The Civil War, Ken Burns

I borrowed my mother’s DVDs of The Civil War when I went on vacation and just now finished it.  Of course, I had seen most of it before, but always in bits and pieces.  Not full episodes in order.

The episodes are broken out by year, so it is mostly chronological.  There are some exceptions.  For example, I was rather rankled that 1864 ended without mention of the Battle of Franklin, but that turned up in the 1865 piece.

Burns pulls together artists to read the first person narratives   Morgan Freeman reads for Frederick Douglass, and a few other African Americans of the time.  Julie Harris reads for Mary Chestnut (I really have to pick up her diaries) and some other southern ladies.  It was distracting when their rather distinctive voices were reading for more than one person. I got over it.  Oh, and Jason Robards read for General Grant, which was awesome.

The visuals are photographs, panning in and out and from one side to another, which was fine.  And there was also video footage – some was modern landscape of the battlefields and landscape and some was footage of the aged soldiers from early in the last century.

Finally, we have the historians, like the famous Shelby Foote, give some perspective.  David McCullough narrates the entire thing. 

As a pretend student of history, I found it all very effective and entertaining.  Although it probably took me so long to get through because I still get emotionally involved in the stories.  If my perspective changed on anyone, it was General Sherman.  I never liked him much, which I imagine is primarily due to too much Gone with the Wind in my youth.  But two things about him stand out:

First, when the rest of the Union was…well, mean to General Grant..to him or about him, Sherman always had his back.  When Grant was benched for no good reason, when the rumors about the booze ran rampant, when people called him a butcher.  Sherman was always his friend.  I like that.  Also, Sherman was the first guy to say out loud and in public that this was going to be a long and ugly war.  People gave him such a hard time for speaking what he knew to be true and he fell into a deep depression.  But Dude was right, and I have some sympathy.

I was hoping for some more on General Longstreet, but no dice.

I couldn’t watch this over and over like a TV show, but to revisit every few years might be interesting.  But seriously, I have books to read.

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