The author below views “Northern History” as a highly fertile and under-explored frontier for historians. The early concerns of Republican politicians regarding Northern support for their war is underscored by Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois, advised by a constituent in June 1862: “The minds of our friends are filled with forebodings and gloomy apprehensions . . . all confidence is lost in the Administration, and a disaster to our Armies now at Vicksburg, in Tennessee, or on the Potomac, will disintegrate this whole Country . . . if we cannot speedily secure victories by our [Northern] arms, peace must be made to secure us anything!”
The Biggest Untold Story in US History
“[Steven] Spielberg’s cinema offering [Lincoln] is balanced by the good news that Ron Maxwell, creator of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, will soon release a film called Copperhead with a screenplay by sometime Chronicles contributor Bill Kauffman.
It is based on Harold Frederic’s 1893 novel The Copperhead, about a New York State family persecuted for its opposition to Lincoln’s war. Such opposition was far more reasoned and prevalent than has ever been admitted. And rampaging Republican mobs punishing dissent in parts of the North were common. Indeed, Northern opposition to the war and its suppression is the biggest untold story in U.S. history.
Ron Maxwell’s films are stupendous achievements unmatched by anything in American cinema in the last half century. But even if he falls for a little of the Treasury of Virtue. In Gods and Generals a Virginia family has a slave pretend to be the owner of their house on the idea that Union soldiers will not ransack and burn the property of black people.
Anyone who has studied the actual behavior of Union soldiers in that war knows that a black person’s property would be more likely, not less likely, to be stolen or destroyed, because in that case the victims were less able to complain or retaliate and less likely to evoke the sympathy of Northern soldiers.
In fact, some Northern soldiers pretended or had been told that black people, even free, could not own property, and thus their possessions were really those of white Southerners and therefore fair game. Instances of such oppression are countless.
Advance reports on Copperhead bill it as a story about opposition in wartime. I hope the film does not miss that the story is about opposition to the war in particular, and why.”
(Civil War Cinema, Clyde N. Wilson, Chronicles, May 2013, excerpts pp. 46-47; www.chroniclesmagazine.org)