The Civil War (1990)

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Directed by Ken Burns.  A production of Florentine Films, in association with WETA Washington, DC.

"In our youth," said Oliver Wendell Holmes, "our hearts were touched with fire." Starting with Holmes's words, Ken Burns's award-winning series The Civil War is a landmark among US film documentaries, seen by tens of millions of viewers on PBS and video. Combining a wealth of archival photographs and the moving words of Union and Confederate participants, it reveals how the cataclysmic war both ended slavery and reshaped American identity for South and North alike.


Excerpt One, from Episode One, The Cause (1861)


This excerpt provides an overview of the series and ends with 1938 newsreel footage of Civil War veterans commemorating the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.


Excerpt Two, from Episode One, The Cause (1861)


Honorable Manhood
We hear a letter written on July 14, 1861 – a week before the battle of Bull Run - by Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, to his wife. The letter includes Sullivan’s parting words, to be delivered in the event he did not return from the battlefield.


Excerpt Three, from Episode Nine, The Better Angels of Our Nature (1865)


In the final days of the war, 21-year-old Sam Watkins, member of the Maury Grays, First Tennessee regiment, writes in his diary, lamenting the circumstances and consequences of the conflict. Historians Barbara Fields and Shelby Foote discuss how the Civil War defined us as a nation.

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