The Civil War

Over the weekend PBS re-broadcast the entire The Civil War series by Ken Burns and of course, we’ve got it on TiVo now and are making our way through each episode. I’d only caught bits and pieces of this masterpiece over the years and knew it was good. But it’s simply amazing, especially when the episodes are watched in order, back-to-back. I thought I knew a lot about the Civil War but I wasn’t familiar with Union General George McClellan and his continued refusal to engage the enemy and requests for reinforcements when he already outnumbered the Confederates by tens of thousands of men.

Watching this documentary now, as America pushes towards a war with Iraq, raises many important questions in my mind. What does it really mean to fight for freedom? And what causes are so great that we commit men (and now women and civilians) to the inevitable destruction and slaughter of war? I won’t pretend to have easy answers to those questions.

Some astonishing Civil War facts:

  • "Two percent of the population — more than 620,000 — died in it."
  • "At Cold Harbor, Va., 7,000 Americans fell in 20 minutes."
  • "During the Battle of Antietam, 12,401 Union men were killed, missing or wounded; double the casualties of D-Day, 82 years later. With a total of 23,000 casualties on both sides, it was the bloodiest single day of the Civil War."