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Ken Burns on PBS
The Civil War. A Film by Ken Burns
Images of the Civil War
The Film, Past and Present
The War
The Filmmakers
In the Classroom
Using the Series
Classroom Activities
Civil War in Your Town

Episode One: The Cause
Slaves at work on Pope's Plantation near Hilton Head, South Carolina
Beginning with a searing indictment of slavery, this first episode dramatically evokes the causes of the war, from the Cotton Kingdom of the South to the northern abolitionists who opposed it. Here are the burning questions of Union and States’ rights, John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the firing on Fort Sumter and the jubilant rush to arms on both sides. Along the way the series’ major figures are introduced: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and a host of lesser-known but equally vivid characters. The episode comes to a climax with the disastrous Union defeat at Manassas, Virginia, where both sides now learn it is to be a very long war.

Detailed Episode Description with time code:

Prologue :00 -:01:29
Anecdote about Wilmer McLean who "could rightfully say, 'the war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor."'

1.1 Chapter 1 - THE CIVIL WAR Series Title
:01:30 - 10:20
Introduction to the war and to the important characters in the series.

1.2 Chapter 2 - The Cause
:10:21 - :12:28
America in 1861-most of the nation's 31 million people live peaceably on farms and in small towns.

1.3 Chapter 3 - All Night Forever
:12:29 - :19:12
The brutal reality of slavery and its importance to the Southern cotton economy; the invention of the cotton gin.

1.4 Chapter 4 - Are We Free? :19:13 - :23:35
The abolitionist movement: William Lloyd Garrison starts publishing The Liberator in 1831. Rise of Harriet Tubman, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass. Growing rift between North and South over slavery. Death of Elija P. Lovejoy, white abolitionist. Introduction to John Brown.

1.5 Chapter 5 - A House Divided :23:36 - :27:45
Events leading up to secession: Uncle Tom's Cabin published in 1850; Supreme Court's Dred Scott Decision; political conflict over entry of new states in the Union. In 1858 Lincoln writes, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

1.6 Chapter 6 - The Meteor :27:46 - :32:43
John Brown raids the arsenal at Harper's Ferry in 1859, and is captured by Colonel Robert E. Lee. The Southern militia now becomes a viable instrument; it is the beginning of the Confederate army.

1.7 Chapter 7 - Secessionitis :32:44 - :47:10
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln is elected President. The South is horrified. Introduction to George Templeton Strong, New York lawyer, and diarist. Seven Southern states secede in the time between Lincoln's election and inauguration. The Confederacy inaugurates Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis as President. Introduction to Mary Chesnut, wife of a prominent Southern planter and diarist.

1.8 Chapter 8 - 4:30 a.m. April 12, 1861 :47:11 - :52:09
Southern artillery attack a battalion of Northern troops inside Fort Sumter, off the coast of South Carolina in the first battle of the Civil War. When Union forces surrender, the South is jubilant. Walt Whitman writes, "all the past we leave behind with Sumter."

1.9 Chapter 9 - Traitors and Patriots :52:10 - 1:04:16
Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers -- Davis asks for 100,000. Introductions to: Northern soldier (and diarist) Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Southern soldier (and diarist) Sam Watkins. U.S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Robert E. Lee.

1.10 Chapter 10 - Gun Men 1:04:17 - 1:12:17
The first Union troops arrive in Washington. Wherever the Union army goes in the South, slavery crumbles. Slaves fleeing their plantations for the Union lines are considered "contraband" of war and are not returned to their former owners.

1.11 Chapter 11 - Manassas 1:12:18 - 1:24:07
When the Union army marches into Virginia, Confederate troops engage them at the Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. The battle, thanks in part to "Stonewall" Jackson, is a Southern victory with an unprecedented 5,000 casualties. Union troops limp back to Washington.

1.12 Chapter 12 - A Thousand Mile Front
1:24:08 - 1:31:17
General George McClellan takes command of the Union army with an elaborate plan to destroy the Confederacy, but does nothing. U.S. Grant is assigned to desk duty; William T. Sherman resigns, close to suicide.

1.13 Chapter 13 - Honorable Manhood 1:31:18 - 1:34:50
Sullivan Ballou, a Northern soldier, writes a letter home to his wife before the Battle of Bull Run.

Click here for the Educator's Index PDF (208k)
[The Educator's Index is an alphabetical and timecode specific listing of topics covered in each episode.]

Copyright 2002 WETA. All rights reserved.