Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid: A More Radical American Civil War | Page 190 | alternatehistory.com

Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid: A More Radical American Civil War

I'm a little surprised no one has ever done a straight up drama biopic of Brown to date. (I'm pretending Santa Fe Trail does not exist, and no one can talk me out of it.)
Well, he's kind of a hard character to do well, when you think about it. All too easy to make him either a saintly martyr or a foaming-at-the-mouth madman. Also, up until his trial and execution, even the North didn't think much of him, from what I understand. The kindest reaction seems to have been William Lloyd Garrison's, and the best he said of the Harper's Ferry debacle was that it was 'well intended but sadly misguided'. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
 
All too easy to make him either a saintly martyr or a foaming-at-the-mouth madman.

It's not an unfair point. On the other hand, he remains one of the most interesting characters the American story has ever produced.

My working theory is that because he was such a - fanatic? true believer? - it's not just that he is an awkward man to portray in a empathetic way, he also forces a more immediate and very uncomfortable confrontation with a very awkward chapter in American history. He's a full speed train collision with our darkest chapter.

And maybe, now that I think about it . . . By the time movie-making became a thing, the admiration he had inspired in the North had mostly died out, and America had slipped comfortably into Jim Crow and the Lost Cause as it walked out on the world stage. Unity was now the order of the day, and Brown was a hell of a divisive figure, even if technically on the winning side. Even his brand of Christianity looked swivel-eyed to a society whose Christianity had become comfortably bourgeois. Santa Fe Trail likely really did reflect the public mood (especially if you even glance at Brown historiography of the era), though now that I look again I see that my Santa Fe Trail memory blot made me forget that Raymond Massey did portray Brown a second time, in the 50's (Seven Angry Men), and in a somehat more balanced (though still hard to like) way. But the really striking thing is how such a liberal place as Hollywood was slow to shift its treatment of slavery and the Civil War, even well after the Civil Rights movement - and maybe that's part of the problem, too.

But perhaps we're now in a moment where someone could do something worthwhile with John Brown, and find an audience for it. My one fear is that they won't quite know what do with his religion.
 
But perhaps we're now in a moment where someone could do something worthwhile with John Brown, and find an audience for it. My one fear is that they won't quite know what do with his religion.

The could do "The Birth of a Nation (2016)" about Nat Turner, couldn't they? John Brown wouldn't be much different.
 
The could do "The Birth of a Nation (2016)" about Nat Turner, couldn't they? John Brown wouldn't be much different.

I thought of that. Though since it failed to make back its costs even at its low budget, I wonder if that won't discourage any filmmakers inclined to try with Brown.

Not that studios need much discouragement to greenlight anything right now as it is . . .
 
I thought of that. Though since it failed to make back its costs even at its low budget, I wonder if that won't discourage any filmmakers inclined to try with Brown.

Not that studios need much discouragement to greenlight anything right now as it is . . .
I know over a decade ago Quentin Tarantino said he was interested in doing a John Brown biopic due the juxtaposition of Brown's violent acts and post Harper's Ferry defense of abolition during his trial. If anyone could do a biopic of John Brown it's him Athelstane.
 
I know over a decade ago Quentin Tarantino said he was interested in doing a John Brown biopic due the juxtaposition of Brown's violent acts and post Harper's Ferry defense of abolition during his trial. If anyone could do a biopic of John Brown it's him Athelstane.

Well, I think what you'd get with QT would be . . . something closer to this than a serious drama. I just have my doubts he's actually capable of it. Because - gifted as he is - he has never done it. I'm enjoying The Good Lord Bird so far, but the black comedy style is going to limit what you can do to really bring Brown to life.

I can only think of one movie that ever did any kind of justice to Bleeding Kansas, and that was Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil (which is set after Brown's death). That's how untouched this ground is. It didn't exactly help that Ride With the Devil completely, totally, and utterly bombed at the box office despite a cast packed with popular young actors and even Jewel.

It's interesting to think about what 20th century Civil War cinema would be like in Red's timeline. You sure wouldn't get Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind. But I'm not quite sure what you would get. The national psyche (or should I say, national psyches) could end up going to some strange places.
 
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I said earlier that, while I never saw it so a9 don't know for sure, since it's fromthe freedmen point of view something like The Wind Done Gone, with stories told from the ex-slaves' point of view and being much more sympathetic to them.

Perhaps the Lone Ranger would have a black man, rather than an Indian, as a sidekick. Although relations with the natives made it important to have a Tonto, so maybe a trio.

Probably more African Americans in Hollywood earlier, which will cause a change in itself.
 
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Well, I think what you'd get with QT would be . . . something closer to this than a serious drama. I just have my doubts he's actually capable of it. Because - gifted as he is - he has never done it. I'm enjoying The Good Lord Bird so far, but the black comedy style is going to limit what you can do to really bring Brown to life.

I can only think of one movie that ever did any kind of justice to Bleeding Kansas, and that was Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil (which is set after Brown's death). That's how untouched this ground is. It didn't exactly help that Ride With the Devil completely, totally, and utterly bombed at the box office despite a cast packed with popular young actors and even Jewel.

It's interesting to think about what 20th century Civil War cinema would be like in Red's timeline. You sure wouldn't get Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind. But I'm not quite sure what you would get. The national psyche (or should I say, national psyches) could end up going to some strange places.
True, perhaps a director with QT's styling isn't what is called for, but some of his audacity wouldn't be out of place, you yourself said it best about John Brown. he was a fanatic for abolition, a true believer. I just hope a movie like that can be made, or any good Civil War film for that matter that isn't Ride with the Devil or The Outlaw Josey Wales.
 
Speaking of outlaws, I wonder how Jesse James and those of the James Gang are impacted by tis bloodier Civil War. Perhaps Frank would be killed in battle; it's possible the James Gang would never form. (Jesse was pretty young, but if it goes on long enough and they get desperate enough he could end up fighting at age 17 or even 16.)

TTL's Lone Ranger might feature more mention at times of bandits who are ex-Civil War soldiers for the Confederates; surely not every one, but probably a few.
 
True, perhaps a director with QT's styling isn't what is called for, but some of his audacity wouldn't be out of place, you yourself said it best about John Brown. he was a fanatic for abolition, a true believer. I just hope a movie like that can be made, or any good Civil War film for that matter that isn't Ride with the Devil or The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I think that both Ride with the Devil and The Outlaw Josey Wales are fantastic movies, but they're obviously very limited in the stories they are trying to tell (and nearly all of the characters are Southerners).

The risk with Brown is the temptation on opposite sides: to reduce him to a cartoon figure on the one hand, or to make him into a contemporary anachronism on the other. His objective is obviously a highly sympathetic one at this moment in time, but how he got there will be somewhat alien to us. John Brown was pretty arguably something more relatable to 17th century Fifth Monarchists than any social justice movement of the 2020's. I fear that most screenwriters and directors today simply will not know what to make of his religious belief; and the reality is, you cannot understand John Brown without engaging that belief on a fundamental level.

For that matter, Frederick Douglass (a very different man from Brown) has to be a somewhat alien figure to us today, too. But also, a man very much worth portraying on screen, too.
 
The thing about John Brown that I found most interesting from reading a biography of him a few years ago was also the reason that might make him so hard to do portray in media; he was one of the last of the old fashioned Puritans, and contemporaries frequently compared him to, of all people, Oliver Cromwell. So that makes things... well, more interesting, but I'm not sure how contemporary media could really do it justice because of the values dissonance.
 
The thing about John Brown that I found most interesting from reading a biography of him a few years ago was also the reason that might make him so hard to do portray in media; he was one of the last of the old fashioned Puritans, and contemporaries frequently compared him to, of all people, Oliver Cromwell. So that makes things... well, more interesting, but I'm not sure how contemporary media could really do it justice because of the values dissonance.

No, it's a good observation. And how many screen portrayals have there been of Cromwell, after all? One as the protagonist (1970's Cromwell) and one or two others as an antagonist (The Devil's Whore, To Kill a King), and in none of them does Cromwell come off as an attractive figure. And yet, in Cromwell we unquestionably have one of the most important and difference-making persons in all of Anglophone (or indeed, Western) history. The 18th century could remake him into a housebroken Whig. The 19th century could remake him into a Great Man. The 20th and 21st centuries really don't know what to make of him, other than a villain. (In Ireland, of course, they have always known what to make of him!)

Still, while I think the Cromwell analogy is apt, the difference is that Brown channeled his puritanical energies into a cause secular moderns can readily grok, the fight for abolition and race equality. No doubt that's what made McBride's story attractive for adaptation to Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum in, well, 2020. Make that his religion and he becomes relatable. But Leveller Puritanism, that will require a lot more legwork to connect to most audiences today.
 
Well, I think what you'd get with QT would be . . . something closer to this than a serious drama. I just have my doubts he's actually capable of it. Because - gifted as he is - he has never done it. I'm enjoying The Good Lord Bird so far, but the black comedy style is going to limit what you can do to really bring Brown to life.

I can only think of one movie that ever did any kind of justice to Bleeding Kansas, and that was Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil (which is set after Brown's death). That's how untouched this ground is. It didn't exactly help that Ride With the Devil completely, totally, and utterly bombed at the box office despite a cast packed with popular young actors and even Jewel.

It's interesting to think about what 20th century Civil War cinema would be like in Red's timeline. You sure wouldn't get Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind. But I'm not quite sure what you would get. The national psyche (or should I say, national psyches) could end up going to some strange places.

Well there's this one with Brown as the villain who is defeated by Ronald Reagan: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Fe_Trail_(film)

Not exactly doing John Brown justice methinks...
 
Postscript: Holy cats. Digging around, I discovered another portrayal of John Brown I hadn't heard of. By Johnny Cash. I kid you not.


It's just a cameo, though. He comes off as Johnny Cash in a ludicrously fake beard. I kept waiting for him to whip out a guitar and serenade his hostages with "The Man Comes Around," but it never happens.
 
Postscript: Holy cats. Digging around, I discovered another portrayal of John Brown I hadn't heard of. By Johnny Cash. I kid you not.


It's just a cameo, though. He comes off as Johnny Cash in a ludicrously fake beard. I kept waiting for him to whip out a guitar and serenade his hostages with "The Man Comes Around," but it never happens.

Crazy! I can't see well, rely on voices, and don't know performer names very well, just the roles, and yet even I recognized Johnny Cash's voice, it's that distinctive.

Except I I expected him to say "The South's going down in a burning ring of fire. We'll push slave holders down, as the flames grow higher. Yes they'll burn, burn, burn...'
 
Crazy! I can't see well, rely on voices, and don't know performer names very well, just the roles, and yet even I recognized Johnny Cash's voice, it's that distinctive.

Except I I expected him to say "The South's going down in a burning ring of fire. We'll push slave holders down, as the flames grow higher. Yes they'll burn, burn, burn...'
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The update will take some time more because 1) I'm on vacation and want to rest and 2) I have writer's block and am looking for a way to integrate all I want to discuss in the update. It will be focused on the Confederate homefront, meaning there will be discussions of the effect of the defeat, changes in Confederate leadership, the peace movement and Unionist guerrillas, and the overall economic situation and hardship. If there are any comments regarding that, I would be interesting in reading them. @joea64 had several interesting thoughts regarding how the defeat might affect Davis and Lee especially.

But please do not try to hurry me or direct me. I find that annoying and frankly disrespectful. As @Darth_Kiryan helpfully said, authors like to work at their own peace. In any case I suppose the matter was already settled by mod intervention. Regarding what was being discussed, I find the idea of a John Brown series intriguing, though I agree it's difficult to see how it can be done without either portraying John Brown as a madman or as a saint. ITTL there is technically more material to work with, since Brown and his followers (which did include some escaped slaves) spent a couple of weeks roaming Virginia before being defeated in a climatic last stand.

Well, to move away from that, I do wonder if the south would ever have something of a modern day Germany like education of the most shameful parts of their history, perhaps reading Uncle Tom's Cabin or Twelve Years a Slave would become mandatory down there one day?

I have always held that large scale, Federally directed efforts to "de-confederationalize" the South would be rather anachronistic. It simply does not seem that the US, even a radical one, would be willing to expand the Federal bureaucracy and powers so massively and commit itself to a permanent direction of education in the scale of post-war Germany. Nonetheless, I do think that something resembling a national education program could be enacted, that would emphasize nationalism and the "Americanness" of all, Northern and Southern, Black and White, as a way to heal the country. Ultimately, I believe it'll take some time for the country to face the complex legacy of the war, and in the meantime I think most will settle for a "clean Confederate Army" myth where the sacrifice and bravery of the Southern soldier is praised but the cause itself condemned.

I said earlier that, while I never saw it so a9 don't know for sure, since it's fromthe freedmen point of view something like The Wind Done Gone, with stories told from the ex-slaves' point of view and being much more sympathetic to them.

Perhaps the Lone Ranger would have a black man, rather than an Indian, as a sidekick. Although relations with the natives made it important to have a Tonto, so maybe a trio.

Probably more African Americans in Hollywood earlier, which will cause a change in itself.

I am really interested in the idea of alternate versions of popular Civil War-related media, even if it might stretch disbelief. I already said that I was imagining a version of Gone with the Wind where the main conflict is about Scarlett and Rhett realizing the Confederate cause is a bad one, deflecting to the Union and then becoming scalawags. Also, one of Little Women where the family's abolitionism is emphasized. There are a lot of interesting possibilities.

Speaking of outlaws, I wonder how Jesse James and those of the James Gang are impacted by tis bloodier Civil War. Perhaps Frank would be killed in battle; it's possible the James Gang would never form. (Jesse was pretty young, but if it goes on long enough and they get desperate enough he could end up fighting at age 17 or even 16.)

TTL's Lone Ranger might feature more mention at times of bandits who are ex-Civil War soldiers for the Confederates; surely not every one, but probably a few.

They all took part in the bush war in Missouri. So it's quite likely that they end up dead in battle or hanged by the Union as partisans.

I think that both Ride with the Devil and The Outlaw Josey Wales are fantastic movies, but they're obviously very limited in the stories they are trying to tell (and nearly all of the characters are Southerners).

The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of my favorite movies for the record. I watched it with my dad, who is a big fan of westerns, and I really liked it. But I agree that it is ultimately a limited tale.

By the way, @Athelstane, I'm glad you commented because I was going to ask for your opinion about something I read (and the opinion of everybody here, of course). I was reading a reddit thread where the use of Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and other German terms in English-language historical writing was discussed, and it was mentioned that it's partially because of a certain fascination with the Nazis that makes the German terms carry certain implications that "German Army" or "German Air Force" seemingly do not. I'm bringing this up because it was mentioned how when people talk of the Civil War they talk of the "Union government" and the "Union Army" instead of the "American government" and the "American Army". This seems to make a distinction, as if to say that during the Civil War there were indeed two distinct governments instead of the United States on one side and the traitors who rebelled against it on the other. It seems to legitimize the Confederates somewhat and take the sting of being traitors off them. Paging @Drunkrobot too, in case he has some thoughts to share regarding this.
 
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The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of my favorite movies for the record. I watched it with my dad, who is a big fan of westerns, and I really liked it. But I agree that it is ultimately a limited tale.

The book (and its author) was problematic in all kinds of ways. But damned if Clint Eastwood didn't construct an amazing western movie out of it. Absolute rewatch material.

By the way, @Athelstane, I'm glad you commented because I was going to ask for your opinion about something I read (and the opinion of everybody here, of course). I was reading a reddit thread where the use of Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and other German terms in English-language historical writing was discussed, and it was mentioned that it's partially because of a certain fascination with the Nazis that makes the German terms carry certain implications that "German Army" or "German Air Force" seemingly do not. I'm bringing this up because it was mentioned how when people talk of the Civil War they talk of the "Union government" and the "Union Army" instead of the "American government" and the "American Army". This seems to make a distinction, as if to say that during the Civil War there were indeed two distinct governments instead of the United States on one side and the traitors who rebelled against it on the other. It seems to legitimize the Confederates somewhat and take the sting of being traitors off them. Paging @Drunkrobot too, in case he has some thoughts to share regarding this.

It's an interesting question, and it's one I had early on when I really started to read on the Civil War.

But here's one answer that occurred to me: It is, so far as I can make out, a very common way (when it was referred to as a general name) in which the U.S. Army (and its troops) was referred to contemporaneously in Northern press. It's not surprising that the name stuck for this reason alone, even in the North, in generations to come.

best-original-1864-civil-war-headline_1_7963fda7384e9ccb0da9ca6995c367ba.jpg


The other most common terms at the time seem to have been "the Federal Army," and often even just "the Army." Obviously, these would be more problematic to use as descriptors in the years following the war.

One contributing factor also, I think, was that the Union Army was not just, strictly speaking, the United States Army. It was technically a temporary amalgam of two forces: the Regular (U.S.) Army, and the Volunteer Army. So this could be a way to reference it as something distinct from the U.S. Army as it existed before 1861, and after 1865,

Now, it could be argued, as I think you are hinting at, that this also served a purpose, perhaps sometimes unwitting, of conferring a kind of legitimacy on th Confederate Army, as if the two armies were separate parts of a whole that only reunited afterward, like the Skeksies and the Mystics in The Dark Crystal. (No cracks about how Braxton Bragg looked uncannily like a Skeksie, please.) But mainly, I think it was simply because it was used so often in common discourse in the North during the war. "The Union" was a term with magic to conjure in those days, in ways we might struggle to grasp today. In this respect, it's not problematic in a way that "the Northern Army" certainly would be.

As for your timeline, I have to say, in reflecting on it, that it seems doubtful this would change no matter how dark a turn the war or Reconstruction took. What *could* happen is much more common reference to the Confederates as simply the "rebel army" (denied even the courtesy of capital letters). But YMMV.
 
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