by Paul DiNello
The American Civil War was the defining conflict of a nation that based its new model of a Republic behind a simple motto: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That phrase, written in the Declaration of Independence, is a perfect example of the basic unalienable rights granted to all people of the United States. The enslavement of human beings flies in the face of that creed. Kidnapped Africans and their native born offspring were often denied life; they knew no liberty and didn’t dare to dream about a pursuit of happiness.
April 9,, 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Confederate’s surrender to the Union. To commemorate the event, the History Channel is broadcasting a new four part documentary that brings together descendants of both sides, to discuss the details that brought about the conflict including ancestors of Frederick Douglass, General Ulysses S Grant and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Historians, scholars and US Generals David Petraeus and Colon Powell add facts and opinions that bring the war to life but what sets this series apart from the many previous Civil War documentaries is the painstaking restoration of over 500 black and white photographs that brings the human component to the forefront.
Part one titled “The March to War” begins a century earlier as the colonies struggled to gain independence from Britain. The new nation declared that all men are created equal even though many of our founding fathers owned slaves. As time went on, the Southern economy boomed from agriculture, particularly cotton. Slavery grew as the demand for cotton rose. The brutality towards the slaves grew as well which was described in graphic detail in former slave Frederick Douglass’ bestselling autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”. Anti-Slavery politician Abraham Lincoln entered the national stage with his election to the Presidency which immediately divided the country along geographic lines between North and South. Correspondence from soldiers, former slaves and civilians is narrated to give context to the events and viewpoints of both sides where in the North a strong abolitionist movement was growing and a call to arms in the South to preserve what they saw as an assault on their way of life. The gauntlet was thrown down when the seceding South Carolina militia demanded the removal of Union soldiers from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. President Lincoln refused to give into the demands and the Confederacy fired upon the Union sparking the bloodiest domestic conflict in USA history.
Part two, “Weapons of War” highlights the then cutting edge technology of the weaponry from the ships designed such as Ironclads which were floating fortresses. These vessels were vital for the South to keep the supply lines from Europe open for supplies and for the North to establish blockades. The railroads were also used for supplies but also as a weapon to crash into armaments loaded with explosives. The invention of ammunition that cause brutal damage to both bone and flesh by shattering upon impact led to record casualties. Submarine warfare was developed to attack without being seen.
Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color does its job in relaying the facts behind the causes of the war but it becomes very enlightening to learn that the average American and Confederate soldiers had no idea how to fight a war. The gem though is the unbelievably vivid photograph restorations. With such detail you can see the profound sadness but steely resolve of a slave with her children close. You can see the fear on the face of a barely teenage soldier. The players on this grand stage are made even more relatable with every defined wrinkle in Lincolns face, the poker face of General Robert E. Lee. Reenacting sequences flow well with the narrative that gives you the realism of the great loss in battles and the hardships of the civilian communities that were tasked with the burial of thousands of dead lying in the fields under the summer sun.
Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color will thrill history lovers with the exceptionally rare photos and as a comprehensive beginner’s course on the war for history novices. The dialogue flows well even though the breaks for advertisements were excessive. Please note that there are some graphic images of dead and wounded soldiers that could disturb younger viewers.
Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color concludes April 14th on the History Channel.
4 of 5 stars