Quick Netflix Review: The Civil War

Posted By on August 2, 2011 at 11:00 am

The Civil War (1990)
Directed by Ken Burns

Quick Review: the art of letter writing has certainly declined in the last 150 years. Thankfully, the art of recounting History has not.

5 stars

It’s been over 20 years since 40 million people watched Ken Burns’ masterpiece. I was still in the Army in Korea when it aired; I didn’t get to see it until PBS re-aired it in ’91 or ’92.

Rewatching it all these years later, I can’t help but reflect on the changes that have taken place since the series aired, compared with the changes that happened between 1860 and 1990.

I’m not sure we’re better than we used to be.

Indeed, I firmly convinced that change, in and of itself, is not a good thing. That, I suppose, is why I am a conservative.

One thing that struck the series’ viewers 20 years ago continues to be a profoundly jarring realization: people in the 19th century, without the capability of instant communication, had to know how to express themselves well in writing. The surviving letters of the time surely show that they did indeed know how.

At the very end of the first episode of the series, a lightly edited version of a letter by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife is read aloud. It stands as one of the finest examples ever of the lost art of letter writing.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Beautiful. Shakespeare never did better.

Major Ballou was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run; the letter was found in his personal effects after his death.


One Response to “Quick Netflix Review: The Civil War”

  1. Brad says:

    “Indeed, I am firmly convinced that change, in and of itself, is not a good thing.”

    Much like faith. Faith of itself matters not a wit. The object of one’s faith makes all the difference.

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