Shenandoah is a 1965 American Civil War film starring James Stewart and featuring Doug McClure, Glenn Corbett, Patrick Wayne, and, in their film debuts, Katharine Ross and Rosemary Forsyth.
The American folk song “Oh Shenandoah” features prominently in the film’s soundtrack.
Though set during the Civil War, the film’s strong antiwar and humanitarian themes resonated with audiences in later years as attitudes began to change toward the Vietnam War. Upon its release, the film was praised for its themes as well as its technical production.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1864, during the Civil War, family patriarch Charlie Anderson (James Stewart) and his six sons Jacob, John, James, Nathan, Henry, and Boy (who is 16) run the family farm, while his daughter Jennie (Rosemary Forsyth) and daughter-in-law Ann (Katharine Ross) take care of the housework. The family has no slaves. Though Charlie attends church weekly and considers himself a “God fearing” man, he doesn’t give God credit for anything, but takes credit for himself especially during dinner prayer. He internally blames God for taking his wife from him. His family is constantly late for church and will force people out of their seats to make room for his family, much to the annoyance of the preacher and congregation.
Charlie’s oldest son Jacob (Glenn Corbett) wants to join the war, but Charlie repeatedly tells his family that they won’t join the war until it concerns them. Although a few of the boys want to join, they respect their father’s wishes and remain on the farm. Charlie’s daughter Jennie is courted by a young Confederate officer named Sam (Doug McClure). He wants to marry Jennie, and when Charlie gives his permission, the wedding occurs a few days later. As soon as the vows are said, a corporal rides up and announces that Sam is wanted back immediately. Sam leaves, much to the sorrow of his new bride. Shortly after Sam leaves, Ann then goes into labour, giving birth to a baby girl whom they name Martha in honour of Charlie’s late wife.
While out hunting raccoon, Charlie’s youngest son Boy (Phillip Alford) and his friend Gabriel (Eugene Jackson Jr.) stumble onto a Confederate ambush. They run away and stop for a drink at a pond. Boy is wearing an old rebel soldier kepi cap that he found at the river. When a Union patrol comes on them, they take Boy as a prisoner of war, mistakenly thinking he is a rebel soldier. Gabriel runs to tell the Andersons what happened. When Charlie hears the news, he and his sons and daughter Jennie leave to look for Boy, leaving James (Patrick Wayne) and his wife Ann at the farm with their young baby.
The first place the Andersons look is a Union camp. They are told there are no prisoners there, but Colonel Fairchild (George Kennedy), who also has a sixteen-year-old son, directs them to a possible location, where Confederate prisoners are shipped North via railroad. However, the captain in charge refuses to allow Charlie to look through the cars, as he “has schedules to keep”. So Charlie sets up a roadblock, then disarms the Union guards and sends them away. He looks through the boxcars, but Boy is not there, so he mounts his horse to leave. As he looks up, he sees Sam coming through the crowd. Jennie is overjoyed to see her husband. Sam leaves with the Andersons, telling the soldiers to burn the train and go home.
After being taken to a different prisoner of war camp, Boy is befriended by rebel soldier Carter (James Best), who plans to escape and decides to let Boy come along. They and a few other men successfully make it out of the camp and start heading south. Coming onto a Confederate camp, their unit is attacked by the Federals. Carter is killed, and Boy is shot in the leg. A Union soldier almost kills him, but it turns out to be his friend, Gabriel who has joined the Union Army. Gabriel helps him hide in a bush until after the battle.
Back at the farm, scavengers raid the place, killing James and it’s suggested that Ann was raped before she was killed too. On their way home, the Andersons run across a Confederate unit guarding the road. A young sentry, startled by the sound of horses, takes a shot at Jacob, killing him instantly. Charlie starts to strangle the sentry, but stops to ask him his age. The sentry replies, “Sixteen, sir.” Charlie, remembering that his youngest son is sixteen, emotionally tells the sentry that he wants him to live and be an old man and have many sons. He wants him to know what it feels like to lose one of them.
When the Andersons return home, the doctor tells them what happened to James and Ann. Their child Martha is still alive, with the black woman acting as her nanny, and Charlie takes her in his arms. Next day at the breakfast table, Charlie begins his standard prayer, but is so heartbroken that he can’t finish it. He goes out to the family graveyard to see his wife’s grave. He sees the graves of James, Jacob and Ann alongside hers, and he hears church bells ringing in the distance.
At the farmhouse, he demands to know why no one told him it was Sunday. The whole family gets dressed and ready for church, arriving as the singing begins. As the congregation completes the first song, the pastor (Denver Pyle) starts to announce the next hymn. Boy stumbles through the back door on a crutch. The whole congregation looks, and Charlie Anderson turns to see what is happening. His face lights up, and he helps his son to the pew. Everyone joyously sings in unison as the story ends.
- James Stewart as Charlie Anderson.
- Doug McClure as Sam.
- Glenn Corbett as Jacob Anderson.
- Patrick Wayne as James Anderson.
- Phillip Alford as Boy Anderson.
- Katharine Ross as Ann Anderson.
- Rosemary Forsyth as Jennie Anderson.
- Charles Robinson as Nathan Anderson.
- James McMullan as John Anderson.
- Tim McIntire as Henry Anderson.
- Eugene Jackson, Jr. as Gabriel.
- Paul Fix as Dr. Tom Witherspoon.
- Denver Pyle as Pastor Bjoerling.
- George Kennedy as Col. Fairchild.
- James Best as Carter (rebel soldier).
- Tom Simcox as Lt. Johnson.
- Berkeley Harris as Capt. Richards.
- Harry Carey Jr. as Jenkins (rebel soldier).
- Kevin Hagen as Mule (deserter).
- Dabbs Greer as Abernathy.
- Strother Martin as Train Engineer.
- Kelly Thordsen as Federal Purchasing Agent Carroll.
- In 1966, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound (Waldon O. Watson).
- For her part in Shenandoah, Rosemary Forsyth was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Female.
- The film was adapted as a hit Broadway musical in 1975, which won John Cullum his first Tony Award for Best Actor.
- Location scenes filmed near Eugene, Oregon.
- Working titles: Fields of Honor and Shenandoah Crossing.
- The film broke box office records in Virginia, the story’s locale.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Andrew V. McLaglen.
- Producer(s): Robert Arthur.
- Writer(s): James Lee Barrett.
- Music: Frank Skinner.
- Cinematography: William H. Clothier.
- Editor(s): Otho Lovering.
- Production: Universal Pictures.
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures.
- Release Date: 03 June 1965 (Houston, US) and 28 June 1965 (US general release).
- Running time: 105 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.