Commemorations of the Civil War are frequent, of course, but the upcoming sesquicentennial in 2014 may feel quite a bit different. Let us hope a movie (and the new edition of the novel behind it) will give the conversation a new and deeper dimension.
Even sooner, the recent talk of involving the U.S. further in Syria, the recurring talk of the same in Iran, not to mention last week’s release of the Constitution Project’s report on torture and detention, give the forthcoming film Copperhead (which opens on June 28) a strange immediacy.
The history behind this episode is fascinating–even a bit startling. Southern Copperheads, i.e. antiwar opponents of the Confederacy, faced terrific persecution, as described by historian Noel Fisher:
A constant in Civil War Appalachia was the prevalence of partisan violence. Throughout this region, loyalists, secessionists, deserters, and men with little loyalty to either side formed organized bands, fought each other as well as occupying troops, terrorized the population, and spread fear, chaos, and destruction. Military forces stationed in the Appalachian regions, whether regular troops or home guards, frequently resorted to extreme methods, including executing partisans summarily, destroying the homes of suspected bushwhackers, and torturing families to gain information. This epidemic of violence created a widespread sense of insecurity, forced hundreds of residents to flee, and contributed to the region’s economic distress, demoralization, and division.
The screenplay for Copperhead was written by Bill Kauffman, whose excellent book on the history of conservative resistance to militarism is a brilliant recovery operation in itself.