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Ken Burns on PBS
The Civil War. A Film by Ken Burns
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Discussion Questions

The following questions, adapted from the original Civil War teaching materials, were designed to help teachers initiate a classroom discussion following each episode.

Episode One: The Cause (1861)
1) Consider the events leading, directly or indirectly, to the Civil War. Was slavery the main issue for the war’s beginning? What were other contributing factors?
2) If slavery began in this country in 1619, why did it take 200 years for it to become such a divisive issue? What specific events helped to make slavery an issue of public debate? Why did white people in the South believe that their liberty required the continuation of slavery?
3) Do your students agree or disagree with Lincoln’s idea that in a constitutional democracy no section of the nation is free to break away--that to attempt to leave is rebellion.
4) Why did the spirit of compromise which had helped the nation avoid civil war in earlier crises totally break down by 1860?

Episode Two: A Very Bloody Affair (1862)
1) Research the major battles that occurred during the first part of 1862. What were they? Why were they so significant?
2) Why is the Civil War often considered to be the first modern war? Research the technology of war at the time -- weapons, ships, transportation and medical practice. Why were the casualties of the war so terribly high?
3) Consider the quote from Frederick Douglass, "Any attempt now to separate the freedom of the slave from the victory of Government; any attempt to secure peace to the whites while leaving the blacks in chains will be labor lost." Discuss the meaning of the quotation. Could the war have ended without the freeing of the slaves?

Episode Three: Forever Free (1862)
1) Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant are known as the two great generals of the Civil War. What traits did they exhibit? What personality traits make a good leader?
2) What factors it difficult for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation even though he was personally against slavery? Did he fear that freeing the slaves would mean the dissolution of the union?
3) Who were the abolitionists? Where and when did the movement begin? What were the risks of being part of the Underground Railroad?

Episode Four: Simply Murder (1862)
1) Why did the North have to resort to conscription in 1863? Do students believe the government should have the power of conscription? At what point can the state impose on your liberty in order to defend the nation?
2) What was the cause of the Richmond bread riots? Why was the South so harshly affected by inflation? When did the Confederates begin using their own currency?
3) Who were the "Copperheads"? What ideals did they stand for? How can a country in the midst of a civil war allow for freedom of expression?

Episode Five: The Universe of Battle (1863)
1) Why was the Battle of Gettysburg such an important northern victory? How did Lincoln view the victory? Who took responsibility for the Confederate defeat?
2) In what ways did women contribute to the war effort? How do women participate in war today? Have their roles changed? What issues did the Civil War feminists address?
3) The Shakers during the Civil War had been called the first conscientious objectors. What does this term mean? If the US issued a draft tomorrow, which students would consider themselves conscientious objectors? Would it make a difference what the war was about? Is war morally right at certain times and morally wrong at others?

Episode Six: Valley of the Shadow of Death (1864)
1) How did supplies reach troops during the Civil War? What types of supplies would troops need in order to fight a war? How did the Union blockades affect the flow of supplies into the South?
2) The Civil War often split families apart. Where do students think one’s loyalty should lie-- with one’s family or one’s country?
3) Trace Sherman’s advance through the South. Which major cities lay in his path? Why do some southerners, even today, consider him the greatest villain of the war?

Episode Seven: Most Hallowed Ground (1864)
1) Who was nominated by the Democratic Party for president in 1864? Why did Lincoln choose a Democrat for a running mate? What did it demonstrate about the Republicans’ faith in Lincoln’s popularity?
2) Why was Lincoln pressured to drop emancipation as a condition for peace with the South? What other factors were hurting Lincoln’s chances for re-election?
3) What implications can be drawn from Lincoln’s landslide victory?
4) What were conditions like at Andersonville Prison? Why are there prisoners taken during wartime? What obligations do captors have to their prisoners?

Episode Eight: War is All Hell (1865)
1) What was the significance, respectively, of the fall of Savannah, Charleston, and Richmond?
2) What was the importance of the Freedmen’s Bureau?
3) Compare and contrast Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with his Second Inaugural Address. What is the theme of each? How do they differ?

Episode Nine: The Better Angels of Our Nature (1865)
1) Where did the phrase "reconstruction" come from? What were the purposes of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments?
2) What were the Jim Crow laws and how did they affect the lives of southern blacks? What did "separate but equal" mean?
3) Why do we commemorate wars? How is it important to a country and to its veterans?


Copyright 2002 WETA. All rights reserved.