While perhaps “The Less Often Told Story” would be a more accurate title, Civil War: The Untold Story is a gorgeous and glorious five-part series about the great battles and campaigns that were fought along the banks of the Mississippi, Tennessee and other rivers in the Western Theater of the War Between the States. Here in this offering by Great Divide Pictures are the brutal and decisive contests fought at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Chickamauga and Atlanta, names which for many Americans are merely footnotes in books and history classes, but are the places where as one professor tells the camera, the Civil War was won – and lost.
Civil War: The Untold Story will air on many but not all PBS stations. Most of those which will air the five one-hour episodes will do so in April. (WNET, New York, for example, will show three episodes starting at 1pm on Saturday, April 5, and will show the remaining two the following Saturday). Interested viewers should check local listings, or go https://www.facebook.com/CivilWarTheUntoldStory?ref=br_tf where they can find more information, watch clips and find out how to order a boxed set of the DVDs.
Narrated by Elizabeth McGovern (perhaps best known to PBS viewers for her role as Lady Cora in the highly popular Downton Abbey), Civil War: The Untold Story has some of the professorial “talking heads” and period photographs that fans of Ken Burns’ The Civil War or any number of documentaries of the type once shown on The History Channel (when its focus was on actual history) are familiar. It is, however, a very action-packed series, as the battles are fought again for the camera by actors and re-enactors, often on the very ground where their ancestors battled and bled 150 years ago.
There is more than smoke and noise and fake movie blood here, though, as there are also active maps that show the movements of the troops and the flow of the fighting, as well as CGI recreations of ironclads and other ships steaming down the rivers. Those waterways are the key to the war in the West for, as one of the historians tells the audience, while in the East the rivers were obstacles to the Union advance, in the West they were the avenues that led directly into the heart of the Confederacy.
Episode One starts slowly, with a reenactment of part of the battle of Yorktown and a discussion of slavery – the flaw in the American experiment which, left unfixed, was the principal cause of the war. Some 20 minutes in, however, viewers eager for a taste of battle are treated to U.S. Grant’s attack on Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862. From there it is but a short jump to Shiloh, which as a narrator comments was “the first epic battle in the Civil War.”
Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s surprise attack on Generals Grant and Sherman is brilliantly recreated, as hundreds of re-enactors surge across the wooded fields and broken terrain of The Peach Orchard, The Hornet’s Nest and Shiloh Church itself. Episode Two picks up with the second half of the battle and from there returns to the plight of the “contrabands” – the slaves who fled north as the Union armies came south. The third episode focuses on the sieges of Vicksburg and Chattanooga and the fourth is mostly about the battle of Chickamauga – which in the native Cherokee tongue quite appropriately means “River of Death.” The fifth and final offering covers the approach to and siege of Atlanta, whose capture by William Tecumseh Sherman assured the re-election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, and provided the jumping off point for the general’s infamous if decisive March to the Sea.
Civil War: The Untold Story has no single universal debut night, but is being aired on different days and at different times by individual PBS stations. Most, such as WNET New York, are doing so in April (WNET will air the first three episodes of the series Saturday, April 5, starting at 1 pm, and conclude with the final two episodes the following Saturday), while others are delaying the series until May or even June. Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) has yet to announce if they will air the show, while WGBH Boston, WETA Washington, DC and nine other PBS stations have stated they have no plans to present the series, at least not as of this date.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx…or his blog at http://markgmclaughlin.blogspot.com/Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...To read more Examiner.com pieces by Mark G. McLaughlin become a regular subscriber; just click on the “Subscribe to get instant updates” button at the top of the page. Examiner's editors pledge that subscribers will never be spammed. Sharing articles