The Horse Soldiers

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The Horse Soldiers
Horse Soldiers 1959.jpg
1959 movie poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by John Lee Mahin
Martin Rackin
Written by John Lee Mahin (screenplay)
Martin Rackin (screenplay)
Harold Sinclair (novel)
Starring John Wayne
William Holden
Constance Towers
Althea Gibson
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • June 12, 1959 (1959-06-12)
Running time 115 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]
Horse Soldiers (2009) is also a book written by Doug Stanton

The Horse Soldiers is a 1959 DeLuxe Color war film set during the American Civil War. It was directed by John Ford and starred John Wayne, William Holden and Constance Towers. The film was based on Harold Sinclair's novel of the same name. The team of John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin both wrote the screenplay and produced the movie.

The film is loosely based on the true story of Grierson's Raid and the climactic Battle of Newton's Station, led by Colonel Benjamin Grierson who, along with 1700 men, set out from northern Mississippi and rode several hundred miles behind enemy lines in April 1863 to cut the railroad between Newton's Station and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grierson's raid was part of the Vicksburg campaign, culminating in the Battle of Vicksburg.[2] The disruption of the Confederate-controlled railroad upset the plans and troop deployments of Confederate General John C. Pemberton.

Plot summary[edit]

A Union cavalry brigade, led by Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne), is sent on a raid behind Confederate lines to destroy a railroad and supply depot at Newton Station. Ironically, before the war, Marlowe had been a railroad building engineer. With the troop is a new regimental surgeon, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who seems to be constantly at odds with his commander. Kendall is torn between duty and the horror of war.

Complicating matters, while the unit rests at Greenbriar Plantation, Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers), the plantation's mistress, and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on a staff meeting wherein Marlowe discusses his plans. To protect the mission, Marlowe is forced to take the two women with him. Initially hostile to her Yankee captor, Miss Hunter gradually warms to him. In addition to Kendall and Miss Hunter, Marlowe also must contend with Col. Phil Secord (Willis Bouchey), who continually second-guesses Marlowe's orders and command decisions.

Several battles later, including a fire-fight which results in the death of Lukey, and a skirmish with Boy Cadets from a local military school (based on the real-life Battle of New Market), and with Confederate forces in pursuit, Marlowe and his command reach a bridge which must be stormed in order to access the Union lines. Dr. Kendall is forced to choose between remaining behind with some badly wounded men (and being captured with them), or leaving the men without medical care until the Confederates arrive. Marlowe, wounded, is able to lead his troops over the bridge after they have set charges under it. First, he lights the fuse and the bridge blows up to halt the Confederates once again. He and his command continue on to their destination having successfully completed their mission.



The Horse Soldiers was filmed on location in Natchitoches Parish Louisiana along the banks of Cane River Lake and in and around Natchez, Mississippi.[3] A bridge was built on the Cane River especially for the Tickfaw fight scenes, and many locals were used as extras for the Yankee invaders.[3] John Ford cut the film's climactic battle scene short when Fred Kennedy, a veteran stuntman and bit player, was killed in a horse fall. Ford was so upset he closed the set and had to film the rest of the scene later in the San Fernando Valley. The scene with the fatal fall remains in the film. Originally, the film was to follow Marlowe's forces to their destination and the rewards of a successful campaign. Because of the loss of Fred Kennedy, Ford ended it as quickly as possible and it was simply understood that they escaped the Confederates and went on to their destination.[4]

See also[edit]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Even though it gives off the impression of being historical fiction, the Horse Soldiers is fiction. A 2001 book by Neil Longley York discusses the possible reasons why John Ford decided not to tell the story of the historical Grierson Raid. [5]


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ Jones, Terry L. (2011). Historical Dictionary of the Civil War. Scarecrow Press. p. 621. ISBN 978-0-8108-7811-2. 
  3. ^ a b York, Neil Longley (January 2001). Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory. Kent State University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-87338-688-3. 
  4. ^ "Trivia". TCM. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  5. ^

External links[edit]