Will It Be a ‘Point of Honor’ to Respect the Past?

Of course, we should not pre-judge Amazon’s forthcoming Civil War drama called, “Point of Honor.” But let’s be honest, it is very likely going to be another in a long line of disasters.

At the start of the Civil War, a Virginia family, led by their West Point bred son, John Rhodes (played by Nathan Parsons, True Blood), makes the controversial decision to defend the South while freeing all of their slaves. At battle against his northern brethren and his best friend and brother-in-law Robert Sumner (played by Christopher O’Shea, Baby Daddy), John leaves his three strong-willed sisters at home to run the plantation that is now without a free labor source. The choice to protect the life they have always known and defend the moral high ground will pit the family against one another and test their strength, courage and love.

While full-scale Hollywood movies such as “Lincoln” and “Twelve Years a Slave” have left their mark, smaller productions have been less successful. Think of the failed Kickstarter campaigns organized by Ron Maxwell and the producers of “To Appomattox.” The need to distance central characters from the institution of slavery closely follows the narrative in “Field of Lost Shoes” as it does with the 1960s Hollywood movie, “Shenandoah.”

I look forward to seeing how “Point of Honor” pulls off explaining why a Virginia slaveowning family would free all their slaves at the beginning of the war.

21 comments… add one
  • Marian Latimer Jan 14, 2015 @ 22:11

    Let me guess, the strong willed sisters wear fine gowns that display an ample amount of cleavage during broad daylight when they would not be out dancing or doing other activities that would require such finery. How will they do their hair without, um, servants? Oh, my, the humanity.

  • Bob Huddleston Jan 12, 2015 @ 15:25

    To free a salve anti-bellum Virginia, the owner had also to remove them from the state. And, of course, the owner had to be financially well off because if he owed a bank money – as did a lot of plantation owners – the banks would not have allowed the security for their loan to move to Ohio.

  • M.D. Blough Jan 11, 2015 @ 16:35

    I don’t think Custis was an example. He was an exception. He adored his step-grandfather who also freed all the slaves he legally could (some of the Washington slaves he controlled but didn’t own due to either Martha’s dower rights or because they were Custis slaves legally owned by Martha’s children and/or grandchildren and controlled by Washington as the legal guardian of the children and some of the grandchildren while they were minors.)

    • chancery Jan 14, 2015 @ 20:17

      Thanks M.D., that’s interesting about the way Custis felt about Washington. When I mentioned that I didn’t know when Custis made his will, I was thinking (although didn’t manage to say it) that he was likely influenced by late 18th century Virginians such as Robert Carter III. So he was not just an exception, he was a throwback.

      Although I didn’t communicate it very well, my comment was mostly meant as snark. But I wouldn’t be surprised if defenders of this silly movie point to Lee as a Confederate West Point graduate who freed his slaves.

      • M.D. Blough Jan 15, 2015 @ 5:31

        I think Lee himself was a throwback, but to the earlier “slavery as a necessary evil” school of thought which was the predominant argument by slavery supporters at the time of the Revolution and Constitutional Convention. In this view, God would determine when it was slavery was no longer “necessary” (generally, the advocate saw no signs that God had any plans to do so in the foreseeable future). With the rise of John Calhoun, this was replaced by the far more aggressive “slavery as a positive good” for BOTH races. That school made it clear that there wasn’t any room for even discussing ending or even limiting slavery.

        Any slaves Lee freed were in his capacity as executor of G.W.P. Custis’s estate. At least he didn’t go into court to get that provision of the will overturned which was quite common and the courts were very sympathetic.

  • chancery Jan 11, 2015 @ 15:11

    I meant to write “how many slaves were freely emancipated in Virginia _during the 1860s_”

    Kevin, does the forthcoming site redesign include comment editing?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 11, 2015 @ 15:43

      No. I use WordPress’s native commenting system to minimize the number of plugins.

  • chancery Jan 11, 2015 @ 13:45

    “Abomination,” “fantasy time,” and “what the proof this EVER happened” were my original thoughts too. The notion that the characters in the film chose “to protect the life they have always known and defend the moral high ground” is as offensive as it is incoherent.

    But I’ve begun to wonder to what extent my views should be modified by the example of George Washington Custis, whose slaves were in the process of being emancipated during the early years of the war. Of course Custis died 3 1/2 years before the civil war started, and his decision for testamentary emancipation was presumably made much earlier. Robert E. Lee was the executor, with discretion to choose the time for emancipation, with a deadline for freedom of five years after Custis’s death. Lee notoriously delayed emancipation as long as permitted under the will, and drove the slaves hard in the intervening years. However, the Virginia courts upheld and enforced the emancipation provision of the will, and General Lee eventually complied.

    I’m still persuaded that the movie is shamefully pretending that the rebellion was not waged for a cause that was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” But I’m curious to know whether, apart from the enforcement of emancipation provisions in wills, how many slaves were freely emancipated in Virginia before african-american freedom began to be compelled by the United States army.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 11, 2015 @ 12:19

    Remember when General James Longstreet (in Ron Maxwell’s “Gettysburg”) said, “We should have freed the slaves, then fired on Fort Sumter?” Looks like he got his wish.

  • Jimmy Dick Jan 11, 2015 @ 10:32

    Why don’t they just make a movie about a family from say, South Carolina, who supported slavery and its expansion through their actions such as operating a newspaper in Charleston and advocating secession? You know, a movie about Robert Barnwell Rhett and his activities in those years. It would be historically accurate, show the cause of the Civil War, how the people of South Carolina felt about slavery in that time period and why they chose to attack Fort Sumter could be worked in with it.

    That would also give some people another excuse to whine about the lack of heritage and to wave their symbols of racism and ignorance around.

    • Will Hickox Jan 11, 2015 @ 13:21

      They’ll never make that film because nobody would sympathize with that cast of characters other than white racists.

  • Ken Noe Jan 11, 2015 @ 9:05

    The driving force is Lynchburg native Randall Wallace, who also gave us the documentaries Braveheart and Pearl Harbor.

  • Pat Young Jan 11, 2015 @ 8:31

    Looking for an audience.

    The series “Copper” set in the Five Points in 1865 had a decent audience for its two year run. There was next to no historical accuracy. For example, it showed the lynching of a black man in the Five Points during the Draft Riots, however, many in The Immigrants’ Civil War Facebook community told me they followed the series.

    They knew it was not history, but they appreciated the period atmosphere. Although the Irish were depicted as whores, racists, thugs, and homicidal coppers, even my Irish American readers said they liked it.

    I am always surprised that when Civil War tv is mentioned this series rarely comes up. It is brutal in depicting Northern racism.

    • Woodrowfan Jan 11, 2015 @ 18:10

      I really enjoyed “Copper” but in terms of historical accuracy it ranked somewhere slightly above The Flintstones…

  • Tom Heaney Jan 11, 2015 @ 8:23

    Amazon? Are you sure this wasn’t the Discovery Channel? I mean, this sounds pretty much on par with that channel’s mermaid and Megalodon “documentaries.” Indeed, a story about a family of mermaids fighting for the Confederacy by attacking the blockade at sea seems less far fetched. Or maybe the story of a Confederate spy who hid inside a alligator. The mind boggles.

  • Jerry Sudduth Jr Jan 11, 2015 @ 6:39

    This sounds like a historical abomination that I’m sure some in the rebel pride crowd will point to as broad-based support and understanding of their views. This will do no more than muddy the truth and rehash old, tired bromides and myths about the war.

    Here’s a novel idea for the media, how about a portrayal of the war from a Northern, Border State or slave to USCT perspective? That is sadly a fairly fresh idea when it comes to the Civil War in our popular culture.

    I’m really sick of seeing the war portrayed through the eyes of the white south.

    • Bruce Vail Jan 11, 2015 @ 8:01

      ‘Abomination’ is also the word that came to my mind when I read the description of this movie’s story line. A plantation owner freeing his slaves so he could go to war to defend the Confederacy? Really?

  • John Betts Jan 11, 2015 @ 6:17

    I’m curious to see this too. I’d like to find a good book about Rhodes as well. His story certainly sounds unique.

  • Barbara Gannon Jan 11, 2015 @ 6:10

    The LOL moment of the day. First, what the proof this EVER happened. It’s not so bad when someone does a movie about an outlier, something that happened but was rare. This is time travel, alien invasion, fantasy time. Here is my view, there is no honor in secession without slavery. It is only justified and with it the War that killed hundreds of thousands, millions compared to today’s population, IF something that fundamental was at stake. If you caused that much heart break and misery over an idea . . .

  • CMcWhirter Jan 11, 2015 @ 6:00

    To me, this reeks of studio meddling. I’m guessing the showrunner pitched a mini-series about a Confederate Virginia family and the execs got nervous and demanded the protagonists also be anti-slavery. Regardless, this is going to be a very hard premise to pull off and sustain for several episodes without drastically straining credulity.

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