AMC’s acclaimed Western series Hell on Wheels has maintained a number of narrative threads since its launch in 2011. Those threads include the logistics of expanding the transcontinental Union Pacific railroad westward in the post-US Civil War years, the potential for conflict when that railroad moves into traditional Indigenous territories and the racial friction between different groups. Another major thread has been that of the lingering resentments between North and South following the Civil War. Lead character Cullen Bohannon (played by Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier who was initially drawn westward to seek a Union gang that had murdered his family and hired help during the war.
A number of episodes have effectively showcased the tensions that result between those who had previously fought on opposite sides. During Season 1, Bohannon encountered the fervent Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) who had endorsed and taken part in violence against pro-slavery groups prior to the Civil War in the conflict known as “Bleeding Kansas”. Cole had ridden with abolitionist John Brown who killed pro-slavery southerners as one of his means to end slavery of African-Americans. Bohannon, who had released his slaves prior to the war and kept them on at wages, sees Brown (and thus Cole) as a cold-blooded killer and not a martyr.
At the start of Season 2, Bohannon’s actions at the end of the previous season push him into the outlaw life and he joins up with a group of former Confederates who are now robbing trains in the West.
Cullen Bohannon (center/background) at the Confederate Outlaw Camp
In one key scene, Bohannon acts out his anger at the Union forces for the death of his family and subsequent desecration of their graves by “carpetbaggers” (northerners who moved to the South after the war to profit from the re-building of the region). Prior to his whipping of two Union soldiers, the soldiers mention the “barbeque” that US General Sherman had made of the South – Sherman used the “scorched earth” policy of destroying and burning anything that might be of use to the Confederate Army, including food. Such methods typically have a great impact upon local civilian populations and the destruction of food supplies for a civilian population was banned in a 1977 Geneva Convention.
In the upcoming September 7th episode, the 6th of Season 3, the Mississippi-born Bohannon (now re-integrated back into work with the Union Pacific) will come face-to-face with US General Ulysses Grant, US president from 1869 to 1877, and under whom General Sherman had served during the War. Again, echoes of the Civil War will reverberate as Bohannon realizes who he is meeting in the following AMC “Inside” clip for the episode (note: mature scenes):
The third season of Hell on Wheels continues to air Saturday nights on AMC at 9E/8C.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)