My Brother's War (2005)



Director:     Whitney Hamilton.

Starring:     Dana Bennison (Virginia Klaising), Rebecca Damon (Georgianna Walker), Gerry Green (Union Soldier), Whitney Hamilton (Grace / Henry Kieler), Mimi Jefferson (Mary Livermore), William Laney (General McClellan), Jennifer Larkin (Gert Blaylock), P.J. Leonard (Union Captain), Rick Lewis (Stanford Davis), Patrick Melville (Lucius Walker), Thom Milano (Colonel Wright), Ed Moran (Zeb Nash), Scott Mushinskie (Dead Boy), Vincent Niemann (Thomas Kieler), Grace Pettijohn (Aunt Ruth Cooper).

over 400 women fought disguised as men during the Civil; this is one of those stories



Spoiler Warning:

Over 400 women fought disguised as men during the Civil War. This is one woman's story.

The mountains near Shepherdstown, Virginia.  In 1862 today's West Virginia was a part of Virginia.  Today it's known as Shepherdstown, West Virginia.   It is located west of the Potomac River near the border with Maryland and at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley.  It's home to Shepherd University. The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal went along the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Shepherdstown and was built during the 1830s.  The Antietam Battlefield  is northeast of Shepherdstown. 

There is a skirmish between the forces of the South and North. 

Lucius Walker kisses his fiancÚ Grace Kieler and tells her that the war will soon be over. 

Rebel Stanford Davis gets a flesh wound in the upper left arm and loses his horse.  More northern troops show up and a woman named Virginia takes her son into the house.  She puts the boy in a cedar chest to hide him from the Yankees.  The Yankees set fire to the house, but hold back the woman from running inside when she shouts that her boy is inside the house.  She is only released after the house is a burning inferno.  

The Kieler family are pro-southern and the Walker family is pro-Union..  Henry Kieler, goes off to fight for the Confederacy, while neighbor Lucius Walker joins the Union army.

While picking corn father Kieler falls over and dies.  He is buried on his farm.  His daughter Grace says for the first time in her life she felt alone. 

Stanford Davis suggests to Henry Kieler that he ought to work as a spy amidst the Yankees.  Henry laughs at the very idea, but Davis is being serious.  Henry asks Davis if he really thinks that he can infiltrate the Yankee lines?  Davis says that only Henry can do this.  Later Henry takes his Confederate jacket off and hides it in the family barn. 

A woman neighbor, Georgianna Walker, urges Grace to come with her to her aunt's place in Baltimore, Maryland.  Grace finds the jacket and puts it on.  She cuts her hair short and puts some dirt on her face.  When her neighbor sees her, she tells Grace/Henry Kieler that she's crazy and going to get herself killed.  Henry/Grace gets on a horse and heads out. 

The real Henry shoots a Union soldier and puts on his blue uniform.  He gets himself introduced to the local commander saying he's a tracker.  The commander accepts Henry. 

Ruth Cooper Home, Baltimore, Maryland.  Grace's neighbor Georgianna Walker is now in Baltimore.  She tells her aunt that she wants to join the Sanitary Commission.  Her aunt is opposed to the idea, but the niece says she's going to be searching for a woman in the ranks.  Auntie explains that to join the Sanitary Commission, one has to have a stout heart and an iron will.  Frankly, it's ghastly and not for the faint of heart.  Georgianna simply responds:  "I understand."

Grace is searching for her dear brother Henry, even it it means losing her life.  When she reaches the Confederate lines she asks the soldiers if they know a man known as Henry Kieler?  The men just say no. 

Georgianna interviews with some women of the Sanitary Commission.  With her is Aunt Ruth, who vouches for Georgianna Walker's good character, and takes responsibility for the actions of Georgianna

Grace walks up to a Confederate soldier and asks if he's seen a man by the last name of Kieler.  The man has a whole uniform from a man that died recently.  He tells Henry/Grace to put on the uniform and then report to the sergeant because they need him.  Grace protests that she has to look for her brother, but the soldier says that they need Henry/Grace. 

August 28th, 1862.   In battle Henry/Grace is hit and goes down.  Lucky for her, she had a book beneath her coat, the Holy Bible, and it caught the bullet.  Georgianna looks for Grace on the battlefield. 

The Union plan is to cut off Gen. Robert. E. Lee's supplies here on the map.  Other regiments will hold the town of Sharpsburg, southwest of the future battlefield of Antietam.  By the fireplace in front of the commander's tent sits the real Henry, listening to the commander's explanations.  The next day Henry hides a note under a rock at the contact point.  A little later Stanford Davis comes along and picks up and reads the note.  Davis leaves a note between a split in a tree, but the wind blows the note out of the hiding place. 

Henry too had picked up a note from Davis .  It said:  "Union soldiers have taken the Walker Farm.  Your farm may be taken as Union headquarters."

A Union soldier picks up Davis' last note to Henry. 

General McClellan's headquarters.  Henry's commander comes to see the general and hands him the spy map.  McClellan says it could be a set up for a trap.  He says they will move the artillery and infantry tomorrow, but not today.

Against orders, the real Henry runs back home to warn Grace that the Yankees are coming.  He gets a shock when he discovers the recent grave of his father.  His commander is told that Henry is not in camp.  He says that if Henry is not back by first light, he will presume the man is a deserter and take appropriate action. 

During the battle, Grace hides behind a stone wall in the forest.  She sees a woman walking along a path in the forest and she follows her.  The woman hides and with a pistol in her hand then jumps out at Grace/Henry asking what the soldier wants.  Grace says the woman shouldn't be walking alone.  The two sit down and talk.  The woman says she's going to visit her sister in Shepherdstown.  The federals burned down her house. 

Georgianna writes a letter to her Union soldier brother that his fiancÚ Grace has put on a Confederate uniform and is in search of Henry Kieler.  She asks that brother do all he can to assure the safety of Grace if he comes across her.  Furthermore, brother must do all he can to make sure Grace is expelled from service. 

Grace and the woman come upon a tent.  With pistols in their hands, they open the tent up and find a dead man inside.  They move the corpse into the woods.  Over night they sleep in the tent.  Grace finds out the name of the woman.  It's Virginia. 

One night a Union soldier finds Virginia all alone and starts to rape her.  She screams and Grace shoots the soldier twice.  In the tent, Virginia kisses Grace.  Now Virginia tells Grace that she lost her boy.  The Yankees burned her farm house down and her boy was in a chest in the house.  Virginia cries.  She says she just wants to feel good again, but Grace is not going to try to have sex with her. 

The next morning, Virginia is gone from the tent.  Grace goes looking for her.  She soon finds her sitting by herself.

There is more fighting.  Henry, his commander and the commander's aide run into Virginia and Grace/Henry.  They capture Grace/Henry and now are thinking of killing Grace/Henry.  The real Henry pleads to save the boy, but the Colonel shoots Grace/Henry.   Then Henry shoots the commander in the back as he walks away from the scene.  The aide and Henry now point their pistols at each other and the aide says that Henry will hang for that.  Henry drops his pistol and picks up Grace.  He tells the aide that he has to bury his sister.  Virginia goes after Henry and Grace.  The aide goes to check on the commander.  The man's dead. 

The commander's aide reports to the new commander, Captain Lucius Walker, who turns out to be Grace's fiancÚ.  The aide tells the story of the Colonel dying on the battlefield.  He says they were trying to catch a spy by the name of Henry Kieler. They caught a boy and the Colonel killed the boy, who turned out to be a girl.  The tracker with them turned out to be her brother.  He fired on the Colonel.  The new commander falls back into his chair.  The aide asks if he's alright.  The commander says yes and then dismisses the aide. 

Virginia makes her way to the Kieler house.  She knocks on the door and Henry comes to check on her.  Now Virginia is told that his sister is still alive.  He has her laid out on a table, but doesn't know what to do for her medically 

The aide is called in to be informed that his commander, now dead. has left his pocket watch and his farm in Rochester, New York to the aide.  The colonel had no living relatives.  The new commander wants Henry Kieler killed .  He tells the aide to muster out of the army, get some civilian clothes and go to the Kieler farm and kill Henry. 

Georgianna Walker's brother now writes to his sister.  He says that 23,000 men have fallen in one day, and that's the most men lost in a single day in the nation's history.  He then writes that Grace is gone, thought to be a boy soldier and not a girl.  Back at auntie's home, Georgianna cries over the death. 

The aide finds Virginia in the woods.  She says she doesn't know any Henry Kieler and doesn't know where the Kieler farm is.  She comments that she's taking care of a sick boy.  After the aide leaves, Virginia runs back to the house.  She says that soldiers are in the area looking for him.  She gives him a blanket and a lantern and tells him to go hide somewhere.  Henry says he won't leave her again.  Virginia asks him what good is he to her if he dies?  Henry leaves. 

Virginia nurses Grace.  Grace awakens but keeps shivering.  Virginia puts three blankets over her and then takes off her own clothes and gets in bed to warm Grace.  (very brief nudity)  The next morning Grace awakens. She's a bit confused as to where she is.  Virginia explains how Grace got here, back home.   She says she wants to see her brother.  Virginia says she will call Henry down from the mountains by a lantern signal in the window. 

The problem, however, is that the aide is still hanging around the Kieler house and he sees the signals. 

The next morning the aide finds Henry and shoots him as he tries to run away.  Grace finds the body of her brother in the mountains, and she finds an order to the aide to kill Henry Kieler written by Captain Lucius Walker, her fiancÚ. 

Grace buries her brother.  Virginia is still with Grace.  She says to Grace that she will stay with her for awhile, because Grace is still not well. Grace says she will go to Baltimore, because there are too many memories to stay in the farm house.  She says she has a friend in Baltimore (namely, Georgianna Walker).  Virginia says she will go to Baltimore with Grace.

Virginia and Grace are walking through thick snow.  Grace finds a blue army cap and figures that the federals are here.  The two women dress in heavy coats and take off.  They run into Georgianna.  Georgianna runs to Grace and they hug each other.  Now Grace introduces Georgianna to Virginia.  Virginia says she's on her way to Shepherdstown.  She now leaves.  Virginia starts to cry as she leaves.  Grace shouts to her that she loves Virginia. 

Virginia Klaising became a teacher in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  Grace Kieler continued to live her life as Henry until her death.



Good to have a film on the women fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.  We need more stories about women doing courageous things in history.  The film has turns and twists and is a bit sad because of the death of soldiers, but some characters survive the civil war.  It looks like a film done on a low budget and the acting was probably done by amateurs, but the film is still worth watching. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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