Ride with the Devil (1999)

 

 

 

Director:  Ang Lee

Starring:   Tobey Maguire (Jake Roedel), Jeremy W. Auman (Guard), Scott C. Sener (Guard), Skeet Ulrich (Jack Bull Chiles), Glenn Q. Pierce (Minister), Kathleen Warfel (Mrs. Chiles), David Darlow (Asa Chiles), Michael W. Nash (Horton Lee, Sr.), John Judd (Otto Roedel), James Caviezel (Black John), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Pitt Mackeson), Simon Baker (George Clyde), Jeffrey Wright (Daniel Holt), John Ales (William Quantrill), Zach Grenier (Mr. Evans), Donna Thomason (Mrs. Evans), Jewel Kilcher (Sue Lee Shelley), Tom Wilkinson (Orton Brown), Mark Ruffalo (Alf Bowden), Timothy Graham (Reverend Wright).

the war in bloody Kansas and Missouri

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Friends Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are attending the marriage of one of the Chilesís children. Two men at the celebration talk about the dangers of the anti-slavery forces. They mention Jennison and the Kansas Jayhawkers and Schmidt and his Germans having formed a militia at Independence, Missouri.

Jake is a German-American (most of whom are Union people), but he sympathizes with the South. One night Jake sees anti-slavery forces riding by his home. He follows them only to see the Chiles home being put to the torch. Jack Bull shows up running from the house. His father has been killed by the Jayhawkers.

One year later. Captain Henderson, Company D, announces his arrival at a small supply store and bar. He says they have just caught and killed a Southern sympathizer. The Captain heads over for a drink and talks with the northern sympathizers there. But suddenly Captain Henderson and his men start shooting the northern sympathizers. Captain Henderson is actually southern sympathizer Black John. He and his men pretended they were Union forces and took advantage of the ruse to kill the northern sympathizers.

A group of southern sympathizing "outlaws" stop to ask directions to the Dorís place. The woman of the house invites them inside for a meal. But soon after they all sit down to eat a shoot-out begins. Jake gets the top of his pinky finger shot off. A number of the others are also wounded and killed, but a good number of them are able to get away.

Jake and Jack Bull arrive at a rebel encampment. They see their friend Alf Bowden tied up with some other northern sympathizers. Black John asks Jake to write down a message to the Union side suggesting an exchange of prisoners, two of theirs for four union sympathizers. Jake gives the message to Alf Bowden to deliver to the Union men. Not long after Bowden leaves the camp, he learns that Alf killed his father. Even though his father was a Union man, Bowden knew that his son was a southern outlaw.

Winter is coming on. George Clyde heads for the house of Miss Juanita Willard, a woman for whom George has a romantic interest. Jake, Jack Bull and Holt head for the Evans home. They start to construct a winter hideout dug into the side of a shallow ravine. The Evans family brings food out to them. The men meet the widow Mrs. Evans who now wants to be known by her maiden name Sue Lee Shelly.

Jack Bull and Sue Lee begin a romantic relationship. Mr. Evans asks a good question: why didnít you join the regular army? Jack Bull answers that he wanted to fight in his own state where he was most needed. (The Union never recognized these men as southern soldiers. Rather, they were considered to be "outlaws" and could be shot on sight. And many of these men were in fact not much more than glorified criminals, taking money from both northern and southern sympathizers.)

One day the outlaws hear gunshots at the Evans Place. Mr. Evans is dead. The three outlaws go after the dozen or so union men. They find them and kill a number of them. Jack Bull is badly wounded. Back at their hideout, they try to heal Jack Bullís arm wound, but it does not solve the problem. The arm has to come off. Jake and Holt with Sue Lee amputate his arm, but he dies anyway. They then drop Sue Lee off at the Ort Brown farmhouse.

Back with their fellow rebels, they learn that Black John lost three female members of his family in the collapse of the womenís jail in Kansas City. Black John seeks vengeance and so he calls for Quantrill to join them in an assault on the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas.

Quantrill and his men arrive and they are off for Lawrence. They descend on Lawrence and start committing their atrocities, killing virtually every man, white or black, they find. Jake has qualms about the killings and he prevents the psychopath Pitt Mackerson from killing several Unionists. Pitt promises that he will kill Jake for sparing the lives of the Lawrence settlers.

As the Union cavalry approaches, the outlaws head out of town. As the cavalry catches up with them, the outlaws bait the cavalry by attacking, then falling back on to a defensive line. Quite a few Union cavalry are killed before the outlaws have to cut and run. But not before Holt is wounded and George Clyde is killed. Pitt wounds Jake in the leg.

Jake and Holt retire to the Brown farm. Sue Lee now has a baby girl called Grace Shelly Chiles. Sue Lee starts to become interested in Jake.

News arrives that many of the outlaws have been eliminated. Quantrill is now in Kentucky and Bloody Bill Anderson is dead. Pitt has got some kind of a gang, but they now rob for plunder, regardless if reb of fed. Jake is warned that Pitt is coming for him.

Jake and Holt stay a long time healing at the Brown farm and Mr. Brown gets tired of them hanging around. One day he brings Rev. Horace Wright to the farmhouse and tells Jake that he is either getting married to Sue Lee or leaving the farm forever. Sue Lee talks with Jake and Jake decides to marry her.

Jake, Sue Lee and Grace load up a large wagon and head for California. Holt agrees to go with them part of the way for their protection. He wants to go to Texas to find his mother who was purchased by someone in that state.

On their journey, Pitt shows up. He tells Jake and Holt that Black John is dead, killed at Dover. They put his head on a pole and put a picture of it in their newspaper. They talk until Jake gets access to his rifle and pulls it on Pitt. But Pitt shows no real interest in fighting and/or killing Jake. He turns around and heads for Newport and certain death at the hands of the 200 Federal troops stationed in there.

Later on the journey, Holt takes his leave and heads for Texas.

Good movie. It deals in an honest way with the southern sympathizers in Missouri who did not join the regular army but used extreme violence and cruelty to inflict major damage on Kansas and Missouri northern sympathizers, especially civilians. These men claimed they were soldiers for the Confederacy, but they had only loose and informal contacts with the Confederate hierarchy. These were mostly very bad men who committed what we would now term war crimes, if not just plain crimes.

The tragedy is that many rednecks still make apologies for these outlaws, which included, Frank James and, possibly Jesse as well. (But do these rednecks realize that the more they try to establish a real relationship of psychopaths like Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson with the Confederacy, the worse it makes the Confederacy look? For if the Confederacy sanctioned the war crimes committed in Kansas and Missouri, then arenít the Confederate leaders war criminals?) But then again, there are still many US citizens who defend slavery itself.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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