This coming Saturday – April 12, 2018 – might not seem like an important date to most people. However, it is in fact far more important than most might think. That is because it marks 157 years since the start of America’s bloodiest domestic conflict – The Civil War. According to historians, the war, which set brothers against one another and nearly tore the union apart, started April 12, 1861 with the attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. In the nearly 160 years since its start and almost 153 years since its end, countless books have been written and so many movies and documentaries created about different aspects of the civil war. Some have proven to be anything but memorable while others, such as Smithsonian Channel’s three-part doc Civil War 360 have proven to be somewhat more interesting and intriguing. Released earlier this month – May 1 to be exact – the 184-minute (3 hours and four minutes) program proves to be an entertaining and memorable presentation for the most causal history fan. That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to help tell the story of the war from each side. This will be discussed shortly. The very separation of the program into three distinct segments is critical to making the presentation so appealing for audiences. The information and re-enactments used to help tell each side’s story is also key to making this more mainstream Civil War doc appealing to audiences. Each element is important in its own way to the whole of Civil War 360 as will be pointed out in this review. All things considered, they make Civil War 360 a Civil War documentary that proves to be one of the more memorable docs on the war in recent memory.
Smithsonian Channel’s mainstreamed Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is an interesting new look at what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict. Considering that the 157th anniversary of its start is just around the corner, its release early this month was timely to say the least. It is a presentation that is certain to appeal easily to the most casual Civil War and history lovers in general. This is due in part to the use of three relatively well-known celebrities – Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins and Dennis Haysbert — to gain and maintain viewers’ engagement and entertainment. On the surface, this might not seem to be all that important. However, the draw here is simple: If celebrities show an interest in something such as the Civil War through their own personal connections (Two of Judd’s 2-times great grandfathers fought for the Union while Adkins had his own familial connection to the Confederacy. Haysbert’s connection is indirect, but still that doesn’t keep him from becoming emotional at discovering all that happened to the slaves), then that, by connection, should generate interest by everyday viewers. PBS’ hit genealogy series Finding Your Roots takes a similar approach, and has proven successful using that approach, too, as has TLC’s answer to that series, Who Do You Think You Are? Keeping this in mind, the use of a trio of celebrities as a starting point to gain viewers’ interest here was smart to say the least. It is just one of the points that serves to make this program appealing to audiences. The clear separation of the program into three distinct segments adds to its interest.
All three segments of Civil War 360 runs for roughly one hour, with only one running a little longer, for the three-hour, 4 minute run time. What this means is that each side of the conflict gets its own share of time. Again, on the surface, this might not seem overly critical. However, a deeper evaluation reveals that the equal time for each segment ensures audiences cannot try to claim bias by Smithsonian Channel. Rather, it ensures equal time on the side of the Union, the Confederacy and even the slaves. What’s more, the pacing with each segment is relatively stable from one to the next with the result being just as much assurance of viewers’ engagement. Once again, the program’s presentation offers viewers plenty to appreciate, regardless of whether one is a casual history lover or the biggest Civil War aficionado. It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements. The information provided throughout the course of the program rounds out its most important elements.
Some of the information presented throughout the program is familiar territory. That includes matters such as the unsanitary conditions of the field hospitals and the related mortality rates of the soldiers as a result of those conditions. Also familiar to audiences throughout the program is the matter of Lincoln’s assassination after the war’s end. At the same time, audiences also learn that while John Wilkes Booth thought he would be a hero to southerners for his actions, the reality was the exact opposite. This is something that is seemingly taught very rarely in schools at any level. Also interesting to learn here is the revelation that despite popular belief, Lee did not go to Appomattox to surrender, but was trying to escape Union forces. As if that isn’t enough, audiences also learn that Lincoln’s win was actually not a major victory, but that it was in fact a close win for the White House. Considering this revelation, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the presidency. America’s history and its present state might have and might be different. There is also mention of Britain’s profiteering from the war, another aspect of the war that is rarely taught in public schools or even colleges. Another little taught revelation shared here is that John Brown actually saw himself as a martyr, and basically thought even his rebellion’s failure would be a win. Again, this is certain to create its own share of discussion. That’s because such revelation paints Brown in something of a selfish light as it makes it seem that he didn’t really care what happened to his cohorts at the Harper’s Ferry raid. Between these revelations and so many others shared throughout each of this program’s segments, the program offers plenty for viewers to appreciate just in terms of its content. When this is considered along with the value of the program’s segmentation and the interest established through the use of celebrities, the whole of those elements ensures viewer’s engagement from every angle. The end result is the realization that the program is certain to have wide appeal.
Smithsonian Channel’s Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is obviously not the first program to ever focus on what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict. It is however, one of the more memorable docs on the topic to be presented in recent history, though. That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to establish an interest, especially among the average viewer. The segmentation of the program into three distinct and almost equally timed features – the north, the south and the slaves – builds on the interest established through the use of the celebrities and ensures even more, viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment. The use of familiar information and lesser taught revelations together strengthens the program’s presentation even more still. It essentially creates the cornerstone of the presentation’s foundation, and when it is joined with the already noted elements, the whole of those elements makes the program a fully immersive presentation that will engage and entertain viewers across the board. It is available now. More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:
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