by Ken Burns
When The Civil War first appeared on PBS in the fall
of 1990, no one -- myself included -- was at all prepared for
the overwhelming national response that followed. The film was
then, as it is now, a timely reminder of the frightful cost
our ancestors had paid to make this nation a truly United
States. It is a chronicle of making permanent that which was
promised, but not delivered, in the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution.
In making this documentary we wanted to tell the story of the
bloodiest war in American history through the voices of the
men and women who actually lived through it. Each of them has
a story to tell and their lives are woven into the larger fabric
of the war.
As you view portions of the series in your classroom, your students
will meet men and women, many no older than they, for whom the
war was a very personal experience. They will meet individuals
like Elisha Hunt Rhodes
and Sam Watkins
who were just ordinary young men thrust into extraordinary circumstances
that changed their lives forever. They will also meet the heroes
of the Civil War, those who are said to have "made history",
and continue to capture students’ attention.
In this special classroom section designed just for educators,
you’ll find episode descriptions,
broken down chapter-by-chapter; episode specific discussion
questions; multidisciplinary lesson
plans newly created by award-winning educators; and activity
ideas from teachers who have been using the video series
for years. We’ve also created a unique search interface
with the Library of Congress’
extraordinary Civil War photography collection and have an extensive
list of resources to help students delve even more into the
rich and full history of the United States.
The series can’t replace the teacher or the classroom,
but in conjunction with what you as the teacher do, it can make
the era come alive in a way never before possible. In many ways,
the series asks as many questions as it answers and should serve
as a starting point for active learning and classroom discussion.
At the end of the series, I hope your students will have learned
not only about the war but also something about what it was
like to be alive in another time, a time when the future of
the country was in doubt and its fields and roads and churchyards
were battlefields. Most of all, I hope they will have learned
to recognize in the America of our own time echoes and effects
of those events that cost so many lives almost one hundred and
forty years ago.