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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

For Students: What You Will See

At 4:30 a.m. on the twelfth of April 1861, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard directed his Confederate gunners to open fire on Fort Sumter, at that hour only a dark shape out in Charleston Harbor. Thirty-four hours later, a white flag over the fort ended the bombardment. It was a bloodless opening to the bloodiest war in American history.

The Civil War changed everything. It saw the end of slavery and the downfall of a southern planter aristocracy. It saw the rise of a new political and economic order, and the beginning of big industry, big business, and big government. It was the first modern war, and, for Americans, the costliest, yielding the most American casualties and the greatest domestic suffering, spiritually and physically.

The Civil War is a nine-part television series that will take you back in time to five years during the 1860s when the United States of America was nearly torn apart. The Civil War defined the country forever as a union from which no state has a right to secede. It abolished slavery and had a profound impact on the Constitution by setting the stage for the eventual extension of civil rights to almost the entire adult population regardless of race, sex, religion, or property. In the eyes of many historians, the Civil War was the event that created modern America.

The Americans who lived at the time of the war had no telephones, when they needed to communicate over a distance, they wrote letters. Many people in the 19th century also kept journals of their daily lives. Most of what you will see and hear in the series is what was seen and thought (or said, or written) by people who were living through it.

The words of these "witnesses" to the war are read by a group of actors including Morgan Freeman, Sam Waterston and Jeremy Irons. Usually, at the end of the quote, the reader will verbally identify the person who originally spoke or wrote the words. The remainder of the sound track is made up of narrative, read by historian David McCullough, and music from the period of the Civil War.

The series is chronological; it follows the events of the war in the order in which they happened.

Each of the programs is divided into "chapters," which are announced by the appearance on the screen of the chapter title. These "chapters" focus on a major event, theme, or personality.

Throughout the program you will meet men and women, for whom the war was the entire world at a certain time in their lives. They are not all famous. Some are white, some black, some obscure, some important, some wise, some fools. Each of them has a story to tell, and their stories are woven into the larger fabric of the story of the war.
Copyright 2002 WETA. All rights reserved.