Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ashokan Farewell from Ken Burns’ The Civil War

"Gen. McClellan was such a wuss. seriously. WORST CIVIL WAR GENERAL EVER!!!"
-Facebook Status update June 24th

As I was watching Ken Burns’ epic documentary The Civil War, I got so enraptured in the drama of the conflict I had to post the a Facbook status update about the McClellan, a Northern general.

McClellan had the resources and the troops but with a lack of confidence and spirit needlessly prolong the war.  Like at the Battle of Antietam, when McClellan with troops outnumbering the Confederate troops failed to launch counterattacks. Why was I getting so frustrated with McClellan? I realized it was because I thought of him as being on my team, the winning team, the North. After finishing the The Civil War, I realized how wrong I was to feel this way.

My understanding of this conflict from my exposure during middle school was that the North didn’t want slavery the South were bad guys who did.  So the North fought them, freed the slaves and the South lost, the end. Ken Burns revealed a lot more to this story.

The South succeeded and the way the North got them back was by invading their land. Lincoln refused to let the war be about slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation was very much a political move. He stated at one time that if he could win the war and not free the slaves he would. There were no good guys or bad guys in this war, only Americans.

At the end of it all the person that I most admired was not Lincoln but General Lee. While his military strategy beating the odds over and over is impressive it was the way that he served his troops which is the most touching.  Lee constantly advocated for the welfare for his troops and after his loss in Gettysburg he rode out amongst his men and apologized to his troops taking blame for devastating loss.

The most powerful part of Ken Burns masterpiece is how he helps us understand on a human level what happened. No one can truly comprehend the over 600,000 American deaths in this war. Burns reveals the struggles through individuals like Sullivan Ballou with his beautiful and heart breaking letter to his wife.



Accompanied by "Ashokan Farewell," the theme composed for this series, this letter expresses love and passion that we all share as Americans and reminds us that the tragedy of death is not simply a loss of life but the pain felt by the people who loved the one who has passed.

The Civil War will change the way you view America and will make you question what it means to be American.  Yes, it's nine episodes that adds up to more than 10 hours but watching this documentary is an engaging and unforgettable experience.    

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