The film marked the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars. John Wayne and William Holden received $775,000 each, plus 20% of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time. The final contract involved six companies and numbered twice the pages of the movie's script. The film, however, was a financial failure, with no profits to be shared in the end.
Because of the lead actors' vastly different political views--John Wayne was very conservative and William Holden was very liberal--some of the animosity shown on the screen was real, a result of personal conflicts. Following the wrap each actor vowed to never again work with the other.
John Wayne was having personal problems at home. His wife, Pilar Wayne, had become addicted to barbiturates but Wayne refused to admit her to a private sanitarium. He felt they could conquer her addiction together and brought her along on location in Louisiana. During the filming, however, she began hallucinating and slashed her wrists with a razor, at which point Wayne realized the seriousness of the situation and had her admitted to a hospital back in Encino, CA. The incident was kept out of the newspapers and the public never suspected that the most popular box-office star in America, which Wayne was at the time, was experiencing a personal crisis at home.
A long-time alcoholic, John Ford was ordered by his doctor to abstain from drinking or he would surely die from its effects. Even though he was as stubborn a man as they come, Ford obeyed the physician's orders. Still, the absence of drink caused Ford to treat his cast and crew rougher than usual. The one who usually got the worst treatment, drink or no drink, was John Wayne, and he got it good on set. Ford even demanded that Wayne also abstain from drink, even though he had no such orders from his physician. Wayne begged producer Martin Rackin to get him away from Ford's omnipresent gaze, if only for a brief moment. Rackin obliged and lied to Ford, telling him that Wayne's teeth were beginning to show up yellow on film and that he needed to take both Wayne and William Holden to New Orleans to have their teeth cleaned. So the drunken trio spent a roaring night in the Crescent City, returning to a furious Ford who knew through his spies exactly how many bars they had visited. Despite the incident, Ford stayed away from drink until just after the shoot.
Listen carefully during the first scene and you can hear Gen. Hurlburt say "Hello Cump" as he shakes hands with Gen. Sherman. Sherman was named Tecumseh after the Shawnee chief, but the minister who later baptized him refused to do so with a "heathen" name, so the minister arbitrarily added "William" to Sherman's name, as he was baptized in St. William's Church. Sherman was called Cump by his closest friends--including Gen. Ulysses S. Grant--his entire life, and was never referred to as William or Bill.
Because of racial segregation laws in Louisiana, Althea Gibson would have been forced to stay in separate housing during the shoot, so all her scenes were shot in Hollywood, with doubles used in long shots filmed on location.
During filming of the climactic battle scene, veteran stuntman Fred Kennedy executed a fall from a horse improperly, broke his neck and died. According to fellow stuntmen, Kennedy had broken his neck two years earlier, but it had healed. Kennedy had appeared in several films directed by John Ford and the director was greatly affected by Kennedy's death. After the incident Ford halted filming and immediately moved the production back to Hollywood. The film was scripted to end with the triumphant arrival of Marlowe's forces in Baton Rouge, but Ford "simply lost interest" after Kennedy's death. He ended the film with Marlowe's farewell to Hannah Hunter before crossing and blowing up the bridge.
The part of Gen. U.S. Grant at the beginning of the movie is played by Stan Jones, who also wrote the movie's musical theme, "I Left My Love" as well as the classic country-western song "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
Lukey's dialogue was originally written in a stereotypic "Negro" dialect that Althea Gibson found offensive. She informed John Ford that she would not deliver her lines as written. Though Ford was notorious for his intolerance of actors' demands, he agreed to modify the script.
When John Wayne (Col. Marlow) first meets William Holden (Maj. Kendall), he accuses him of being out of uniform because he is not wearing his sidearms. In that particular scene, Marlow is wearing a cavalry sword. However, throughout the rest of the film Marlow does not wear any sidearms. Even when the Confederate forces are charging through the street and one of his junior officers offers him a pistol, he waves it off.
One of the more historically accurate scenes is the destruction of the railroad property at Newton Station. Some of the rails were heated, then bent (sometimes twisted in other instances) around the telegraph poles. This act produced what many soldiers would call "Sherman's neckties. Other soldiers took heated rails and threw then into water. Both actions were designed to render the rails--then made of iron, not steel-unusable. The iron rails would for the most part be too brittle to use again.
Grierson's Raid was a strategic success. Once he linked up with Union forces in Baton Rouge, he and his unit were attached to the forces of Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Banks had orders to capture the Confederate stronghold of Port Hudson, some 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, to open the Mississippi River. Grierson, now a Brigadier General, had an affinity for the bottle and was reportedly drunk during most of the Port Hudson Campaign (his service was recorded as "spotty"). Port Hudson surrendered, after the longest military siege in North America, to the Union forces only after learning that Vicksburg had fallen on July 4th.
Just prior to the start of production, Paramount Pictures filed an injunction against William Holden in an attempt to prevent the actor, under contract to the studio, from appearing in the Mirisch Company production, a United Artists release. A district court denied Paramount's request, clearing the way for Holden to appear in the film.
A tag closing of Marlowe and his troops riding into Baton Rouge was dropped, but John Ford never intended to shoot it, as it too closely mirrored the end of Battleground (1949) with the old, exhausted troops marching in as new, fresh troops march out.