Field of Lost Shoes

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Field of Lost Shoes Movie Poster Image
Fierce, violent Civil War tale takes liberties with history.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 96 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Asserts that even young, vulnerable men may be willing to fight for a cause they deem worthy. Finds heroism in death on the battlefield. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young cadets are shown as brave, loyal, devoted to one another, and committed to fighting for Southern principles. To keep the featured players sympathetic, Virginia Military Institute cadets are shown as having empathy for the enslaved black people in their midst. They, and some family members and supporters, are shown as not racist but simply determined to protect their land from an invading army. Confederate field officers are portrayed as thoughtful and reluctant to send boys into battle.


War footage includes death and injuries from cannon fire, rifles, bayonets, and hand-to-hand combat. Characters are shot, blown up, stabbed, beaten, and choked. Blood gushes from wounds and seeps out slowly to kill over time. Soldiers' bodies cover the field in the battle's aftermath. An African-American woman is trapped under an overturned coach; she is saved but bloody and wounded. A young boy watches a slave auction and sees a family brutally separated.


A sweet, innocent love story.


"Goddammit," "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult field officers drink alcoholic beverages in several scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Field of Lost Shoes is "based on" a real Civil War battle in which a group of young Confederate cadets from Virginia Military Institute were unexpectedly drawn into a crucial fight with Northern troops. Still memorialized annually at the Institute, the actual young men who fought (one is only a boy) and those who died are celebrated for their bravery. Using the real-life names of some of the cadets, the movie first builds sympathy for the participants, then thrusts them into the lengthy, intense Battle of New Market, which contains bloody deaths, brutal hand-to-hand fighting, severe injuries, and, generally, grim results. A sweet, innocent love story is detailed as the story moves forward. Field officers, also based on the actual soldiers, are seen drinking whiskey in a few scenes, and there are a few curses ("goddammit" and "damn"). The filmmakers have chosen to keep their boy-heroes non-racist and shown as supportive of the African-Americans who live among them; they all believe they're fighting simply to keep the Northern "invaders" off their land. Too violent and sad for kids; best for teens.

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What's the story?

On May 15, 1964, in the Civil War Battle of New Market in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a troop of teen cadets from VMI were in place as reserves for Major General John Breckenridge (Jason Isaacs) when the Northern Army attempted to take the area. As the Southern soldiers continued to lose ground, the teens were called upon for help. Going beyond what was expected of them, the cadets used courage and strength that proved instrumental in turning back the Northerners and holding onto this important Virginia territory. FIELD OF LOST SHOES tells the story of seven of those boys, of which only four survived. Using the names and persona of actual participants involved, the movie first acquaints the viewer with each of the seven cadets and with John Wise (Luke Benward), son of Virginia's governor, taking center stage as he comes of age and develops his moral stance. Other story elements include a love story between a cadet and a young local girl, the precarious station of an African-American cook at the school, and all the boys' growing awareness of their duty to the South as well as the consequences of losing the war. 

Is it any good?

Production values are solid here, particularly in light of the obvious budget constraints of the project. There are some fine performances; the battle sequences seem believable and are powerful, as well as bloody and often sad. As the tale is told, the viewers' rooting interest in the young cadets is informed by the early scenes in which they bond and develop their commitment to a cause. It's a story worth telling -- a part of American history that should, indeed, inspire a movie.

But, in building sympathy for its heroes, the filmmakers fall into the revisionism trap. Among the less than factual events, they created three clearly fictional sequences in which the boys help the beleaguered African-Americans in their world. John Wise's father, in fact a vocal secessionist and the man who signed the death warrant for John Brown, is portrayed as having deep concerns about the plight of the slaves; he sends his son to a live auction so the boy can witness firsthand the inhumanity of slavery. Exposing moviegoers, especially young people, to American history while creating an exhilarating film experience is valuable. Of equal value is ensuring that what viewers take away from the experience is closely based on truth. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies that are "based on" true stories. In historical films such as this one, is it important to know which events are rooted in truth and which are imagined? Why? Where would you look to further explore the events as they actually happened? 

  • Why do you think the filmmakers included three scenes that showed the cadets interacting with or being aware of cruelties to African-American southerners? How did it affect your feelings about the boys and men who would later fight for the confederacy? 

  • Find out the significance of the title of this movie, Field of Lost Shoes. Do you think the filmmakers clarified the origins of this phrase?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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