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
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
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
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.