Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Documentary Review: Civil War 1: The Cause: Ken Burns

This documentary begins with the story of Wilmer McLean as he lived near Manassas, and the war started mostly in his front year.  He moved away to a safer location--Appomattax Court House, and the war ended in his in his parlor where Lee surrendered to Grant.  McLean could say "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor".
Burns then explores the roots for the Civil War, which were laid in the constitution, when slavery was allowed to exist, and we in essence had two Americas.  Eli Whitney, and the  cotton gin made it so slavery could be economically feasible.  There are scenes from the history of slavery.  Not pleasant scenes, and talk of how difficult it would be to raise a family in this environment, where you could be sold, and separated, at the benefit of others.
Abolitionists were hated by the South.  In the book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe put in print what many felt, and effected a world with her words.  Even the Queen of England was moved by them.
Abraham Lincoln said in 1858:  A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
For many years there was a precarious balance in the federal government, slave vs free state.  Those in the North worried slavery would extend to the West, and those in the South that it wouldn't.
Alton, Illinois was the first town to see a man murdered because he was abolitionist.  He published a newspaper, and when a mob came to destroy the press, he went out to dissuade them with a pistol.  He was shot and killed.
It was declared Kansas could decide for themselves, slavery or free.  This lead to a bloody conflict that lasted over ten years, and is where John Brown got his start hacking people to death.  He took his abolitionist zeal to Harper's Ferry, Virginia, where he hoped to start a revolt of the slaves.  This did not happen, and he was captured, tried and hung for treason. 
The Republican party took advantage of a divided nation, and Abraham Lincoln won the presidency with 40 percent of the vote.  He was not on the ballot in five states.  Shortly after his election, and before his confirmation, states began to secede.
The conflict started in South Carolina.  The bombardment began at 4 a.m. April 12, 1861.  The next day, about 36 hours later the white flag went up, and Major Robert Anderson surrendered to General P.G.T. Beauregard.
The nation set about recruiting armies on both sides.  There was much enthusiasm.  General Winfield Scott of the Union side was hesitant to use the army, saying they were not an army, because of their newness.  Lincoln reminded him, "Your men are green it is true, but so are those of the enemy; you are all green alike."  Prominent citizens came to watch, the the Union forces initially succeeded.  However the day would belong to the Confederates as the Union army hit a Stonewall in General Thomas Jackson and his men.  They then succumbed to a counter attack, and ran back to Washington.
The war was going to be much more than a quick affair.  William Tecumseh Sherman asked for 200,000 men in the West, and predicted a long bloody affair.
This first episode ends with letter from Sullivan Ballou, written a week before his death at First Bull Run.  It starts:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
This begins one of the most enjoyed documentaries in American history, the telling of the Civil War.  Shelby Foote, Civil War historian adds little stories throughout, peppering the documentary.  The music from the era used in the documentary is also very compelling.  The Narrator is David McCullough.  Noted actors are used to read quotations form prominent men.  This documentary uses pictures, and not reenactors to show what is happening.  I like this and it makes the message more powerful.    

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