Rappahannock’s Ron Maxwell has produced another important Civil War movie, as your recent editorial noted [“Rappahannock Ruckus,” Aug. 15]. Beyond Gettysburg and other epic battlefields, “Copperhead” takes us into the battle for the hearts and minds of the North and explores the limits of dissent. Adapted from a 19th-century work of fiction, the movie is based on a part of American history that most Americans are unfamiliar with.
The main character is an anti-war Democrat who seeks a nonviolent solution to slavery and the preservation of the union. His radical, pro-war Republican neighbors are intolerant of any diversity of opinion and falsely accuse him of being a Southern sympathizer and an enemy of the state.
“Copperhead” disrupts the simplistic narrative that the Civil War was a one-dimensional moral struggle between “good guys” and “bad guys.” There was more dissent than in any other war in American history. The film tabulates the human cost of war and casts doubt on the efficacy of force: More Americans died and were maimed in the Civil War than in all the wars in American history. One hundred and fifty years later we are still living with the consequences.
I want to thank Ron Maxwell for opening up a subject that Americans have not fully come to grips with. More than anything, the Civil War turned the citizen state on its head. It disrupted the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government, and changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. “Copperhead” should disturb you, and I strongly recommend that everyone see it.