3 July 2002 | bryanac625
"Santa Fe Trail" As It Should Have Been
I really enjoyed this film because I have a tremendous interest in American History... the Antebellum years and the Civil War in particular. I purchased it recently from a rack of previously-viewed videos on sale at the supermarket and I was very glad to add this one to my history video collection. Though not of the caliber of Civil War films such as "Glory" or "Gettysburg," provides a lot of history on the pre-Civil War brotherhood among cadets at West Point.
Maybe it's the gray uniforms, the youth, or the military discipline, but I am fascinated by the story of the Corps of Cadets from around 1830 to the brink of the War. I imagine what it must have been like to sit in a classroom with other young men, learning how to make war, then later putting the lessons to use against your own classmates!
Actually, there were two classes graduated in 1861: one class in May, the other in June. the movie makes no real mention of this, except to mention Henry A. DuPont, first graduate of the May Class; and George Custer, last grad of the June Class. the reason for the two classes was not so much about the war, but it was the result of switching back to a four-year course of study, after a few years of experimenting with a five-year course (I think the first class had attended five years, the other for four). As the movie portrays, cadets were like brothers and often had nicknames for each other... George "Fanny" or "Autie" Custer; Alonzo "Lon" Cushing; James "Beauty" Stuart (for J.E.B. Stuart, class of 1854), etc.
I say this film is "Santa Fe Trail" as it should have been because that 1940 film, while enjoyable, really fudges history. Cadets from several different classes are all graduating together. JEB Stuart and George Custer are portrayed as the best of friends and are side-by-side in stopping John Brown's 1859 insurrection at Harper's Ferry. In fact, Stuart and Custer were never friends, but enemies during the War. They faced each other (for the first time, I think) at Gettysburg in 1863 (Stuart was at the Harper's ferry Raid, but Custer was still a cadet at the Point when it took place).
"Fanny" Custer plays a role in "Class of '61," though his classmate chums, Dev O'Neill and Shelby Peyton are fictional. I believe they are respectively based on Partick Henry O'Rorke and John Pelham, two people you can look up.
Anyway, I truly enjoy this film or any film which provides a window into mid-19th Century America.