Lincoln’s Death, New Nation: April 1865 to 1877

Modern-Day Movies

If that is true, then how do we account for the amazing success of Ken Burns’ The Civil War?

For four nights in October 1990, the American television audience was seized by a fever, almost a mania, for the war. Ken Burns had already developed a reputation as a solid filmmaker, but his four-part series exceeded expectations and confounded the critics. Who wanted to see one more rerun of all the terrors of the events of 1861 to 1865, the critics asked. ‘Almost everybody’ was the answer.

The still-life photography, accompanied by sounds that were both lonesome and stirring, was part of the reason. Another was the fine narration by the seasoned historian David McCullough. He was already known as the author of several well-received books, but he had not yet written John Adams, Truman, or 1776, all of which enhanced his standing even more. Yet another, often overlooked reason was that the United States was, in that very month, girding itself in preparation for what would become known as the Persian Gulf War. Many soldiers and their families took time out to view Ken Burns’ masterpiece just before departing for the Middle East.


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