Ken Burn’s “The Civil War” is probably one of the best made to re-tell one of the most tragic periods in American history. Ken Burns delivers an impressive undertaking, retelling the story of the Civil War in the eyes of the Generals, leadership and presidents of both the Union and the South, but also through the letters, memoirs, and stories from the perspective of the soldiers who fought the war and the people within whom were affected by its destructive imprint upon the American landscape. It’s represented through photographs, paintings, newspaper clippings, with traditional era music such as “ Battle Cry of Freedom”, “ Lorena”, and “ When Johnny Comes Marching Home” just to select a few.
Voices will be heard that will be very recognizable to most, David McCullough who was the main narrator, Julie Harris as the voice of Mary Chestnut, Morgan Freeman as Fredrick Douglas, Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln, George Black as Robert E Lee, Chris Murney as Elisha Hunt Rhoades through his diaries, and Paul Roebling as Sullivan Ballou. There are notable historians whom also give their expertise such as legendary Civil War historian Shelby Foote, Barbra Fields, Ed Bearss, Stephen B Oates and a myriad of others that were splendidly molded into the fluid dictation of the documentary. The amount of research and careful diligence in depicting the war from its beginning to its end was immense, and as it is viewed, you can tell Ken Burns combed thousands of books, autobiographies, and historical documents to showcase the war in its colossal magnitude.
This documentary is not only easy to follow, it is also extremely educational in that, many viewers will probably learn more than what they thought they knew, for Ken Burns does not leave any imagined detail out from this film. Ken Burns outlined the war from the first episode, “ The Cause” where Abraham Lincoln had become president in the 1860’s, facing social, economic, and political enormity attempting to keep the Union of the United States together. It continues to the very first shot of the war, Fort Sumter, and then moves on to the worst battles of the war to include an entire episode about the battle of Gettysburg, where ultimately, the fortunes of the Confederate army was arguably destroyed for the rest of the Civil War from thereon out. The final part of the documentary was Lincoln’s assassination that is generally believed to be the last shot of the war.
I would say the most notable presentation was an excerpt from Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife Sarah, written a week before he was to participate in The Battle of Bull Run in which he unfortunately lost his life during the engagement. The song, “Askokan Farewell” plays, while a hauntingly reading of the letter was probably the most gripping; the poetic nature of the men whom lived then is mind boggling yet leaves us with a pretty sobering historical context as to the emotions and thoughts of the war.