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The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns
The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns
Actors: David McCullough, Sam Waterston, Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman, Garrison Keillor
Genres: Educational, Documentary, Military & War
NR     2002     11hr 20min

Hailed as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling, Ken Burns's epic documentary brings to life America's most destructive-- and defining--conflict. With digitally enhanced images and new stereo sound, he...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: David McCullough, Sam Waterston, Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman, Garrison Keillor
Genres: Educational, Documentary, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Educational, Civil War, Military & War
Studio: PBS Home Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 09/17/2002
Original Release Date: 09/23/1990
Theatrical Release Date: 09/23/1990
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 11hr 20min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 5
SwapaDVD Credits: 5
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 38
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Can I give it More than 5 stars?
Patrick A. Hayden | Arlington, VA United States | 10/31/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I remember watching this documentary by Ken Burns when it first appeared on PBS in 1990. It started my lifelong interest in the Civil War. Countless books and trips to battlefields later, it still stands as the finest general work on the war ever made. The story of the war is told through pictures, narratives, and the unobtrusive narration by David McCoulough, who's voice is pitch pefect for the job. Never before have photos had such a dramatic effect in telling a story. They say a picture says a thousand words, and this series prove that maxim correct. The five discs cover the 5 years of the war, and the 9 parts of teh series. The most effective are "1861: The Cause", "1863: The Universe of Battle", and "1865: The Better Angels of our Nature". They cover the events that led up to the war, the turining points at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the end and aftermath of the war. Each is suprememly emotional. One episode intersperses an old narrative from the daughter of a former slave as she remembers her father's stories. Shelby Foote, author of the most comprehensive book on the war, offers invaluable advice. High praise must also go to Sam Waterston, who voices Abraham Lincoln. In the final segment of the 1863 disc, Waterston recites the Gettysburg Address, and I must admit it brought me to tears.The music is also a key factor to the success of the film. Burns went back and found the old music that was popular among the people and the soldiers, both North & South during the war. It is moving, from the haunting opening music, to the old spirituals that are found on disc 2's "1862: Forever Free". Add that to a stable of great voice actors, (besides Waterston, Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass and George Plimpton as George Tempelton Strong are standouts), and the film becomes almost magical, transporting the viewer to those 4 horrible years that changed the Nation forever.

The Civil War is the most important saga in American History, and this documentary gives the people who fought it and the effect the War had on the US as a people the proper historical weight and respect. It deserves a place on any amatuer historians shelf."
Should Be In Everyone's Collection
Samurai | 10/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Whereas critics may have chirped at Ken Burns' other documentaries like 'Jazz' or 'New York', there is virtually universal praise for this single, spectacular masterpiece. Not only is the Civil War brought to life but by the end of the entire 11 hour series you feel like you've been through the war itself.The most important achievement of the documentary is showing how the war, with all its carnage, achieved the higher purpose of freeing the slaves. While the war may have started with the notion of keeping the tattered union together, it eventually brought societal, constitutional, economic, and medical changes that would have otherwise not come about had their not been a war. It truly was the birth of a "new freedom".You watch as new innovative tactics are introduced out of sheer necessity. You see thousands of men using outdated tactics (charging a defense line with your bayonet) are mowed down by new weapons such as the gattling gun and the Repeating Rifle. You witness the banality of siege warfare as implemented by Gen. George McClellan. And you contrast that with maneuver warfare brilliantly executed by Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest. You learn how the generals (and the country at large) grew to appreciate and utilize the telegram. You learn from General Lee how to lead from the front and how a few men effectively positioned can hold off 100 men. You witness how incompetent Union generals nearly lost the war to an inferior army. With only a rudimentary understanding in medicine, tens of thousands died from disease and from reparable surface wounds. However, without the enormous loss of life, we would have never made the medical and tactical advances that the war brought on.More than any other character in the documentary, I enjoyed historian Shelby Foote the most. His amusing Mississippi drawl and the way he personalized the war made you realize the humanity of these legendary figures. He also highlighted how resentment towards blacks lasted for decades after the war (how the south still hates Lincoln, how Vicksburg refused to celebrate 4th of July for 80 years). You cannot possibly begin to understand US History until you have faithfully studied the Civil War. Thank you Ken Burns."
A must for anyone?s video collection.
dsrussell | Corona, CA. United States | 05/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I could kick myself for not recording this PBS special when it aired almost ten years ago. Luckily, I was able to purchase this magnificent documentary, and I can tell you all that it is well worth the steep purchase price.Ken Burns' artistic creation seems to be the standard by which all other documentary films are judged. It was a landmark film disecting a very complex subject. Using actors to read actual letters and quoting dialog from the war's participants, while showing the viewer startling photographs from the war, was a brilliant stroke. And the commentaries sprinkled throughout by the historians, especially Foote, gleaned an insight not often found in documentary films, and brought vividly to life the great battles and the terrible human cost that the people of the era (both male and female / north and south) had suffered.If one wants to see how our nation grew up and is the country we have today, look no further than this epic as a starting point. I would also recommend the four-hour movie "Gettysburg", taken almost word-for-word from the late Michael Shaara's pulitzer prize novel "The Killer Angels", as a fine companion piece."The Civil War" documentary (nine video tapes--approximately 15 hours of viewing time) is a fine beginning for anyone thirsting for knowledge about our history. Those interested in the "Old West" may also get an insight, or at least an understanding, of where some of the most notorious outlaws and lawmen sprang, and possibly why they felt human life was so dirt-cheap.Between 1 and 10, "The Civil War" rates the highest level possible. If films like these were available when I was going to school, maybe I wouldn't have napped so often in history class."
Superb film about the event that made America a nation
Charles Ashbacher | Marion, Iowa United States( | 06/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As a child of the public school system of the United States and with children now in school, I can accurately state that the real history of the American civil war is not being taught. In general, students are told that it was largely about slavery and the rights of blacks. Nothing could be further from the truth. The abolitionist movement was rather small and some of the antiwar riots that took place in the North were due largely to the resentment of men who did not want to fight and die for the blacks. This and many other misconceptions are set straight in this film series.
The causes and consequences of the war are presented in great detail, with an emphasis on historical accuracy. Even almost fifteen decades later, it is sad to watch the first episode and the events leading to the states seceding from the union. It is amazing to realize that there was still strong sentiment in most states for staying in the union. It is overstating to stay that the majority was pro-union, but it is accurate to say that the majority of white people in the Confederate States were not in favor of seceding in 1861.
In the beginning very few thought the war would last more than a few months, and there were some who thought that it would end with a peaceful political settlement. William Tecumseh Sherman was considered unfit for duty when he stated that it would be a long and bloody fight. As the events unfold, one cannot help but draw comparisons with the events in Europe in August 1914. As the armies of Europe marched off to war waved on by cheering crowds, no one thought that it would end four years later with one side totally destroyed after horrendous slaughter.
The civil war was the first war where massive citizen armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands clashed. In this tape you see scenes that could pass for what happened fifty years later in the fields of northwest France. Extensive fortifications of trenchworks, reinforced by barricades and stretching for miles. Dead men are left strewn across fields after leaving their fortifications to attack the enemy in their trenches. It amazes me to think that the Europeans repeated the American experience in world war one, somehow still believing that courage was strong enough to defeat armed men behind barricades.
The course of the war leads many different ways, but most often union defeats at the hands of dashing, talented Confederate military leaders. George McClelland has to go down as the greatest example of arrogant ineptitude in American history. Had he acted with anything approaching the dash of Lee, the war could have been ended in the first year. So many things went wrong, and yet in the end, as long as no other country intervened, a union victory was assured.
The conclusion put forward in the final tape is a bit overstated, but it is accurate. Before the war, the United States was a political entity where the emphasis was on the states. After the war was over, the emphasis was on the united, as it was the single event that forged a nation. No longer was a person first and foremost a Virginian or a Texan, forever more they would be an American from Texas or an American from Virginia.
Despite years of reading about the civil war, I still learned many aspects of the war from this tape, The producers have created a documentary masterpiece that should be required viewing of all citizens, current and potential."