Grim scenes of slave auctions in Virginia, circa 1860’s take us right back to a callous, entitled time in the southern US when many households owned slaves. The southern Confederates were at war with the northern Unionists over statehood and lifestyle choices of the past few hundred years including their right to own human beings.
Field of Lost Shoes is a fact-based film about a battle fought in 1864 in New Market, Virginia, one of the bloodiest and most devastating of the American Civil War. It was one of the few won by the South. The film represents the Confederate point of view and the use of male children as soldiers in battle.
Each year the young soldiers at New Market are remembered in solemn ceremonies at the Virginia Military Institute. The Field of Lost Shoes is an open memorial today as the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, so named because the cadets fought in mud so heavy it sucked the boots off their feet.
Young Confederate cadets at the Virginia Military Institute were called onto the battlefield after the slaughter of the regular soldiers lost at New Market. They were never meant to fight but to create the illusion of a massive Confederate army and a titular backup.
War has been dependent on children through history. Young men and children have always fought battles for whatever reasons, the possibility of heroism, love of country, family expectations, escape or nothing else to do.
Young men and children have been forced into battle. Child soldiers aren’t a modern phenomenon they have been crucial elements in wars, as they are today in some parts of Africa.
As expected, most of the boy soldiers were slain on the field but they did manage to route the Union army out of the highly valued Shenandoah Valley with its railroads, fertile fields and favorable geographic situation. They won the battle but lost the war, and they left their mark.
A diverse cast from David Arquette, Jason Isaacs and Modern Family’s Nolan Gould to Tom Skerritt and Lauren Holly is fun. Historical figures like Ulysses S. Grant, Cpt. Henry DuPont, John Breckenridge and others lend weight.
It’s a feature film that feels like a standard TV or educational documentary. It rings true at times but its no-offense nature presumably intended to secure a mainstream audience, robs it of its potential power.
Field of Lost Shoes is interesting but it’s unsure of its identity and unwilling to paint a true picture of what we know was hand-to-hand, brother versus brother devastation of the Civil War. Questions about slavery in the aftermath of the Battle and the fall of the South are never answered.