The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns

Watch The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns

  • TV-14
  • 1990
  • 1 Season
  • 9.0  (18,149)

The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns is a landmark documentary series that first aired on PBS in 1990. Directed and produced by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, the series tells the story of the American Civil War through stunning visuals, stirring music, and the words of those who experienced it firsthand.

Narrated by David McCullough, The Civil War features an all-star cast of actors, including Sam Waterston, Jason Robards, Julie Harris, Morgan Freeman, Garrison Keillor, Arthur Miller, George Plimpton, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Horton Foote, Derek Jacobi, Colleen Dewhurst, Pamela Reed, M. Emmet Walsh, Hoyt Axton, Gene Jones, and Kurt Vonnegut. Through their readings of letters, diaries, and speeches from the era, they bring to life the people who fought and died in the great conflict that tore the United States apart.

The series spans nine episodes and nearly eleven hours, covering the war's causes, major battles, and aftermath. It also explores the personal stories of soldiers, civilians, and leaders on both sides of the conflict. From the opening shot of a single cannon firing at Fort Sumter to the haunting image of a lone bugler playing "Taps" on a battlefield strewn with corpses, The Civil War presents a rich, complex portrait of America's deadliest conflict.

At the heart of the series is the war itself, depicted through rare photographs, paintings, and contemporary accounts. Burns employs innovative techniques such as panning and zooming over still images, interspersing historical footage with reenactments, and using slow motion to highlight key moments of battle. The result is both cinematic and intimate, capturing not just the broad sweep of conflict, but also its devastating human toll.

The Civil War also examines the political and social landscape of the 1860s, exploring issues such as slavery, emancipation, and the role of women in wartime. We see the evolution of Abraham Lincoln from a hesitant leader to a powerful commander-in-chief, and the rise of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. We also witness the struggles of ordinary people caught up in the war's chaos, including slaves seeking freedom, families torn apart, and soldiers facing brutal conditions on the battlefield.

Throughout the series, the voice of historian Shelby Foote provides commentary on the war and its legacy. His folksy, erudite style adds a unique flavor to the proceedings, making even the most complex military strategy feel accessible and engaging.

The soundtrack of The Civil War is equally memorable, featuring a wide range of music from the period. From traditional folk songs to rousing military marches and mournful dirges, the music adds an emotional depth to the already powerful storytelling.

In the years since its debut, The Civil War has become a cultural touchstone in American history. Its influence can be seen in everything from the success of other documentary filmmakers to the renewed interest in Civil War reenactments and battlefield preservation. Its impact on public awareness and understanding of the war cannot be overstated.

In conclusion, The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns is a landmark documentary series that uses innovative techniques and an all-star cast to tell the story of America's deadliest conflict. Through stunning visuals, stirring music, and intimate portrayals of individual lives, it brings to life the epic struggle that defined a nation. Its enduring legacy continues to inspire and educate audiences today.

The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (9 episodes). The series first aired on September 23, 1990.

The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns
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The Better Angels of Our Nature, 1865
9. The Better Angels of Our Nature, 1865
September 27, 1990
In the bittersweet days after the war's end, the Union's triumphs quickly turns to sorrow. Just five days after victory, President Lincoln dies by the hand of John Wilkes Booth, and the nation's story is again changed forever. This final episode surveys the fates of the people who left their indelible marks on this remarkable era. And it leaves us with insights into the meaning of a conflict that helped make us the nation we are today.
War Is All Hell, 1865
8. War Is All Hell, 1865
September 27, 1990
Sherman's legendary "March to the Sea" portends the war's end, searing the heartland of Georgia and the Carolinas. Key Southern cities fall under General Grant's command, and General Lee's troops have nowhere left to flee. In the stillness of Appomattox Court House, Lee's dramatic surrender to Grant finally unfolds. As the news echoes through Washington, a plan for the South's revenge is hatched in the angry mind of a man named John Wilkes Booth.
Most Hallowed Ground, 1864
7. Most Hallowed Ground, 1864
September 26, 1990
The presidential campaign of 1864 finds a nation truly divided against itself, and Lincoln seems doomed to defeat. The Union armies have stalled, andpeople have turned against the war. Unexpectedly, eleventh-hour victories sway the votes Lincoln's way, and the flame of Confederate independence flickers out. In a personal blow to General Lee, his Virginia mansion is turned into Arlington National Cemetery, to assure that no one would ever live in the home again.
Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1864
6. Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1864
September 26, 1990
It's a chess game between two masters-- played out on the board of life. The Union's General Grant and the Confederacy's General Lee are a study in contrasts as they vie for victory. In one month's time, their armies suffer more casualties than in three years of war, but the impasse continues. A standoff at Petersburg and General Sherman's campaign through Georgia push the death toll higher, and hospitals are strained beyond belief. Lincoln's prospects for re-election fade, along with hope for the Union's survival.
The Universe of Battle, 1863
5. The Universe of Battle, 1863
September 25, 1990
The turning point of the war is reached at the legendary Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most awesome battles ever waged. While 150,000 men face death in Pennsylvania's fileds, the war spreads westward to Chattanooga and Chickamauga. As the Union drats more soldiers, riots rage in New York, and African American troops join the fight. At Gettysburg's cemetery, President Lincoln articulates the poignant hope "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Simply Murder, 1863
4. Simply Murder, 1863
September 25, 1990
Their names are etched forever in history-- Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg-- some of the Civil War's stormiest battlegrounds. While life in the South becomes more desperate, Northern opposition to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation also grows. The combat spearheaded by Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee brings the war to a fever pitch, and both sides strain with the weariness of so many years under siege.
Forever Free, 1862
3. Forever Free, 1862
September 24, 1990
Dark clouds of defeat hover over the Union Army as President Lincoln prepares the landmark Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves. While Lincoln waits for a victorious moment for this announcement, Union troops lose repeatedly to the brilliant generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Finally, with a victory at Antietam Creek, the bloodies day of the war gives way to the dawn of emancipation. The definition of freedom in America would never be the same again.
A Very Bloody Affair, 1862
2. A Very Bloody Affair, 1862
September 24, 1990
The war to preserve the Union becomes a war to free the slaves, and political fights become as fierce as those on the battlefield. The chains of slavery begin to crumble while the Confederacy struggles for recognition, and its resourceful army hands the Union critical defeats. New Weapons and strategies emerge, as ironclad ships do battle and Ulysses S. Grant wins at Shiloh. With unprecedented ferocity, the age of modern warfare takes hold.
The Cause, 1861
1. The Cause, 1861
September 23, 1990
The stage is set for war as the nation begins to tear apart. Opposition by the North to slavery in the South fuels a bitter debate, and the country wrestles with conflicts between the Union and States' rights. Commanding center stage are twering figures-- Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. From Harper's Ferry to Fort Sumter, the first chapters unfold in a conflict from which there would be no turning back.
Where to Watch The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns
The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns is available for streaming on the PBS website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, Google Play and Apple TV.
  • Premiere Date
    September 23, 1990
  • IMDB Rating
    9.0  (18,149)