You've got to have a lot of nerve to make a documentary about the Civil War after Ken Burns' excellent 9-part series in 1990. Yet Chris Wheeler has done just that. He's made a documentary that is just as compelling and perhaps even more historically accurate. Which is by no means to downgrade Burns' work, but having Burns in place allowed Wheeler to go places Burns' didn't, and that is to the benefit of everyone.
Wheeler exceeds Burns in his discussions of the background leading up to the war and in his emphasis on the war in the west. Both of these vital elements are downplayed by Burns. H also uses enactments in a docudrama manner which I think contributes to the story telling.
Of course nothing beats the production values of Burns' documentary, including the photography and the narration. Wheeler never comes close. Nor does Wheeler bring to bear the plethora of Civil War experts that Burns assembled, nor the breadth and scope of Burns' sources. But what Wheeler does do best is explain why battles had the importance that they had and why their outcomes were often pre-determined.
One doesn't have to choose between Burns and Wheeler. Both are excellent material about the Civil War and together they give us a fuller picture of this enormous event.
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