Sommersby: A film review in Civil War Memory

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEV254fkxpU[/youtube]

Synopsis:

The 1993 film, Sommersby, is a romantic waste of time, set in the reconstruction era following the Civil War. Jack Sommersby left his family and prosperous Tennessee plantation to fight for the Confederacy. After a number of years and no word from Jack, his family presumes that he died in the war. His wife Laurel is content that he never returned because he was a loveless, abusive drunk with a gambling problem, and plans to marry another man. Miraculously, Jack returns home a changed man who is loving and kind, claiming that “War changes you; makes you appreciate things.” Laurel’s estranged suitor is put off by Jack’s new personality and becomes suspicious that he is not really Jack Sommersby.  Seeing how badly damaged his town has become, Jack suggests growing tobacco as a cash crop by selling off parts of his own land to people who can buy it after they have farmed it and makes the offer available to former slaves much to the dismay of his neighbors. After being successful in the tobacco fields all seems well until Jack is arrested on the charge of murder. During his trial he is convicted and sentenced to hang and is taken to the gallows and executed.

Analysis:

There are a few themes throughout the movie which are worth mentioning in regard to Civil War memory.  In the opening scenes, a soldier is traveling on foot, and sees badly damaged homes and towns and comes across children poking at black men who have been hung. The soldier is Jack Sommersby, once he reaches his town, he encounters an old friend and they discuss the loss of the man’s arm at the Battle of Chickamauga. Another notable scene is when Jack asks Laurel how bullet holes ended up in the wall, she explains, Yankees looted their home taking the silver, carpets and anything of value.  His wife was responsible for running their farm in his absence as many Southern wives did when their husbands left for the war. A scene where the Knights of the White Camelia burn a cross in Jack’s yard because he offered to sell land to free blacks accurately depicts the racial tension felt in the south, as many southerners did not believe free blacks should own land.  Though much of this film’s historic qualities are far from accurate, it ties in well with the early 1990s view of racial equality, including free blacks in a land ownership bargain, and the judge during the murder trial being played by James Earl Jones, giving a free black a position of legal power which was rare in the South. Though set in the reconstruction era, the films theme of racial unity is a bit strange given the time period and location it is set in. The film tries to offer a “politically correct” view with the eradication of class differences within a Southern community. Much like similar movies from the 1990s, the film tries to fluff over any historical racial issues.

National Park Service: Monument Avenue

Monument Avenue Historic District

 

The link above is to the National Park Service’s page for Monument Avenue. It provides other links on the area, maps and a historical overview of Monument Avenue. It also talks about the city planning that went into the construction of Monument Avenue, the architecture and the changes that the area has undergone since 1890.

Source:

nps.org

 

Is the Lost Cause still Lost?

http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/civil-war-re-enactors-march-down-monument-ave/article_21c6a769-6b06-5f30-ba67-c83bbff8ec48.html

The link above is to a short article from the Richmond Times Dispatch from February 2012.  It talks about the 150th anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Confederate government.  Re-enactors marched on Monument Avenue in Richmond during the Sons of Confederate Veterans Heritage Rally.

“A small plane with a banner reading “Richmond, Embrace Your Confederate History” circled the gathering as speakers denounced Abraham Lincoln and praised Lee and Jefferson Davis.”

150 years later Lost Causers are still hanging around…

Source: Morley, Kevin. “Civil War re-enactors march down Monument Ave.” Richmond Times Dispatch, February 25, 2012.

Stages of the Lee Monument

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The three photos above show three different stages of the Robert E. Lee monument which sits on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The first photo shows the construction of the monument, the second shows construction workers posing by the equestrian sculpture of Lee, and the last is from the unveiling of the Lee monument on May 29, 1890 during the Memorial Day celebration in Richmond. These photos show three different phases in Civil War memory, with that last photo being the most significant to the class. The photos are from the Virginia Dept of Historic Resources site.

Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Stages of the Lee Monument

lee memlee mem 3lee mem4

The three photos above show three different stages of the Robert E. Lee monument which sits on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The first photo shows the construction of the monument, the second shows construction workers posing by the equestrian sculpture of Lee, and the last is from the unveiling of the Lee monument on May 29, 1890 during the Memorial Day celebration in Richmond. These photos show three different phases in Civil War memory, with that last photo being the most significant to the class. The photos are from the Virginia Dept of Historic Resources site.

Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue

Jefferson Davis Monument
davis

http://www.examiner.com/article/monument-avenue-the-jefferson-davis-monument-richmond-va

This article from the Richmond Examiner pertains to my class project and also the topics we’ve been covering the last two weeks in class. Its main focus is the unveiling of the Jefferson Davis monument in 1907 during the Confederate reunion. It talks about the Confederacy’s defense of the Lost Cause and the role that the UDC played in the plans for the monument.

The article was written by Tonya Rice who also has rights to the photo.

 

Yale Medical Digitized Collection- War Wounds

Digitized Collection of Civil War Wound Photographs

I found this site while doing research for my 485 and was completely fascinated. It is a complete collection of wound photos from the Harewood USA General Hospital in Washington D.C. during the Civil War. Almost each photo provides detailed descriptions of the wound, location, treatment, progress and battle in which the patient was wounded all recorded by the head surgeon R.B. Bontecou. Through this collection these wounded soldiers are preserved within a rare aspect of Civil War memory. The photos are beyond words, and how those men survived some of the injuries documented in the collection blows my mind. Enjoy!

Yale Medical Digitized Collection- War Wounds

Digitized Collection of Civil War Wound Photographs

I found this site while doing research for my 485 and was completely fascinated. It is a complete collection of wound photos from the Harewood USA General Hospital in Washington D.C. during the Civil War. Almost each photo provides detailed descriptions of the wound, location, treatment, progress and battle in which the patient was wounded all recorded by the head surgeon R.B. Bontecou. Through this collection these wounded soldiers are preserved within a rare aspect of Civil War memory. The photos are beyond words, and how those men survived some of the injuries documented in the collection blows my mind. Enjoy!

Remembering the War through art

Lee at Wilderness

The photo above is the only remaining image of Henry A. McArdle’s painting of “Lee at the Wilderness”, the original painting was destroyed by fire in 1881. I have always had an interest in Civil War battlefield art because of the overtly dramatic depiction most of them display. McArdle was a draftsman for the Confederate Navy and also made topographical maps for Gen. Lee, but was never engaged in battle.  McArdle spent a little over a year (1869-1870) on this painting and worked with some of the men from Hood’s Texas Brigade to portray what they explained the battle was like. Through the memory of those men, this is was McArdle created to illustrate the battlefield that day.  Artwork adds yet another avenue into Civil War memory.

Claudia Hazlewood, “MCARDLE, HENRY ARTHUR” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmc03), accessed January 23, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.