77 user 14 critic

The Civil War 

1:07 | Clip

Watch Now

With Prime Video

A comprehensive survey of the American Civil War.
2,261 ( 112)




Top Rated TV #20 | Won 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 9 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



Learn more

More Like This 

The War (2007)
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  

A seven-part series focusing on the many ways in which the Second World War impacted the lives of American families.

Stars: Keith David, Katharine Phillips, Tom Hanks
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (TV Mini-Series 2014)
Documentary | Biography | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  

A documentary that weaves together the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of one of the most prominent and influential families in American politics.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Edward Herrmann, George Will
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  

A comprehensive history of the United States' involvement in the bitterly divisive armed conflict in Southeast Asia.

Stars: Peter Coyote, Huy Duc, Duong Van Mai Elliott
The West (TV Series 1996)
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  

Stephen Ives' "The West" is a PBS 4-Video Series co-produced by Ken Burns: - "Death Runs Riot" 85 min. - "Fight No More Forever" 85 min. - "Ghost Dance" 58 min. - "The People" 82 min.

Stars: Peter Coyote, N. Scott Momaday, Murphy Guyer
Prohibition (TV Mini-Series 2011)
Documentary | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

The story of the American activist struggle against the influence of alcohol, climaxing in the failed early 20th century nationwide era when it was banned.

Stars: Peter Coyote, Pete Hamill, Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Baseball (1994–2010)
Documentary | History | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  

A documentary on the history of the sport with major topics including Afro-American players, player/team owner relations and the resilience of the game.

Stars: John Chancellor, Daniel Okrent, Ossie Davis
The World at War (1973–1976)
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  

A groundbreaking 26-part documentary series narrated by the actor Laurence Olivier about the deadliest conflict in history, World War II.

Stars: Laurence Olivier, Anthony Eden, Averell Harriman
The Dust Bowl (TV Mini-Series 2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A documentary about the 1930s drought of North American prairie farm land, and its consequences during the great depression.

Stars: Dorothy Williamson, Donald Worster, Timothy Egan
Documentary | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

The history of the U.S. National Parks system, including the initial ideas which led to the world's first national parks and the expansion of the system over 150 years.

Stars: Peter Coyote, William Cronon, Dayton Duncan
Documentary | Adventure | Biography
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

The story of the most important American exploration expedition in American history and the participants in it.

Director: Ken Burns
Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adam Arkin, John Logan Allen
Jazz (2001)
Documentary | History | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

A survey of the musical form's history and major talents.

Stars: Keith David, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet
Documentary | Biography | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

The story of Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight boxing champion.

Director: Ken Burns
Stars: Jack Johnson, Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson


Series cast summary:
Sam Waterston ...  President Abraham Lincoln 9 episodes, 1990
Julie Harris ...  Mary Chestnut 9 episodes, 1990
Jason Robards ...  Ulysses S. Grant 9 episodes, 1990
Morgan Freeman ...  Frederick Douglass / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Paul Roebling Paul Roebling ...  Joshua L. Chamberlain / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Garrison Keillor ...  Walt Whitman / ... 9 episodes, 1990
George Black George Black ...  Robert E. Lee 9 episodes, 1990
David McCullough ...  Himself - Narrator 9 episodes, 1990
Arthur Miller ...  William Tecumseh Sherman / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Christopher Murney ...  Pvt. Elijah Hunt Rhodes 9 episodes, 1990
Charles McDowell Charles McDowell ...  Pvt. Sam Watkins 9 episodes, 1990
Horton Foote Horton Foote ...  Jefferson Davis 9 episodes, 1990
George Plimpton ...  George Templeton Strong / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Philip Bosco ...  Horace Greeley / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Terry Courier Terry Courier ...  George McClellan 9 episodes, 1990
Jody Powell Jody Powell ...  Stonewall Jackson / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Studs Terkel ...  Benjamin F. Butler 9 episodes, 1990
Jeremy Irons ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Derek Jacobi ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Gene Jones ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Jerome Dempsey ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Laurence Fishburne ...  Various / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Betsy Apple Betsy Apple ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Carol Craven Carol Craven ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Marissa Copeland Marissa Copeland ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Halo Wines Halo Wines ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
David Marks David Marks ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Pamela Reed ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Ronnie Gilbert Ronnie Gilbert ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
M. Emmet Walsh ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Hoyt Axton ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
John Hartford John Hartford ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Walt MacPherson Walt MacPherson ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Colleen Dewhurst ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
LaTanya Richardson Jackson ...  Various / ... 9 episodes, 1990
Bradford Washburn Bradford Washburn ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Jesse Carr Jesse Carr ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Wendy Tilghman Wendy Tilghman ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Joe Mattys Joe Mattys ...  Various 9 episodes, 1990
Shelby Foote ...  Himself - Writer / ... 8 episodes, 1990
Ed Bearss Ed Bearss ...  Himself - Historian 6 episodes, 1990
Barbara Fields Barbara Fields ...  Herself - Historian 5 episodes, 1990
James Symington James Symington ...  Himself - Former Congressman 4 episodes, 1990
Stephen B. Oates Stephen B. Oates ...  Himself - Historian / ... 4 episodes, 1990


This highly acclaimed mini series traces the course of the U.S. Civil War from the abolitionist movement through all the major battles to the death of President Lincoln and the beginnings of Reconstruction. The story is mostly told in the words of the participants themselves, through their diaries, letters, and Visuals are usually still photographs and illustrations of the time, and the soundtrack is likewise made up of war-era tunes played on period instruments. Several modern-day historians offer periodic comment and insight on the war's causes and events. Written by Eric Sorensen <Eric_Sorensen@fc.mcps.k12.md.us>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


It divided a country. It created a nation.


TV-14 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

23 September 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Civil War See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The piano music used for some of Abraham Lincoln's and Jefferson Davis' scenes, as well as a few other characters, is "God Save the South". See more »


Contrary to this documentary (and many historians) Winfield Scott never recommended Robet E. Lee for anything more than a "significant command" nor did Lincoln offer Lee command of the Union Army.

An advisor to the President, Francis P. Blair, DID offer Lee command of the Defenses of Washington, via letter, but there are NO records that Lee. An Lincoln ever met in person. See more »


[On his escape from slavery]
Frederick Douglass: I appear this evening as a thief and robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master and ran off with them.
See more »


Followed by Three Worlds Meet (Origins-1620) (1996) See more »


Marching Through Georgia
Written by Henry Clay Work
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Landmark Series
14 November 2002 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

It's a technically revolutionary film. Burns and his colleagues have changed the nature of the documentary. Working with old photos on glass plates, an unpromising base, the occasional talking head, and often penetrating and sometimes poignant voiceovers, he contributed to our cultural iconography. His touches have been imitated often in the following decade: the sound of buzzing locusts, the voice-over reading a letter and then signing off by reading the name of the writer aloud, are now taken-for-granted techniques in documentaries (and commercials as well).

Before this series, interest in the Civil War was practically nonexistent. I'm not referring to seeing pretty ladies bounce down the stairs of the big house wearing hoop skirts and ribbons, but the ghastly things taking place at locations that previously had barely rung a bell, like Shiloh.

I was teaching at an eastern university when this series appeared, roughly fifty students, known to be among the brightest available, majoring in communications. I asked the class how many had watched at least one episode. One hand went up, tentatively. I asked why she'd been so hesitant and she said, well, she hadn't really "watched" it, but her husband was a CW buff and was taping it while she passed through the living room. Fewer than fifty percent of our High School seniors can pin the Civil War down to the correct half-century. I'm tempted to click the "Spoilers" box to warn those who don't know who won.

It's against this background of general ignorance that "The Civil War" should be viewed. The film's intent was as much popular as academic, and it seems to have had a good deal of general appeal, my elite class notwithstanding. Popular enough so that a book appeared shortly afterward, "Historians Respond," edited by Bob Toplin, which predictably consisted almost entirely of carping over details, and of claims that Burns missed the whole point of the CW, that he didn't pay enough attention to the role of women and African-Americans. In other words, that he didn't make the kind of movie that THEY would have made. They demand too much. For one thing, a viewing of the series makes it clear that Burns does present the points of view of women and African-Americans. If the prevailing professional opinion is that he didn't go far enough, well, every book has a last page. A program dealing exclusively with the part that slavery played in the CW would have been another program.

A word about the commentators. Bearse knows combat; he was a marine on Guadalcanal. He sticks to military facts, mostly tactical. Senator Symington is surprisingly smooth and knowledgeable. The two chief commentators represent the original opposing points of view. Shelby Foote states proudly in the epilogue to one of his historical volumes on the CW, "I am a Mississippian."

But he's a gentleman, not a stereotypical redneck. He admires the Confederate Southern Army without disparaging the Federals. (Who could help admiring the CSA as a military force?) But, like all polite Southerners, he seems slightly ill at ease discussing the CW in a public venue. He seems like a nice guy and is a marvelous story teller. Barbara Fields, an academic historian, has less screen time. The first impression the viewer gets is that, wow, she's a knockout! The second is that she's cool as a cucumber and presents the modern view that the CW was all about slavery, that whites were almost peripheral to the issues. It's hard to argue with her. After all, slaves were suffering for two hundred years while whites were engaged in "the pursuit of happiness". Yet her anger flares up and it seems misplaced to me. "I don't have much patience with people who say that abolition was difficult because of political circumstances". I hope future historians are kinder to us than our current ones are to Americans of the 1860s.

Slavery should never have been sanctioned under the Constitution but if allowances hadn't been made, the South would not have joined the Union. It was the slaves that paid the price for that union. Given that it was already in place, what could Lincoln have done about slavery that he did not in fact do? Declare it illegal at the firing of the first shot? Hardly. There were slave states that did not secede. Any attempt to turn the CW from a fight to preserve the union into a fight to free the blacks might have turned them back into the Southern camp. Moreover, Lincoln's support in the legislature depended on Democrats, and Republicans too, who were opposed to any attempt to make the CW into a struggle for black freedom. If Lincoln lost his majority in congress he might have lost the whole game. As it was he jumped at the first chance to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. Fields was wrong, too, in saying that we're still fighting the CW today. The chief issues of the war have been resolved. There is no more slavery. African-Americans can vote if they want to. They can take whatever empty seat on the bus is available. Affirmative action works to their benefit. If she means that "social equality" has still not been achieved, she's quite correct. One of the reasons perfect equality hasn't been achieved is that the achievement would involve our completely ignoring the fact of race in this country, and at this point it's inconceivable.

Equality depends on everyone's ability -- and willingness -- to ignore race and ethnicity. I'm all for it. These tribal loyalties are nothing if not bothersome. Burns's series shows one earth-shattering step that has brought that still impossible goal a little closer than it was.

26 of 31 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 77 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Stream Trending Movies With Prime Video

Enjoy a night in with these popular movies available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed