The Horse Soldiers

One of the few Hollywood films to deal with actual combat operations in the Civil War, The Horse Soldiers (1959) is based on Harold Sinclair’s novel, and a first rate novel it is I might add, The Horse Soldiers (1956), a fictionalized account of Grierson’s raid in 1863.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives an impassioned speech in which she refers to the Union soldiers as thieves in blue and motherless scum.  Both scenes ring home with authenticity.  Not a bad effort from the usual history manglers of Hollywood.

Published in: on February 1, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Horse Soldiers  
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