Interview With Ron Maxwell on His New Civil War Movie “Copperhead”

Maxwell: I’ve certainly run up against this wall of resistance over a lifetime. When I look back at the historical films that I have made, it is almost miraculous. Had I not met up with kindred spirits who love American history as much as I do, not one of these Civil War movies would have been made.

Copperhead, scheduled for release June 28, is based on the 19th-century novel of the same name by Harold Frederic. The movie, like the novel, is representative of actual events in upstate New York in 1862 and 1863. Dairy farmer Abner Beech opposes the war waged by President Abraham Lincoln in the name of preservation of the Union. Like other peace Democrats in the North, he is disparagingly called a “Copperhead” — a venomous snake — by ardent supporters of the war who view his stand as unpatriotic and even treasonous.

This is the third film by director Ron Maxwell set during the Civil War. The first two are the widely acclaimed Gettysburg and its prequel Gods and Generals. The new movie stars Billy Campbell (most recently in Killing Lincoln), Angus MacFayden (Braveheart), and Peter Fonda. (In the photo, Maxwell, right, is shown with Fonda.)

The New American: This is your third movie on the Civil War. What has captured your interest in the War Between the States?

Ron Maxwell: It started in my youth, when my dad used to take my younger brother and me to historical sites. We’d go up in northern New Jersey. Historical sites we visited that were colonial, American Revolution, French and Indian War sites. We’d go up to Lake Champlain, Lake George, and we would visit Fort Ticonderoga. My earliest memories were being read to, James Fenimore Cooper. Then when I could read myself, in first or second grade, I just continued with great curiosity and great adventure. I was just steeped in American history and American biography and American literature from my earliest memories.

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