Shenandoah is a 1965 Civil War film starring James Stewart and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. Though set during the American Civil War, the film's strong antiwar and humanitarian themes reflect attitudes at the time of the movie's release, toward the Vietnam War. Upon its release, the film was praised for its message, as well as its technical production. In 1966, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound. Due in part to her performance in Shenandoah, Rosemary Forsyth was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Female.
One day while out fishing, the youngest Anderson son finds a discarded Confederate cap. He begins wearing it each time he is out. One day, this time out hunting, he is taken prisoner by a Union Army patrol who believe him to be a Confederate soldier (this is made even more complex because another group of Union soldiers nearby had just been ambushed). The boy denies he is a soldier at all, but his rifle and cap make it impossible to convince the Union soldiers. His friend, a local slave named Gabriel, is told by the soldiers that he is now free. Gabriel runs nonstop to Mr. Anderson's house to tell him that the boy has been taken by the Union men. Mr. Anderson then decides it is "our war". That night, he assembles most of his sons to go after the boy. He leaves behind one son, his daughter-in-law, and his young granddaughter. As the boys assemble to leave, Mr. Anderson's recently-married daughter also prepares to go on the search. Although the father wants her to stay behind, she points out that she can out-ride and out-shoot most of the boys. He relents, and the group sets off. He rides off to find the nearest Union encampment, believing that if he talks to a commander he can sort out the issue and free his son.
Meanwhile, Gabriel asks Jennie what it means to be free. She tells him he is free to go anywhere he wants. Gabriel runs down the road towards an unknown destination.
Anderson visits a Union Army camp and finds a sympathetic officer who has a son of his own at school in Boston. But he also finds that the prisoners have been sent to another location. The officer gives him a note which will enable Anderson to get his son back. The boy, now a prisoner of war, befriends other prisoners. Eventually a small group escapes, taking the boy with them, and attempts to return to Confederate lines. After a period of wandering through rural Virginia, they succeed in joining a Confederate unit.
The Anderson group arrives at the train station the boy was taken to. Anderson shows the note to the commander in charge, who refuses to help him. Anderson will not be so easily defeated, and he obstructs the railroad a few miles away, and free the prisoners, coincidentally freeing Mr. Anderson's new son-in-law. Mr. Anderson then asks his son-in-law what he wants done with the train, and he orders the prisoners to burn the train. The freed Confederates burn the train and then move on.
Eventually, sensing their cause is hopeless, the boys confront the father, saying they should return home. Mr. Anderson agrees, but says that they had to try; he tells them "if we don't try, we don't do, and if we don't do, why are we here?". They head for home. While the rest of the Andersons have been away, stragglers have killed his son and daughter-in-law. Only the grandchild Martha survives, due to the timely arrival of the local doctor.
The boy, now truly a soldier in the Confederate Army, finds himself in battle. During a Union attack he is shot in the leg; as a Union soldier rushes up to finish him off with his bayonet, the boy looks up and sees Gabriel, the former slave. Gabriel recognizes the boy and carries him to safety under cover before rejoining his unit.
In the final scene, the Andersons go to church on Sunday. In a repeat of one of the opening scenes, the family is late arriving and a bit disruptive as they take their seats. The family is sadly much reduced in number from the opening scene. As a hymn begins the film reaches its emotional climax - the rear doors open and the youngest son, leaning on a crutch, walks into the church and rejoins his family.