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The Civil War

Airs Sunday, April 3 - Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Promotional photo of a Civil War cannon.

On the 150th anniversary of the beginning of America’s Civil War, PBS will re-broadcast Ken Burns’ entire landmark 1990 series. Burns’ epic documentary brings to life America’s most destructive — and defining — conflict.

Filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Shelby Foote, a commentator in "The Civil War," photographed in 1989.
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Above: Filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Shelby Foote, a commentator in "The Civil War," photographed in 1989.

"The Civil War" is the saga of celebrated generals and ordinary soldiers, a heroic and transcendent president and a country that had to divide itself in two in order to become one. Voices for the series include Sam Waterston, Jason Robards, Julie Harris, Jeremy Irons, Morgan Freeman, Paul Roebling, Garrison Keillor, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur Miller and Studs Terkel. Historian David McCullough narrates.

Episode One: "The Cause - 1861" airs Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 9 p.m.

What caused the war? Beginning with an examination of slavery, this episode looks at the causes of the war and the burning questions of union and states’ rights. John Brown leads a rebellion at Harper’s Ferry, Abraham Lincoln is elected president, Fort Sumter is fired upon and both sides rush to arms. Introducing the series’ major figures — Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant — the episode concludes with the disastrous Union defeat at Manassas, where both sides realize it is to be a very long war.

Lincoln and McClellan confer in the generals headquarters tent at Antietam on October 4, 1862.
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Above: Lincoln and McClellan confer in the generals headquarters tent at Antietam on October 4, 1862.

Episode Two: “A Very Bloody Affair - 1862” airs Monday, April 4 at 9 p.m.

The year 1862 brings the birth of modern warfare and the transformation of Abraham Lincoln’s war to preserve the Union into a war to emancipate the slaves. Political infighting threatens to swamp Lincoln’s administration, and Union General George McClellan wages an ill-fated campaign on the Virginia peninsula. The episode follows the battle of ironclad ships, camp life and the beginning of the end of slavery. Ulysses S. Grant’s exploits come to a bloody resolution at the Battle of Shiloh, and rumors swarm about Europe’s readiness to recognize the Confederacy.

5th Vermont at Camp Griffin.
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Above: 5th Vermont at Camp Griffin.

Episode Three: “Forever Free - 1862” airs Monday, April 4 at 10:15 p.m.

Convinced by July 1862 that emancipation is now morally and militarily crucial to the future of the Union, Abraham Lincoln must wait for a victory to issue his proclamation. But there are no Union victories to be had, thanks to the brilliance of Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. With Lee’s September 1862 invasion of Maryland, the bloodiest day of the war takes place on the banks of Antietam Creek, followed shortly by the brightest — the emancipation of the slaves.

Episode Four: “Simply Murder - 1863” airs Tuesday, April 5 at 9 p.m.

A nightmarish Union disaster at Fredericksburg precedes two clashes in the spring of 1863: at Chancellorsville in May, where Robert E. Lee wins his most brilliant victory but loses Stonewall Jackson; and at Vicksburg, where Ulysses S. Grant is prevented from taking the city by siege. There is fierce northern opposition to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and increasing desperation on the Confederate home front. Lee decides to invade the North again to draw Grant’s forces away from Vicksburg.

Provost Guard of the 107th Colored Infantry at Fort Corcoran, part of the defenses of Washington
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Above: Provost Guard of the 107th Colored Infantry at Fort Corcoran, part of the defenses of Washington

Episode Five: “The Universe of Battle - 1863” airs Tuesday, April 5 at 10:15 p.m.

The Battle of Gettysburg is the turning point of the war. For three days, 150,000 fight to the death in the Pennsylvania countryside culminating in Pickett’s legendary charge. Vicksburg falls to Union forces, draft riots rage in New York, black troops join the fight for the first time and western battles transpire at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. At the dedication of a new Union cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln struggles to put into words what is happening to his people.

Episode Six: “Valley of the Shadow of Death - 1864” airs Wed., April 6 at 9 p.m.

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee are pitted against each other in an extraordinary series of battles from the wilderness to Petersburg in Virginia. With Grant and Lee finally deadlocked at Petersburg, we move to the ghastly hospitals in both the North and South, and follow Sherman’s Atlanta campaign through the mountains of northern Georgia. As the horrendous casualty lists increases, Abraham Lincoln’s chance for re-election begins to dim and with them, the possibility of Union victory.

Episode Seven: “Most Hallowed Ground - 1864” airs Wed., April 6 at 10:15 p.m.

The presidential campaign of 1864 sets Abraham Lincoln against his old commanding general, George McClellan. The stakes are nothing less than the survival of the Union itself. Opinion in the North has turned strongly against Lincoln and the war, but 11th-hour Union victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta and the Shenandoah Valley tilt the election to Lincoln, and the Confederacy’s last hope for independence dies. In an ironic twist, Robert E. Lee’s Arlington mansion is turned into a Union military hospital and the estate becomes Arlington National Cemetery — the Union’s most hallowed ground.

General Robert E. Lee, photographed by Mathew Brady on the back porch of his Richmond home, one week after surrendering his army.
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Above: General Robert E. Lee, photographed by Mathew Brady on the back porch of his Richmond home, one week after surrendering his army.

Episode Eight: “War Is All Hell - 1865” airs Thurs., April 7 at 9 p.m.

William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea brings war to the heart of Georgia and the Carolinas and spells the end of the Confederacy. Following Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, Petersburg and Richmond finally fall to Ulysses S. Grant’s army. Robert E. Lee’s tattered Army of Northern Virginia flees westward towards Appomattox, where the surrender of Lee to Grant takes place. Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth begins to dream of vengeance for the South.

Episode Nine: “The Better Angels of Our Nature - 1865” airs Thurs., April 7 at 10: 15 p.m.

On April 14, five days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Lincoln is buried, John Wilkes Booth is captured and the war finally comes to a close. The series ends by considering the consequences and meaning of a war that transformed the country from a collection of states to the nation it is today.

Video

Ken Burns discusses his Emmy winning series "The Civil War"

Above: Burns’s epic documentary brings to life America’s most destructive — and defining — conflict. "The Civil War" is the saga of celebrated generals and ordinary soldiers, a heroic and transcendent president and a country that had to divide itself in two in order to become one.