are attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tensions are high as Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter, leaving cadets with divided loyalties. Shelby Peyton, a Virginian, decides to resign and head south to join the Confederacy, despite his engagement to O’Neil’s sister, Shannon (Sophie Ward).

Back home in Maryland, Devin O’Neil learns his brother Terry (Christien Anholt) has joined pro-Southern partisans, which upsets his pro-Union Irish family. Things get complicated when O’Neil is unable to secure a commission in the Union Army. He rooms with George Custer in Washington, DC, where he falls in love with Lily Magraw (Laura Linney), who also happens to be a Southern spy.

Things get even more complicated when Shelby Peyton returns to his plantation, where his favorite slave, Lucius (Andre Braugher), has killed two slave catchers in an escape attempt. He is forced to flee northward in the Underground Railroad, leaving his pregnant wife behind to an uncertain future. Will destiny reunite all these characters at the First Battle of Bull Run?

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

In mid-October 1859, a wild-eyed, white bearded man and 21 accomplices seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), in a misguided attempt to ignite a slave revolt. The man was John Brown, whose fanatical visage likened him to a Biblical prophet.

Brown was already known as an abolitionist who fought against pro-slavery elements in the Bleeding Kansas conflict of 1856, but the failed raid on Harpers Ferry made him a martyr and foretold the American Civil War.

Brown was tried for treason and hanged on December 2, 1859. The brick fire engine house where his followers and he made their last stand, later known as John Brown’s Fort, is now a popular tourist destination and interpretive center telling the story of the raid. It was relocated several times and now sits 150 feet from its original location.

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Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

The Battle of Cedar Creek (or Battle of Belle Grove) was fought in Frederick County, Shenandoah County and Warren County, Virginia on October 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,500 total casualties.

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park was created in 2002 and encompasses over 3,700 acres, 1,500 of which are preserved and administered by partner sites, including the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Belle Grove Plantation, and Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park.

Belle Grove Manor House was built between 1794 and 1797 for Isaac Hite, Jr. and his bride Nelly Conway Madison. Hite owned a general store, grist-mill, saw-mill and a distillery. 276 slaves lived at Belle Grove between 1783 and 1851.

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Petersburg National Battlefield

The Siege of Petersburg, encompassing several battles and smaller actions, was fought between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865, around Petersburg, Virginia, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The siege ended in a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 70,000 total casualties.

Today, only a small portion of the battlefield, mainly northeast of the city, has been preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield. It would be impossible to preserve all the extensive earthworks that ringed the city south of the Appomattox River, but many forts and landmarks have been turned into city parks. The battlefield has been divided into two fronts: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is four miles and the Western Front Driving Tour is 16 miles.

The Siege of Petersburg wasn’t technically a siege because the city wasn’t entirely surrounded, but it shared similar characteristics, including fortifications, mortar bombardments, and near-constant, low-intensity fighting. It lasted 9 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Over time, the battle lines crawled westward as Ulysses S. Grant tried to find a way to cut Lee’s main supply line to the west and south.

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Five Forks National Battlefield

The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, at junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia between Confederate units under command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s V Corps in the American Civil War. The battle was a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 3,700 total casualties, most of which were Confederate.

Five Forks National Battlefield is part of Petersburg National Battlefield Park. The park has a visitors center, several cannon and monuments (erected in the 1960s), and a driving tour. The tour consists of five stops. There hasn’t been much development in this quiet neighborhood, so the battlefield is remarkably preserved.

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Cold Harbor Battlefield

The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought in Hanover County near Mechanicsville, Virginia from May 31 to June 12, 1864 between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle was a Confederate victory and resulted in approximately 18,000 total casualties. It was the last engagement of Grant’s Overland Campaign.

The Cold Harbor Battlefield is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Only about 300 acres of the approximately 7,500-acre battlefield are currently preserved. The Civil War Trust has managed to save 69 acres, but preservation efforts are ongoing.

The earthworks pictured above were dug and manned by troops of Confederate Lt. General Richard Anderson’s First Corps. On June 1, men of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw’s divisions fell back to this final position. On June 3, the left flank of the Union XVIII Corps and the right flank of the VI Corps attacked this site. Union and Confederate soldiers found themselves 200 yards apart in some places. Confederate soldiers built sheltered tunnels leading from the rear to their entrenchments, so they could move supplies back and forth without being exposed to fire.

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