Who were the copperheads and how did they live during the civil war? Copperhead depicts the life of a few upstate New York farmers, who were known as copperheads or peace Democrats during the civil war. These citizens opposed the war on various grounds, none of them having to do with slavery. Copperheads tended to be opposed to war in general, and they didn’t feel like violence was the solution to the slavery issue in the South. While copperheads were often divisive figures in their own communities, they did make some headway in mainstream politics, especially in New York state.
Where the story begins
Copperhead begins in early 1862, just when people in the north were starting to take the civil war seriously. It features Abner Beech (played by Billy Campbell) as a farmer and father who is vehemently opposed to the civil war. Abner’s son Jeff (played by Casey Thomas Brown) feels differently about the war, mostly due to a young woman he is courting (played by Esther Hagadorn). Jeff Beech sneaks off to join the war effort against his father’s wishes, and as the town catches wind of Abner’s copperhead views, there is much discord and even violence.
Going beyond North and South
While some people may not have enjoyed the politics portrayed in this movie, I applaud director Ronald F. Maxwell for going beyond common civil war stereotypes and stories. Although his previous civil war movieGods and Generals is from a balanced point of view than most civil war movies, he goes even further inCopperhead , portraying Democrats in a positive light. I also appreciate that he shows that civil war opposition was not isolated to the South and that for many it had little to do with the question of slavery.
A movie with a message
Without giving anything away about how Copperhead turns out, I will say that I very much enjoyed its message, all politics aside. While many reviewers did not like this film’s take on the civil war, I think it had interesting things to say that went beyond politics. Copperhead reminds us that family and community come first, even in the face of divisive politics or even war. How we treat and support each other matters, even when we disagree. I feel like this is a lesson for our times, given how deep and intense political battles have gotten in modern America.
A little something for everyone
While Copperhead has some uneven performances and pacing, I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical dramas. The storyline is original and compelling. The score is beautiful, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the gorgeous farmland, which was filmed in Canada. You don’t have to be interested in history to enjoy this movie, although I think history buffs will get a kick out of it, especially because it shows a little known side of civil war history.