Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns

Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns

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Director: Ken Burns

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Ken Burns' epic series begins with the causes of the Civil War in 1861 and ends with the war's aftermath in 1865. A combination of photographs, interviews, and narration create a sweeping historical documentary. Commentary and anecdotes by historian Shelby Foote add another level of authority to the film while providing the viewer insight into distant events and…  See more details below


Ken Burns' epic series begins with the causes of the Civil War in 1861 and ends with the war's aftermath in 1865. A combination of photographs, interviews, and narration create a sweeping historical documentary. Commentary and anecdotes by historian Shelby Foote add another level of authority to the film while providing the viewer insight into distant events and personalities. While Burns covers the major battles and personalities, he also emphasizes the plight of African-Americans and the common soldier. Each of the nine segments concentrates on a particular part of the war, allowing the viewer to isolate episodes of interest. For instance, episode five, The Universe of Battle, follows General Robert E. Lee into Pennsylvania for the devastating battle of Gettysburg. Social events are also given coverage. Each episode opens with a list of events simultaneously taking place around the world, while a more detailed treatment is provided for domestic affairs. Accounts of the draft riots in the North and famine in the South help to place the war within a larger social context. At the end of the nine episodes, Burns' ambitious series has offered a complete account of the causes of the war, the personalities of the generals and politicians who directed it, and the domestic and foreign events that shaped the war's outcome.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Emily Fisher
War may be hell, but it can make for great television, as Ken Burns proves in his masterful 11-hour PBS series chronicling the deadliest war in American military history. The Civil War was a landmark TV event that held record numbers of viewers riveted to their screens and reinvented the documentary form. Taking full advantage of the fact that the Civil War was the first war to be captured extensively on camera, Burns synthesizes evocative archival photographs (among them, Matthew Brady's emblematic images of Union soldiers) with diverse and illuminating narrative voices. Well-known actors read diary entries, letters from the front, official dispatches, and speeches from the era. These voice-over readings convey the full range of human fears and hopes of those shaping and being shaped by the war, while an engaging group of historians (most notably Shelby Foote) provide historical perspective. The result is a seamless collage that illuminates, with quiet nobility, this most painful chapter in our nation's past. It's been said that history belongs to the victors; like Homer before him, Burns demonstrates that a major chunk of it belongs to the best storytellers

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Pbs Home Video

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The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
DannyMac More than 1 year ago
Ken Burns has a gift for telling stories through period pictures and music. You will not find great detail in the battle plans that a book might use help you to understand why each was won or lost, but there are wonderful pictures of this time blended with stirring music to help express the emotion of this period in time. It also will not provide many reasons for why these men decided to fight; particularlly those in the south. However, it is a great collection well worth watching over and over again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As research material I found it especially useful, and I would highly recommend it as a learning tool for young students and adults. It's also just good movie-making, and it keeps you wanting to watch more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful storytelling, directly from personal accounts of a wide variety of fascinating characters of the era. A great addition to anyone's video library.
Tmech More than 1 year ago
The film from start to finish tells the whole story of the war from both sides, warts and all.
zoreck More than 1 year ago
This film has to be considered as one of the best films ever made telling the story of the Civil War" Burns relates a compelling history of the war by the use of personal accounts, exceptionally good pictures and music as he spins the history of the Civil War. It is the most referred to film by Civil War magazines, special issues released by papers and magazines and some books and historians.It is compelling, emotional and educational. It is not a film you can watch once. There is some detail to battles yet mostly people are focused on and how it affected them. Few realize the long term affect to the town of Gettysburg which was substantial Burns joins the club of silence as he stays on focus of the battle..It was there that the South lost the war. It is a film that has something for everyone. A very close second and at times I wonder if it is second is a series called the "Forgotten Battles" and generals of the Civil war. This deals far more on the battles.If you want the why's and wherefore's this is not for you. If you want a exceptional picture of the Civil War" this is a must have.
AndrewA More than 1 year ago
I rate it a 10 on a scale of 1to10
poughkeepsiejohn More than 1 year ago
Where do you begin with this series? It is still regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever made, certainly the greatest PBS show ever made. As a history lesson, it is invaluable. It even works on an entertaining level because it brings America's most threatening crisis to a personal view that everyone can comprehend. Ken Burns' "The Civil War" works on both levels. But even as a technical achievement, it is magnificent. Using still photographs from that period, with traditional roots music and actors as figures from that time, "The Civil War" allows us to use our imaginations and to realize how close this country came from becoming two seperate nations. And yes, it makes clear to all of us that slavery was the Number One issue of that war. Narrated by historian David McCulloch, the 11-hour series starts with the years before the war, how the issue slavery in the 1850's was pitting states against each other. It was an issue that many politicans, including President James Buchanan, refused to deal with. By 1860, the election of President Abraham Lincoln, known for his anti-slavery sympathies, sent shock waves through the South that their way of life was now threatened. Then came the firing at Fort Sumter, which according to the series resulted in no deaths. That's another thing about "The Civil War": it reveals facts that most of us probably never knew. Among the other facts the show reveals are that most of the 500,000 people who died during the war died from sickness or disease rather than battle wounds. It also shows how women played a major role in helping and supporting their men, including Mary Chestnutt and Red Cross nurse Clara Barton. As the series progresses, it becomes clear that the North probably could've won the war earlier and easier, since they had the manpower. Problem was, they didn't have the military leaders with the will to actually carry it out. The Union Army went through about ten different commanders before settling on Ulysses S. Grant, a failed businessman, whose persistance made Northern victories possible. The series also spends a lot of time on Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate Army. It mentions, among other things, that he hated slavery but he fought for the South because Virginia was his home and he wanted to defend it. For the first two years of the war, Lee demonstrated that the former Top Ten West Point cadet was one of the shrewdest, keenest and most respected military leaders America ever produced. When the war finally ended, Lee's mansion in Arlington, Virginia became The Arlington National Cemetary, America's most sacred ground, so that Lee and the Confederacy would never use it. "The Civil War" features many prominent actors as the voices of figures like Abe Lincoln (Sam Waterston), Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards), Mary Chestnutt (Julie Harris) and so on. However, the voice that seems so prominent in this series is Garrison Keillor, the host of "A Prairie Home Companion"; his Midwestern drawl makes him perfect doing a myriad of voices, mostly of Union soldiers. But Keillor's narration of Walt Whitman, whose experience of working in the hospital tending to the wounded soldiers, are the most memorable and heartbreaking. To Be Continued....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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ProfessorMS More than 1 year ago
Ken Burns recently updated this classic, and I was fortunate enough to be able to watch it again. It is one of my finest works of cinematography devoted to a documentary. It is comprehensive, and keeps ones interest, (especially if you happen to love history as much as I do). There is no one film that could cover the entire scope and span of the Civil War, but this one comes closest to the possibility. It relies on still photography, documents and commentary from one of our most imminent Civil War historians, Shelby Foote. It is, simply put, a masterpiece. This is Ken Burns' best work, and that is saying quite a lot. It gives you a much deeper understanding of the events of this war, and a greater appreciation of what all of the people endured that were involved, from slave to soldier, from commander to President, no one was left unaltered. It is not only the facts that make the difference, it is how they are presented. And no one does a better job of that than Ken Burns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Long live Shelby Foote. I am so sorry I never had the chance to see and hear you at a seminar or symposium, but as long this terrific film by Mr. Burns, and your great books exist, you will never be forgotten.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Ken Burns' Civil War is the best television documentary of all time. The enthralling interview/narration by Shelby Foote was totally engrossing. The words of Sam Watkins and Elisha Hunt Rhodes provided a rare and enjoyable view of the common infantryman. The Civil War is a masterpiece in film production as well as a original approach to film making. Highly recommended to all people with even a slight interest in the war. The soundtrack is very well composed the best song being "Ashokan Farewell" composed Jay Ungar. Ken Burns is truely the greatest documentary director and The Civil War is a testament to those Killer Angels, and the war fought by the Band of Brothers for the People, By the People and of the People.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My apologies for the interruption, but you should know there is no such word as "charish" in the English language. ("cherish" perhaps?) Our education system is denigrated enough as it is. If you wish to call yourself a teacher please try not to embarrass the profession.
Guest More than 1 year ago
History was never half as interesting as this! Ken Burns makes you feel as though you are reliving a time that made the United States proud and strong. Kids all over America should have this shown to them. You cant get this from reading it out of a book. SO much information. I felt it my duty to watch it right through the first time. A+ presentation along with letters home and all the sayins'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thank you, Mr. Burns, for bringing the Civil War to life in such an awesome way as you did in this series. I must say that I learned so much more about the Civil War from watching your documentary than I ever did years ago in high school. I could watch the series 50 times in a row and never grow tired of it. I really wished I could have met Shelby Foote before he passed away. He was an extremely knowledgeable individual on the Civil War. May Shelby rest in peace, and may you be applauded on your magnificent work!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Concerned parent'- It seems exceedingly ironic that you, a person set upon bolstering our education system against outside 'denigration', would participate in the very act you so hope to abolish. Perhaps it is not the innocent typo of a history teacher but the arrogant and condescending attitudes of people like you that need improvement. If your goal was simply to reveal your over-inflated ego, you were successful. If your goal truly is to enhance the impoverished state of our nation's teacher, correcting typos probably is not the best place to start. Great film by the way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This series is the reason I love history and THE reason studying the American Civil War became my hobby. Ken Burns created a masterpiece when he made this film. It's also his fault that I spent all my birthday money on one thing the year this originally came out on DVD "haha!". Burns has gone on to make many more outstanding documentaries, but this The Civil War is his crowning achievement. Everyone should watch this film as a resource to show what this country has gone through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
They don't teach UK kids about the American Civil War but after seeing this wonderful piece of Television history as a 6th former (17-18yo), I have spent many years visiting the US whenever I can, travelling around civil war battlefields and places of historical importance and seeing the sites that I saw on film. I recall the first time I stood at Gettysburg and looked out across the fields and then shed a quiet tear as I contemplated the bravery and belief that led men to walk to their almost certain deaths to make a stand at what both sides felt was right. Well done Ken on this achievement and goodbye to Mr. Foote who made me smile every time he spoke with his gentle demeanour and rye smile. God Bless you all
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having worn out my VHS copies, I thought it was time to move on to the DVD version. Treated myself for Christmas to this set. Pictures are crystal clear, sound is fine, enjoying the program all over again.
Steve869 More than 1 year ago
All I have to say is that this fine work should be mandatory viewing for all Americans, it will change your life and the way you think about America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best documentary ever made about anything. It's a must for history lovers. It's all you'll need to study the Civil War. I watch it every year.
SantaBearBoston More than 1 year ago
At almost 20 years old, this is still an amazing accomplishment. If you have any interest in our country's history, get this documentary!
jayharns More than 1 year ago
This production was the most "pure American history" I've ever viewed. It brings the Civil War period of our history "back" to a reality. The progression of the true story of the War, along with the depth of the research and inclusion of the "story tellers", well presents the story of the American Civil War.