Smithsonian Channel Announces Release Date For new Civil War Doc

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

Smithsonian Channel is taking audiences back to the Civil War next month with a new documentary on DVD.

Civil War 360 is scheduled to be released May 1.  The three-part documentary tells more stories from the Civil War from the vantage point of the Confederacy, the Union and from the slaves caught in the middle of the conflict.

The Union’s story — aptly titled “The Union” — is told by actress Ashley Judd (SistersHeatDouble Jeopardy) while singer/actor Trace Adkins brings audiences “The Confederacy.”  Actor and Allstate Insurance spokesman Dennis Haybert (Far From HeavenMajor League24) tells the story of the slaves caught in the middle of the conflict in “Fight For Freedom.”

In “Fight For Freedom,” Haysbert traces his lineage back to slaves while discovering the very inkwell used by President Lincoln to craft the Gettysburg Address and a hymnal owned by Harriet Tubman.  Haysbert that journey of self-discovery tied into his portion of this program was enlightening.

“So many people stood up and fought together to make this country a free country,” Haysbert said.  “It just gave me a different perspective on what our country is about and what we can be.”

Audiences learn during “The Confederacy” that Adkins’ great-great grandfather fought for the confederacy.  Adkins traces the music, art and firearms used during the war, which are displayed at the Smithsonian Museum during his segment.  His takeaway from his discoveries was a deeper appreciation for the items and their importance to not just the war’s history, but to America’s history.

“I’ve had a real personal connection with the Civil War ever since I was a kid,” Adkins said.  “This is our last best chance to raise awareness.  The battlefields, the guns, the pikes, the uniforms and flags – all these things are all that we have left from that pivotal period in this nation’s history.  They should be treated as treasures, and we should try to preserve them and save them for future generations, because it’s impossible to know who you are if you don’t know your history, or where you’ve come from or what you’ve done.”

Judd learns through “The Union” that two of her three-times great-grandfathers — both from Kentucky — fought for the Union during the war.In learning her family history, Judd echoed Adkins’ sentiments about knowing one’s history.

“I hope it inspires people to take a look at their own family history, and learn the interesting stories that can help enlighten them as well as move their hearts,” Judd said.

All three segments that make up the body of Civil War 360 are contained on just one disc at a total run time of 180 minutes.  The documentary will retail for MSRP of $19.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $14.99 via PBS’ online store.  It can also be downloaded via various digital outlets here

and check out a trailer for the program at the same location.

More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:






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The End Of The Civil War Is A Worthwhile Watch For History Buffs And Civil War History Buffs Alike

Courtesy:  History/A&E Communications

Courtesy: History/A&E Communications

The Civil War has been over for some 150 years. Despite this, it still remains today one of the most important parts of America’s history. Thousands lost their lives over the course of the Civil War if not hundreds of thousands. To this day, the battles and the figures that were a part of the Civil War remain just as important as they were at the time that they happened. Any number of documentaries have been presented and released on DVD and Blu-ray over the years that center on probably every possible aspect of the war. Some of those presentations are more worth the watch than others. In the same vein, others are of course are more forgettable. This past April, History Channel released what is one of the few Civil War documentaries that is actually worth the watch in the form of The End of the Civil War. The title of the double-disc, four-part documentary makes crystal clear the central reason that it is worth the watch. Rather than just being another broad spectrum presentation, it focuses on one primary aspect of the war. Looking more closely at the presentation in whole, all four “episodes” that make up the program are presented in chronological order. While it isn’t overly rare, it doesn’t happen a whole lot especially in the realm of military and history documentaries. So to see this is a definite positive to this presentation. Last of note here are the collective re-enactments and discussions by the figures featured throughout the program. Both elements are minor details. That is a given. But they still play their own part in the whole of the program. Taken along with the program specific information presented here and the fact that the information is even presented chronologically, all three elements show together why The End of the Civil War is a rare worthwhile watch for any history buff and more specifically for any Civil War history buff.

The End of the Civil War is a rare worthwhile watch for any history buff and more specifically for any Civil War history buff. The main way in which it proves this is through the fact that it is a topic specific program. Unlike so many military and history programs in general, it doesn’t try to cover a broad spread in terms of its material. Rather it sticks primarily to the topic noted in its title beginning with Sherman’s now infamous march to the sea. Also included are pieces on Lincoln’s assassination, the search that followed for his killer, and of course the days leading up to the assassination. Because it sticks to these specific aspects of the war, the amount of material covered is cut down. In turn, audiences don’t feel like they are sitting through a college level lecture on the war’s end. In other words it becomes more accessible for audiences of all types and ages. Such accessibility makes it a piece that is just as welcome an addition to any classroom collection or home collection. In turn, it shows exactly why the specificity of this program is so important to the whole of its presentation. Of course it is just one way in which The End of the Civil War shows itself to be such a welcome watch for any history buff and Civil War history buff alike.

The fact that The End of the Civil War sticks to only the presented topic throughout the course of its four segments is a big bonus. It makes it accessible to audiences of all ages. It is just one way in which it shows itself to be a worthwhile watch. Audiences will note that unlike so many other history-based programs that are out there, the four segments that make up the whole of the program are presented chronologically beginning with General Sherman’s now infamous march to the sea. It all leads up to Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer. The whole thing closes with an interesting piece about what may or may not have happened to Lincoln’s body. Yes, it sounds somewhat morbid. But those that are true history buffs and Civil War buffs will find this segment just as interesting as its predecessors. The very fact that the program’s segments are presented chronologically is especially worth the note because it is so rare to see such organization from such a presentation. Regardless of whether from History or another network, it is far more common to see such presentations assembled in seemingly random fashion in terms of their collective topics. It also plays in to the program’s accessibility. The transitions at the front and back of each segment are entirely clear. The resulting effect is that audiences won’t find themselves having to retrace their proverbial steps at any point—beginning, end, or middle—of each segment to keep up with the program. That clarity coupled with the clear and precise approach to the program’s subject matter makes it even more accessible to audiences and in turn shows even more why The End of the Civil War is one of those rare worthwhile watches for history buffs and Civil War history buffs out there.

The subject presented in The End of the Civil War and its organization are both important in their own right in showing what makes this documentary a worthwhile watch for history buffs in general and more specifically Civil War history buffs. As important as each element is to the whole of the program, they are not all that should be noted in examining this presentation. Audiences are presented over the course of the program’s four elements an actual documentary presentation from History. There is commentary from a number of academics over the course of each segment, including from one such individual from none other than UNC-Chapel Hill. There are also re-creations used to illustrate the story presented in each segment just as in History’s past documentary programs. It shows that history documentary programming does still exist from History even if only on DVD and Blu-ray. Even if it is only available on DVD and Blu-ray, such a presentation style from History shows once more why The End of the Civil War is a rare worthwhile watch in the realm of documentaries.

The End of the Civil War shows in plenty of ways why it is a documentary well worth the watch for any history buff and Civil War history buff. Its specific subject matter and the subject matter’s related organization both clearly exhibit what makes it a worthwhile watch. The collective interviews an re-enactments incorporated into the program to illustrate each topic and advance each segment show even more what makes it a worthwhile watch. Together, all of the noted elements show with full clarity why any history buff and Civil War history buff will want to watch it. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered online via History’s online store at More information on this and other programs from History is available online at:



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The Abolitionists PBS’ First Great Documentary Of The Year

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Half documentary, half historical film and all educational and entertaining, PBS’ the Abolitionists is even more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This three part/three hour documentary from PBS’ American experience series is a wonderful tool both inside the classroom and outside.  Its mix of documentary and re-enactment does something very rarely seen with PBS’ documentaries.  This is a piece that would typically be more closely akin to those programs produced for the History Channel.  So seeing such a presentation from PBS shows that the network is just as capable of producing such entertaining and educational content.

The presentation of the Abolitionists as part documentary and part re-enactment is the most notable of the positives from this outstanding story.  Within the three-hour course of this feature, audiences will appreciate not just the re-enactments themselves, but also the story’s organization.  What audiences have here is the historical equivalent to a movie with an ensemble cast as it focuses on not just one person, but five.  The documentary seamlessly weaves together the stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown without allowing each figure’s story to step on the other.  Rather each one nicely compliments the other throughout the documentary’s three segments.  This may seem minor.  But in the larger scale of things, it goes a long way towards keeping audiences of all ages engaged within the context of each hour-long segment.

Within the context of each of the documentary’s three segments audiences are given even more reason to enjoy this recently released DVD through the re-enactments and the actual words of Stowe, Brown and the others.  The actors portraying the famed figures do an outstanding job in their roles.  The addition of readings of each figure’s own words makes those portrayals and each individual’s role in ending slavery hit that much harder.  And actor Oliver Platt’s narration was a solid fit.  His delivery combined with the film’s editing and music come together to make each segment equally solid.  Kudos to all involved for such impressive work.

The general make-up of The Abolitionists plays the largest role in the overall success of this recently released DVD as has already been noted.  On a more specific level, the presentation’s construction so to speak itself plays its own role in viewers’ engagement.  Viewers will be quite impressed at the cinematography and the re-enactments.  The re-enactments within this release could easily go toe-to-toe with the documentaries released by the History Channel.  The combination of the historically accurate clothing, sets, and even dialects show that those involved with bringing this special from the American Experience series took its creation with the utmost seriousness.  The same can be said of those running the cameras during the re-enactments.  The historical re-enactment segments were beautifully shot.  They look and sound like anything that might be seen any day on the silver screen.  Coupled with the telling of each figure’s story, the Abolitionist’s cinematography will grab audiences and keep them right to the final minutes of the final segment.

Whether for re-enactments, the presentation’s overall structure–music, editing, narration, etc.–or for something smaller such as the inclusion of each figure’s own words, it’s obvious that a lot of work went into bringing The Abolitionists to life.  The end product is a feature from PBS that easily holds its own against releases from the History Channel and that has made its argument to be one of the best documentaries of the year.  It is available now and can be ordered online at the PBS online store at

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PBS’ New Civil War Documentary Set Sure To Please Any History Buff

COurtesy: PBS

The Civil War is one of the most important events in the United States’ near two hundred and forty year history.  To this day, it is discussed inside and outside the classroom.  The mere flying of a rebel flag in some parts of the country raises tensions and political discussions.  Countless documentaries have been crafted on the subject from nearly every possible angle.  Now thanks to PBS, history buffs, teachers, and Civil War enthusiasts alike have a new addition to their libraries in the form of “America and the Civil War.”

“America and the Civil War” is a double disc DVD set from PBS that combines the best of the network’s Civil War programs and culls them together in an expansive five-part collection.  The five specials culled together come from the network’s “American Experience” and “NOVA.”  Being that the set includes five different specials, each viewer will have his or her own favorite moment(s).  This reviewer’s personal favorite moments are the special, “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” and “The 54th Colored Infantry.”

“Lincoln’s Secret War” has previously been released on DVD.  It is part of the network’s “NOVA” programming.  This near hour long special follows a group of Navy divers as they try to raise the propeller and shaft of the famed U.S.S. Monitor from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean just off the North Carolina coast.  As viewers follow the sometimes tense moments of the work involved, they are also provided a history of why this project is being undertaken.  The program’s narrator gives a history of the Monitor and its creator John Ericsson.  Ericsson is described here as one of the greatest engineering minds of his time.  It was Ericsson who developed the first screw propeller, which would eventually be used in the Monitor.  Though, it was actually used in the Princeton first.  The program also goes into some depth, explaining how the success of the Monitor led to the creation of other Monitors, though the outcome was not good.  That’s because certain parties thought the ships could be used in open water battles.  That ultimately was what led to the sinking of the original Monitor off the coast of North Carolina.  It should be noted at this point, that Lincoln’s Secret Weapon is somewhat dated, as the turret from the Monitor has been pulled from the ocean floor.  That aside, it is still a good lesson explaining what would be one of the turning points in naval history.

“Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” is a good special for anyone interested in naval history (this reviewer included).  For those interested in other matters, there is the special, “The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry.”  This roughly hour long special closes out the double disc set.  It is narrated by veteran actor Morgan Freeman.  It documents the true story of the regiment whose achievements were made into the big screen feature, Glory (1989).  Through interviews with descendants of the 54th and historians, audiences learn interesting facts such as how the 54th Colored Infantry got its start in Boston.  Perhaps most interesting of all in this special is that it actually took the Emancipation Proclamation for the 54th to be formed.  Before this edict from President Lincoln, African Americans were not allowed to serve in the military, even in the North.  And even when they were finally allowed to service, it was with a catch.  They were not permitted to serve as commissioned officers or lead regiments in general.  So even after Lincoln’s new law was signed, discrimination still happened to African Americans who wanted to fight for their own freedom.  As Freeman notes at one point, documents showed that some Union soldiers went so far as to admit that they weren’t fighting against slavery at all.  They were fighting because the war was right, in their eyes.  So even in the North, free blacks faced almost as much unfair treatment as in the south.  Of course, what documentary on the 54th would be complete without mention that the regiment did have a very important victory just before the war’s end?  It was the 54th that helped to finally take Charleston, South Carolina only months before the war finally ended.  As with “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon”, this is another interesting addition to PBS’ new Civil War documentary set.  It is one more piece that makes the entire set worth the watch.  It has so much more information that teachers and history buffs alike will enjoy checking out.

Of course, the only way to check out these two specials and the others in “America and the Civil War” is to own it for oneself.  “America and the Civil War” will be available on August 28th.  It will be available for order at  

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History’s “America” is a wonderful story for all Americans

Courtesy: A&E Home Video

Two hundred and thirty six years ago today, America’s forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  While the signing of that document was one of our nation’s most momentous occasions, it would eventually turn out to be the starting point for many more important milestones in the nation’s storied history.  It was thanks to the Declaration of Independence that America would have to fight the British military for its independence in the Revolutionary War until 1781. 

Courtesy: A&E Home Video

The Revolutionary War was a key moment in America’s story first and foremost in that it was what would lead to the country’s true birthday.  While July 4th is consideredAmerica’s birthday, it wasn’t until British forces surrendered in 1781 that America truly gained her independence.  The war for independence was in itself, key toAmerica’s history for military and medical reasons.  When British forces first invaded America after the Declaration’s signing, militia groups had to break from traditional battle tactics, as noted in the series.  Rather, they were among the first to use guerilla tactics in the fight against the British forces.  That tactic was the first step in turning the tide in the country’s war for independence.  The introduction of French backing for American forces, a spy network used to infiltrate British lines, and proper military training also helped turn the tide of war.  These discussions will entertain any military history buff. 

The military advancements made by American forces were only part of what made the Revolutionary War a key moment in America’s history.  One fact that many individuals might have otherwise not known about was General Washington’s then highly controversial experiment to cure smallpox among U.S.forces.  Luckily for Washington and his men, the experiment worked.  As a result, his experiment is now considered one of the first great medical advancements made in American history.  

While Washington’s experiment is considered by today’s standards to be a major breakthrough in his time, more advancements were still to come.  The series discusses them in its Civil War segment.  Viewers who have not yet seen the series should be warned that some of the material in this segment may be considered graphic.  So viewer discretion should be used here.  The medical advancements made during the Civil War came thanks to future American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.  It was thanks to her efforts that far fewer soldiers had limbs amputated.  Even general treatment methods were changed thanks to her. 

Medical advancements weren’t the only positive outcome of the Civil War.  Throughout the Civil War, President Lincoln and the Union forces used the telegraph to communicate.  As noted in the segment, the use of the telegraph was a big reason for the Union’s victory over the Confederate states.  The success of the telegraph in battle proved its use in the civilian world, thus making it really the beginning of mass communication in America and thus a major aid in industrial growth across the country.  It is even compared, in this segment, to being the earliest form of Twitter.

The Civil War and Revolutionary War both played pivotal roles in the growth of America in its infancy.  There was at least one more key moment in America’s history that helped the nation become the world power that it is today.  That moment was America’s entrance into World War II.  The documentary’s narrator points out that before the country entered the war, three million people across the country were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression.  But all that changed when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor.  It was a “day that will live in infamy.”  But it was also the catalyst that restartedAmerica’s industry and economic system.  The need for military vehicles and weapons led the many shuttered factories to be re-opened for the sole purpose of churning out materials for the military.  Since the men were being drafted, women went to work.  Their going to work was what really kick started the industry and economy.  They were the ones who spent money.  As noted in the segment, that empowerment was also the beginning of the feminist movement inAmerica, too.  So there, too was another advancement made because of war.

War, it’s said, is hell.  This is true.  But it would seem that the most important moments in America’s growth came as a result of some of its most intense conflicts.  It’s highly unlikely that History Channel and those involved with this series were trying to argue the importance of the country’s conflicts in its development.  But there is no denying how important these moments in time were for America.  Of course, it had many more important moments, too.  And audiences can check out those moments on both the triple- disc DVD set and triple-disc blu-ray set.  Both sets are available in stores and online at  While it may not manage to touch on every single tiny moment that made America the great world power that it is today, there is no denying that “America:  The Story of Us” is an excellent starting point for any history class (college and high school), or for general viewing.  It’s really the type of series that will get any viewer excited and wondering just what the next chapter in America’s story will be. 

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