THE CIVIL WAR: A Film by Ken Burns (PBS)

Viewing Guide and Resources

On its 25th anniversary, THE CIVIL WAR by Kens Burns is airing on PBS as a re-mastered edition. As you join the Civil War Trust Generations virtual viewing event of this magical documentary, use the resources below to further your knowledge of the Civil War! After you watch, test your knowledge with our quiz on the series »

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Episode 1: The Cause (1861)

PBS Description: Beginning with a searing indictment of slavery, this first episode dramatically evokes the causes of the war, from the Cotton Kingdom of the South to the northern abolitionists who opposed it. Here are the burning questions of Union and states' rights, John Brown at Harpers Ferry, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the firing on Fort Sumter, and the jubilant rush to arms on both sides. Along the way the series' major figures are introduced: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and a host of lesser-known but equally vivid characters. The episode comes to a climax with the disastrous Union defeat at Manassas, Virginia, where both sides learn it is to be a very long war.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Learn the most basic Civil War facts

Learn more about the causes of the Civil War

Watch a short video about the coming of the war

Read the Declarations of Causes for Secession

Explore John Brown’s raid

Watch the Battle of Fort Sumter unfold before your eyes

Check out maps, articles, photos, and more about the Battle of Bull Run

Read the Sullivan Ballou letter

Episode 2: A Very Bloody Affair (1862)

PBS Description: The year 1862 saw the birth of modern warfare and the transformation of Lincoln's war to preserve the Union into a war to emancipate the slaves. Episode Two begins with the political infighting that threatened to swamp Lincoln's administration and then follows Union General George McClellan's ill-fated campaign on the Virginia Peninsula, where his huge army meets a smaller but infinitely more resourceful Confederate force. During this episode we witness the battle of ironclad ships, partake of camp life, and watch slavery begin to crumble. We meet Ulysses S. Grant, whose exploits come to a bloody climax at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. The episode ends with rumors of Europe's readiness to recognize the Confederacy.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy

Investigate the first battle of ironclads at Hampton Roads

Get to know Ulysses “Unconditional Surrender” Grant

Explore curated resources about the Battle of Shiloh

Learn about General George McClellan, one of the defining figures of the Civil War

Episode 3: Forever Free (1862)

PBS Description: This episode charts the dramatic events that led to Lincoln's decision to free the slaves. Convinced by July 1862 that emancipation was now morally and militarily crucial to the future of the Union, Lincoln must wait for a victory to issue his proclamation. But as the year wears on, there are no Union victories to be had, thanks to the brilliance of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The episode climaxes in September 1862 with Lee's invasion of Maryland. On the banks of Antietam Creek, the bloodiest day of the war takes place, followed shortly by the brightest: the emancipation of the slaves.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Get to know the man behind the legend of  “Stonewall”

Go in-depth on the Seven Days Battles, which saved Richmond and undoubtedly prolonged the war

Learn more about Benjamin “Beast” Butler

Walk the winding path to emancipation with this exclusive author interview

Watch the Battle of Antietam animated map

Learn about the new birth of freedom the Emancipation Proclamation brought to the United States

Episode 4: Simply Murder (1863)

PBS Description: The nightmarish Union disaster at Fredericksburg comes to two climaxes that spring: at Chancellorsville in May, where Lee wins his most brilliant victory but loses Stonewall Jackson; and at Vicksburg, where Grant's attempts to take the city by siege are stopped. During the episode we learn of fierce northern opposition to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the miseries of regimental life, and the increasing desperation of the Confederate home front. As the episode ends, Lee decides to invade the North again to draw Grant's forces away from Vicksburg.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Ask what went wrong to make the Battle of Fredericksburg arguably the largest disaster the Union Army ever faced

Explore the strange life of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a brilliant but mercurial man who struggled to control his young nation under the stress of war

Make sense of the confusing struggle of the Battle of Chancellorsville, one of the Civil War’s most dramatic moments

Episode 5: The Universe of Battle (1863)

PBS Description: This episode opens with a dramatic account of the turning point of war: the Battle of Gettysburg, the greatest ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. For three days, 150,000 men will fight to the death in the Pennsylvania countryside, culminating in George Pickett's legendary charge. This extended episode then chronicles the fall of Vicksburg, the New York draft riots, the first use of black troops, and the western battles at Chickamauga, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The episode closes with the dedication in November of a new Union cemetery at Gettysburg, where Abraham Lincoln struggles to put into words what is happening to his people.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Watch the Gettysburg Animated Map

Download the Gettysburg Battle App Guide

Learn more about the famous Battle of Gettysburg

Take a virtual tour of the Gettysburg battlefield

Pickett’s Charge is one of the defining moments of the Civil War, but don’t forget about the other dramatic charges that shaped the conflict

Watch a short video about Civil War women

Learn about the United States Colored Troops 

Go behind the Scenes with Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

Episode 6: Valley of the Shadow of Death (1864)

PBS Description: Episode Six begins with a biographical comparison of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee and then chronicles the extraordinary series of battles that pitted the two generals against each other from the wilderness to Petersburg in Virginia. In 30 days, the two armies lose more men than both sides have lost in three years of war. With Grant and Lee finally deadlocked at Petersburg, we visit the ghastly hospitals north and south and follow General Sherman's Atlanta campaign through the mountains of north Georgia. As the horrendous casualty lists increase, Lincoln's chances for reelection begin to dim, and with them the possibility of Union victory.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Check out short videos about the life of Lee

Watch a video on the life of U.S. Grant

Learn more about the Battle of the Wilderness

Explore the Overland Campaign through the eyes of the soldiers and artists involved

Watch the Overland Campaign Animated Map

Download the Atlanta Campaign Battle App Guide

Episode 7: Most Hallowed Ground (1864)

PBS Description: The episode begins with the presidential election of 1864 that sets Abraham Lincoln against his old commanding general, George McClellan. The stakes are nothing less than the survival of the Union itself: with Grant and Sherman stalled at Petersburg and Atlanta, opinion in the North has turned strongly against the war. But 11th-hour 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, poignantly typical of the Civil War, Lee's Arlington mansion is turned into a Union military hospital and the estate becomes Arlington National Cemetery, the Union's most hallowed ground.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Watch our in4 Video about the election of 1864, a major turning point of the Civil War

Get in the trenches with our curated resources about the Petersburg Campaign

Learn more about the Battle of the Crater

Download our Petersburg Battle App

Read soldier accounts from the Battle of Atlanta

Episode 8: War is All Hell (1865)

PBS Description: The episode begins with William Tecumseh Sherman's brilliant march to the sea, which brings the war to the heart of Georgia and the Carolinas and spells the end of the Confederacy. In March, following Lincoln's second inauguration, first Petersburg and then Richmond finally fall to Grant's army. Lee's tattered Army of Northern Virginia flees westward toward a tiny crossroads town called Appomattox Court House. There the dramatic and deeply moving surrender of Lee to Grant takes place. The episode ends in Washington, where John Wilkes Booth begins to dream of vengeance for the South.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

Discover the personal side of William T. Sherman

Read and analyze Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, which many consider to be his greatest speech

Learn more about Andersonville Prison

Read the inagural address of Jefferson Davis, who later wrote that the Confederacy “died of a theory”

Episode 9: The Better Angels of our Nature (1865)

PBS Description: This extraordinary final episode of THE CIVIL WAR begins in the bittersweet aftermath of Lee's surrender and then goes on to narrate the horrendous events of five days later when, on April 14, Lincoln is assassinated. After chronicling Lincoln's poignant funeral, the series recounts the final days of the war, the capture of John Wilkes Booth, and the fates of the Civil War's major protagonists. The episode then considers the consequences and meaning of a war that transformed the country from a collection of states to the nation we are today.

Civil War Trust’s Related Resources:

See never-before-seen footage of Civil War veterans

Watch this video and see artifacts from Lincoln’s Last Days

Explore artifacts and memories of Appomattox

Learn more about the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth

Re-live the dramatic events of the end of the Civil War

How has the Civil War been remembered?