Civil War Wiki
Two Flags West
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Casey Robinson
Written by Screenplay
Casey Robinson
Original Story By
Frank S. Nugent
Curtis Kenyon
Starring Joseph Cotten
Linda Darnell
Jeff Chandler
Cornel Wilde
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Music Director
Alfred Newman
Earle Hagen
Maurice de Packh
Julia Ward Howe
Daniel Decatur Emmett
William Steffe
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Editing by Louis Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) October 14, 1950
Running time 92 min.
Country USA
Language English

Two Flags West is a 1950 Western drama set during the American Civil War, directed by Robert Wise and starring Joseph Cotton, Jeff Chandler, Linda Darnell, and Cornell Wilde. The opening credits contain the following statement:

On December 8th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Special Proclamation, whereby Confederate Prisoners of War might gain their freedom, provided they would join the Union Army to defend the frontier West against the Indians.[1]

Based on the historical service of "Galvanized Yankees", the film tells the story of a company of imprisoned Confederate Army cavalry troopers given such amnesty. The company of Georgia veterans journeys to a remote New Mexico post commanded by an embittered, Southerner-hating major who expects them to desert at the first opportunity. The fulfillment of that expectation is challenged by an attack on the fort itself by Kiowa.

Two Flags West was one of a wave of Civil War reconciliation-themed Westerns in the early 1950s, in which soldiers from North and South combine against a common foe, that included Rocky Mountain (1950), The Last Outpost (1951), and Escape from Fort Bravo (1953).[2]


In the autumn of 1864, remnants of a Georgia cavalry regiment are among the prisoners in the Union prisoner of war camp at Rock Island, Illinois. Commanded by Colonel Clay Tucker (Joseph Cotton), the Confederates are sick and dying in deplorable conditions, but despite the end of prisoner exchanges, find a chance for survival. Union Captain Mark Bradford (Cornel Wilde), recovering from a battle wound, offers them parole and release from "this stinking pesthole"[3] if they will join the Army of the Republic to garrison a fort on the western frontier. The outpost is undermanned because its able-bodied regulars have been sent east, leaving either "greenhorns or casualties"[4] like Bradford to fight Indians. Although promised that they will not be compelled to fight against their own, many of the Confederates resist the offer. Agreeing to decide the matter by vote, the issue is deadlocked when the last soldier dies before he can choose. Compassion for his men forces a reluctant Col. Tucker to break the tie by agreeing to the conditions, based on Bradford's sincerity.

With Tucker given a lieutenant's commission as their officer, the troop arrives at Fort Thorn, New Mexico, where the welcome from the post commander, Major Henry Kenniston (Jeff Chandler), is stern and provocative. The bitter Kenniston walks with a limp, the result of a wound at the First Battle of Bull Run that relegated him to Fort Thorn early in the war. Lt. Tucker dines that night with Kenniston, his officers, and civilian guests, and is put on edge by their patronizing comments. Among the guests is Kenniston's sister-in-law Elena (Linda Darnell), the widow of his brother Richard. Tension becomes high when Tucker reveals that he led the cavalry charge at the Battle of Chancellorsville in which Elena's husband was killed. Elena has been stranded for months at Fort Thorn on her way home to Monterey, California, and is uneasy with her brother-in-law's protectiveness, suspecting rightly that he is in love with her and thinks of himself as his late brother's surrogate.

Friction between the two factions nearly erupts in violence after Tucker checks the barracks to see to the welfare of his men, halted only when Capt. Bradford sternly intervenes. On their first patrol together, the Southern troopers pursue a band of Indians into a canyon but Kenniston orders "Recall" sounded. When they mock what they see as Yankee irresoluteness, Kenniston rebukes Tucker in front of his men, informing them that he had stopped them from riding headlong into an ambush. Kenniston assigns Tucker to execute two civilians convicted of running guns and liquor to the Indians. Informed that the pair are actually Confederate agents, his objection to the order as a violation of the promises under which his men were recruited falls on deaf ears. Tucker begins plotting to desert the command and escape to Texas when the opportunity presents itself. Kenniston shrewdly deduces their intent and assigns them to escort the next wagon train headed west, knowing they will deliver their charges before escaping. He removes Elena from the departing train, but she conceals herself in a wagon. Tucker discovers her but remains silent, and the two strike a friendship. The night before the planned desertion, one of the civilians, Ephraim Strong (Harry Von Zell), reveals himself to be a Confederate agent and enlists Tucker and his men in a plan to link California with the South. He asks Tucker not only to return to Fort Thorn, but to bring back Elena to gain Kenniston's confidence. Kenniston has an angry reunion with Elena, and while surprised by Tucker's actions, continues to be wary of him.

The troop is divided into two detachments, commanded by Bradford and Lt. Reynolds, to look for the source of mysterious wagon tracks. In the meantime, a patrol captures a Kiowa warrior. When the warrior's father, chief Satank, appears at Fort Thorn demanding release of his son, Kenniston shoots the prisoner as a "rebel and a traitor", then sends forth the body. Tucker locates half his men, and on the pretext of needing an interpreter for the prisoner, sends Reynolds back to the post. When they catch up with Bradford, he is made a prisoner but escorted back to Thorn by Sgt. Pickens (Arthur Hunnicutt). Late that night, they return to report that the fort is under siege by hundreds of Kiowa warriors. Despite strong misgivings, Tucker decides to return. The troop fights its way into the fort, but can only delay the inevitable. Bradford is killed and the garrison and its families are forced back into a corner of the stockade, saved from annihilation only by the setting of the sun. Knowing they will be wiped out in the morning, Kenniston decides to offer himself as a sacrifice. Ironically, he turns over the command to Tucker. In the morning his body is found dead outside the walls and the Kiowa gone. A few days later a dispatch rider arrives with news that Gen. Sherman has completed his march to the sea, spelling doom for the Confederacy. Elena tries to comfort a despairing Tucker with the hope that things will seem better tomorrow.


  • Joseph Cotten ... Col. (later Lt.) Clay Tucker
  • Linda Darnell ... Elena Kenniston
  • Jeff Chandler ... Maj. Henry Kenniston
  • Cornel Wilde ... Capt. Mark Bradford
  • Dale Robertson ... Lem
  • Jay C. Flippen ... Sgt. Terrance Duey
  • Noah Beery Jr. ... Corp. Cy Davis (as Noah Beery)
  • Harry von Zell ... Ephraim Strong
  • Johnny Sands ... Lt. Adams (as John Sands)
  • Arthur Hunnicutt ... Sgt. Pickens

Casting notes[]

Fox had originally intended the role of "Col. Clay Tucker" to be played by either Victor Mature or Richard Basehart, but Joseph Cotten was cast at the last minute.



The movie was filmed on location at San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, using buildings of the Pueblo for those of the Fort Thorn, and on the nearby Shipman Ranch near Black Mesa.[5] The local Tewa inhabitants agreed to use of their community, some of whose buildings dated back 400 years, when director Robert Wise promised that filming would remain clear of the tribal kiva (underground council room), cemetery, and sacred shrines.[1]

Historical basis[]

Screenwriter Frank S. Nugent developed the concept for the film while writing the screenplay for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1948. During research, Nugent consulted historians Dee Brown and Martin F. Schmitt, authors of Fighting Indians of the West, for sources of information about the use of "Galvanized Yankees",[6] and learned that Confederate plans to connect El Paso, Texas with California were made in late 1864. He submitted his story, The Yankee From Georgia, to Metro Goldwyn Mayer but did not receive an offer. The project for Fox began with the working title, Trumpet to the Morn.[1][7]

The historical Fort Thorn was built in December 1853 on the west bank of the Rio Grande River, 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, (near present-day Hatch) to defend local settlements against raids by Apache Indians, primarily those of the Mescalero band. Fort Thorn became the eastern terminus of a road built in 1856 across Arizona from Fort Yuma until 1860, when the post closed as a permanent garrison.[8]

In 1861 it was reoccupied as a forward outpost when the Civil War began and Texas organized an expeditionary force to seize New Mexico as part of its Arizona Territory. Union troops withdrew from Fort Thorn in August after a defeat at Mesilla at the other end of the valley. Confederate forces occupied the site in January 1862 to stage for an advance north, but in April were forced to withdraw from New Mexico. Fort Thorn again became a Union post on July 4, 1862.[8]

Union forces stationed at Fort Thorn were companies of the 3rd Infantry and Regiment of Mounted Riflemen between 1855 and 1860, and the 5th Infantry. Detachments of the 3rd Cavalry briefly operated from at Fort Thorn in 1862 until December, when that regiment was sent east to fight against the Confederacy. Although Fort Thorn was likely not occupied after that time, the 5th Infantry remained in New Mexico throughout the Civil War, and its forces could have been augmented by "Galvanized Yankees".


Two Flags West opened October 14, 1950, at the Rivoli Theater in New York City, to a favorable review from New York Times critic Bosley Crowther.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Two Flags West - notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 30 April 2009. 
  2. Woodworth, Steven E. ed. (1996). The American Civil War: A handbook of Literature and Research, Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29019-9, p. 614.
  3. Wills, Brian Steel (2006). Gone with the Glory: The History of the Civil War in Cinema, Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742545253, p. 167.
  4. Wills (2006), p. 168.
  5. "New Mexico filmography: Two Flags West". Filmnewmexico. Retrieved 30 April 2009. 
  6. Brown later authored the book The Galvanized Yankees on the topic in 1986.
  7. A line spoken by Horatio to Marcellus at the end of Act I Scene I of Hamlet.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Keleher, William A. (1951, 1982). Turmoil in New Mexico. Rydal Press, ISBN 0826306322, p. 271, note 58.
  9. Crowther, Bosley (1950). "The Screen in Review: Two Flags West". New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 

External links[]

fr:Les Rebelles de Fort Thorn pt:Two Flags West