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Wicked Spring

(2003) Directed by Kevin Hershberger

THIS LOW-BUDGET, INDEPENDENT film succeeds where so many major studio productions fail. The film was shot on location in Virginia, the opening battle scenes are entirely believable, the dress and equipment appear authentic and the actors are human, not ideological props.

The plot is straightforward and compelling: After a day of bloody fighting in the Wilderness, six lost, dazed and frightened soldiers—three Yanks and three Rebs—stumble upon each other in the fading light of evening. The smoky twilight, beautifully re-created through Stephen Lyons’ cinematography, foreshadows the movie’s ironic underpinning. Sitting around a campfire, the weary men can’t see that they are on different sides, so they react to each other as fellow human beings, not mortal enemies.

The cast of characters can be found in countless military, squad-based movies. There’s the wounded soldier who doesn’t have a chance; the frightened “boy soldier” barely big enough to carry a musket; the bully who’s a gung-ho fighter; and, of course, the smart and sensible soldiers who know all too well that the war is wrong and pointless.

As the night deepens, the camera hones in on the two level-headed soldiers. Confederate Harrison Bolding and Yank John Sunderlin talk about their fears, their families and their homes. Not surprisingly, they find they have a lot in common. Bolding has been carrying letters from his sweetheart for three years, letters he cannot read. Sunderlin reads them to him, thereby becoming a part of his adversary’s most intimate feelings. In the course of the reading, it becomes clear to Sunderlin that his listener is the enemy, but he chooses to do nothing.

With the dawn comes the light, but it does not illuminate the wisdom born in the dark. The dogs of war are again unchained and the film’s tragic ending seems to conclude that the needs of the state overwhelm the individual’s natural tendencies toward love and understanding. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Originally published in the March 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.