A Teacher's Guide to Civil War Movies

Classroom Appropriate Films to Enhance the Civil War for Students
Close-up of film

This list was compiled by Jim Percoco in 2014 and reflects the deeper contextual discussions he invites his students to explore.


Glory (1989): A fictionalized drama of the creation of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, the first African American regiment raised in the North.  Glory is a film worthy of showing in parts or segments, and in its full length of just over 2 hours if your time permits. The film contains graphic combat scenes and includes profanity and racially charged words. It won five Academy Awards, including an Oscar for Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor. Two hours. This film is rated R and is appropriate for grades 7-12.

Lincoln (2012): A bio-picture of the life of Abraham Lincoln during the closing stages of the Civil War focusing on his efforts to secure Congressional approval of adopting the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery. There is some profanity and racially charged language in the film. Depending on teacher preference and needs film can be used in parts showing different aspects of Lincoln’s nature and the political world of the Civil War. Daniel Day Lewis received an Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th President. Two and a half hours. This film is rated R and is appropriate for grades 9-12.

Andersonville (1994): A TNT film depicting the plight of Union POW’s incarcerated at Andersonville (Camp Sumter), Georgia. Can be shown in whole or in parts. Film runs two hours. Disturbing scenes, but no graphic war violence and mild profanity. Two hours. This film is not rated, but is appropriate for grades 7-12. 

Gettysburg (1993): A film based on Michael Shaara’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels. At three hours may be too long to show in total, but certain combat scenes can be utilized to demonstrate Civil War fighting and tactics, such as the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine and Pickett’s Charge by the Army of Northern Virginia. For more advanced classes scenes dealing with philosophical underpinnings for both Union and Confederate causes could be used to prompt discussion and analysis. Four and a half hours. This film is rated PG and is appropriate for grades 7-12.

Gone with the Wind (1939): The classic American film based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel of the same name examines life in the south, specifically Georgia, in the years just prior to the war, followed by the effects of the war on one family’s plantation, and then life there during Reconstruction. Starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara respectively as the movies love interests, the film is best known for the spectacular scene of the burning of Atlanta. African Americans are portrayed in the film in stereotypical fashion. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to receive an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy. The film was also the recipient of an Oscar in the Best Film category and received a total of ten Academy Awards. Four hours. This film is best suited for teaching and discussing Civil War memory. This film is not rated, but is appropriate for grades 9-12.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951): John Huston’s adaptation of Stephen Crane’s novel of the same name. The film is very faithful to the book and explores the themes of maturity, duty, and cowardice, during wartime. 90 minutes. This film is appropriate for upper elementary grades to grade 12.

Gods and Generals (2003): An adaptation of Jeff Shaara’s novel of the same name that serves as the prequel to the film Gettysburg. Certain clips can be applied in classroom instruction, based on teacher needs. Four hours and 40 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 and is appropriate for grades 8-12.

Friendly Persuasion (1956): Starring Gary Cooper, this film based on the novel of the same name by Jasmine West, chronicles a Quaker family’s struggle in Southern Indiana during John Hunt Morgan’s raid in 1863. The film addresses issues of morality and faith when confronted by war. This film is not rated, but is appropriate for grades 7-12.

Shenandoah (1965): The movie focuses on the life of James Stewart who owns a farm in Virginia during the Civil War.  He and his family are faced with a dilemma in which side to support since he is opposed to slavery and does not see the value in war to begin with.  The family becomes involved in the conflict when one of Stewart's sons is taken prisoner by the Union army. The film depicts the impact of the war on the homefront and the horrors of war for the family.  106 minutes.  This film is not rated, but is appropriate for grades 7-12.

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (1962): This short film is based on a short story written by Ambrose Bierce that was originally published in 1890.  It depicts a man who is to be hanged for sabotage during the Civil War. The film is famous for its irregular time sequencing and plot twists.  29 minutes.  This film is not rated, but is appropriate for grades 7-12.

Birth of a Nation (1915): This classic American silent film produced by D.W. Griffith was screened at the White House, where President Woodrow Wilson famously said, “It is like writing history with lightening.” Given today’s sensibilities, students will need to recognize the film within its context, particularly since the film is racially charged and overloaded with racial stereotypes. This film is best suited for teaching and discussing Civil War memory. 187 minutes. This film is not rated, but because of the content it is recommended for Honors and AP classes.