Question of the Week: “The Civil War” by Ken Burns, 25 Years Later

200px-Civil_warAs I sat last night and watched the re-released historic documentary by Ken Burns, I was taken back to 1990.  At that time I was in the 8th grade and had an interest in history.  I can remember distinctly watching (as my VCR recorded each episode) on my small TV.  I still remember hearing the story of Sullivan Ballou and getting chills (still got them last night, even though I know it is just one of MANY similar stories).  The series and its stories hooked a young 14 year old, and today I am still hooked.

Many Civil War bloggers and historians have taken this opportunity to pick apart accuracy, interpretation and criticize the film for not focusing on slavery more.  I, for one, believe The Civil War holds up, even today.  Nothing is perfect for sure, but Ken Burns captured the interest of many Americans with his documentary.  And he did so by being historically accurate AND captivating.  Bringing the story of America’s greatest tragedy to a mass audience led to a deep interest by the general public in Civil War history and more importantly, Civil War battlefields, historic sites and preservation.  Just ask any Park Ranger who worked the front lines in 1990 and look at the founding of the Civil War Trust in 1991.

So, what are your thoughts on Ken Burns’ The Civil War 25 years later?  How did the mini-series shape your interest in the American Civil War?  Does it hold up? What would you change about it, if anything?

Be sure to watch Ken Burns’ The Civil War airing on PBS this entire week.  Also watch for previews of PBS’ new historic drama Mercy Street, based on a Civil War hospital located in Alexandria, VA, airing in January 2016.

9 Responses to Question of the Week: “The Civil War” by Ken Burns, 25 Years Later

  1. To me, it is art, as much as history. The presentation style was captivating: panning period photos, commentary with ‘colorful’ voices, panoramic scenes and the MUSIC. Years ago, I downloaded the CD and frequently play it on my iPod. The period will be forever tied to the Ashokan Farewell even though it is a ‘current’ composition. In addition, the series encouraged many of us to read Shelby Foote, Ed Bearss, Mary Chestnut, and other ‘voices’. Perhaps there are mistakes, but I love it as a colorful rendering of flesh and blood Americans.

  2. I was already almost 30 and working when I first saw the film. The music was amazingly powerful, perhaps one of the most iconic things about the program, but I was most taken with how many of my co-workers )who were definitely not Civil War readers, fans, buffs, or aficionados) were watching it.

    It still packs a potent punch.

  3. Just watched it again on Netflix, and I agree that it’s as good now as it was then. As an aside, it was watching the TV show “The Americans” during the Centennial (I was ~8 years old) that got me interested in the C/W. Wish it was on DVD :-).

  4. I was 48 when it first aired and was captivated. it rekindled my passion. Watched it, and it is still a thrilling event. I was the Union rep for the Lab guys in NYC who did the original film. Just can’t believe it was 25 years ago. Hope it boosts interest again.

  5. Count me as one who was a bit disappointed about the accuracy of the narration. However it was just as powerful and moving this time around.

  6. Ken burns civil was is a masterpiece. Best civil war film I ever saw. Watched last night mesmerized again. Can’t say the restoration is all that great. Still old fashioned TV dimensions. Same grainy civil war photography. Shelby foote looks worse than I remember. Bearss still talks like Richard Nixon . Love the music. Plenty of discussion about slavery. I am interested in the battles

  7. I love Ken Burn’s Civil War. When someone asks what resources they should use to get a basic overview of the war, my response is “Battle Cry of Freedom” by McPherson or Ken Burn’s Civil War. The odd thing for me about this documentary is that I didn’t see it until college…and I’d reading Civil War book for 10 years prior to college. Yikes! But I watched it, fell in love with the history, photos, and music and rushed down to Barnes and Noble to get my own copy. Overall, I think the film is pretty well balanced and I like that the episodes can “stand alone” if there’s just a certain section I want to re-watch. It’s been really exciting to see the semi-revived interest in the Civil War that has been prompted by this re-run – it’s a “hot topic” on Facebook and at a historical event last weekend I had so many people tell me they were looking forward to the re-run. That’s exciting to me!

  8. Good series, but full of little mistakes that one wonders how they got past the editors. For example, it was not the 138th Illinois that deserted after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, it was the 128th Illinois. Still, it was very entertaining.

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