- Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln exaggerates battle scenes, with a Civil War historian rating one scene a 4/10 for historical accuracy.
- Despite the film’s artistic liberties, Lincoln is generally considered historically accurate in portraying Lincoln’s presidency and the passage of Thirteenth Amendment.
- The film is focused on political maneuvering, with less emphasis on realistic Civil War battles, and Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln is highly regarded and well-researched.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln exaggerates certain aspects of its battle scenes, according to a Civil War historian. Released in 2012, the biopic is based on the 2005 biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns, and follows the final four months of the former president’s life, focusing on his fight to abolish slavery by passing the Thirteenth Amendment. The film’s greatness is unquestionable, winning Daniel Day-Lewis his third Academy Award for Best Actor and receiving 11 more nominations, including Best Picture. The film’s historical accuracy, on the other hand, is up for debate.
In a new video from Insider, Civil War historian Garry Adelman assessed one scene in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln that depicts the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. While watching the scene, he primarily took issue with its depiction of hand-to-hand combat, which was very rare during the Civil War. Though Adelman admits to adoring the film, he rated the battle scene a 4/10 for its historical accuracy. Read his full commentary or watch the portion of the video below:
There is a battle called The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry in Arkansas. It was fought in the rain in a field that had begun to flood and if you’re planning to attack that enemy, and maybe you are met with a freak ridiculously heavy rainstorm, maybe it’s to your advantage to attack them that way. Maybe they’re not using guns because you can’t use a gun when your powder is all wet. I don’t think I’ve heard of an account of somebody actually grabbing the bayonet. These things are pretty sharp, taking it off and immediately using it, but it’s pretty cool for the movies.
In the Civil War, hand-to-hand combat is quite rare. With the artillery, you’re going to fight at a distance and usually, when an enemy is ten yards from you, you’re going to try to run away, so hand-to-hand combat, it did happen to be sure: club muskets, bayonets, sabers, punching and kicking, but it’s pretty rare to have it, let alone a straight-up wrestling melee that’s going on in the rain. It struck me as a little bit much. I’m gonna rate this clip a four out of 10. I adore this movie, but the battle scene is pretty ridiculous.
How Historically Accurate Is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln Overall?
Since the Civil War historian only assessed one battle scene from Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, his low rating doesn’t paint a full picture of the film’s overall historical accuracy. As a whole, Lincoln is generally considered to be a historically accurate portrayal of the final months of Lincoln’s presidency and the events leading up to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. However, like almost every historical film, it does take some artistic liberties for the sake of storytelling and dramatic effect.
The film is primarily concerned with President Lincoln’s political maneuvering, which makes up a large part of the two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Spielberg’s film, for better or worse, is less concerned with providing a realistic depiction of Civil War battles, which is why these scenes pale in comparison to its political drama in terms of historical accuracy. After all, Lincoln‘s depiction of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry is only a minor scene.
Another way the movie provides an accurate portrayal of history is through Day-Lewis’ incredible transformation as Abraham Lincoln. A well-known method actor, Day-Lewis spent a full year preparing for the role by reading the former president’s writings and visiting historical sites in order to accurately capture the essence of Abraham Lincoln. Like the actor portraying the lead role, Lincoln is a well-researched and highly-regarded portrayal of a critical period in American history.