Sunday, October 4, 2009

The American Civil War

Jen, the neighbour over the back fence brought me a bunch of bluebells. They remind me of one of the loveliest sights I’ve seen. It was May and we went to Kew Gardens in London to see the lilac in bloom. The lilac was disappointing but under a forest of deciduous trees with their tracery of new leaves there was this magnificent host of bluebells, a shimmering carpet of blue.

10 degrees forecast today – a southerly snap. In October. I took down a warm winter shirt, packed away I had thought for good in 2009.

I’ve been watching Ken Burns acclaimed series The American Civil War on DVD. The first disc contains three episodes. The scene is set, a good backgrounder, slavery and the southern states secession. 620,000 soldiers died and an unknown number of civilians. It was a war of technology, iron-clad battleships, deadlier rifles and artillery and the camera recorded the carnage and destruction.

On paper the industrialised north had the advantage. The ineptitude of its generals in the first two years saw this advantage squandered in the east. Even though they halted the Confederate advance into Maryland at the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American military history, they did not pursue the retreating forces. The commentary claimed that had they ruthlessly followed up they could have ended the conflict much earlier. Meanwhile in the west Grant and Sherman won major battles for the Union cause.

It’s brilliant viewing. Contemporary photographs, paintings and newspaper clippings are intermingled with modern shots and narration, backgrounded by haunting music from the period, especially the tune of John Brown’s Body. The only piece not from era is the theme music ‘Askokan Farewell’ especially composed for the production. At the time the dome on the Capitol had not yet been completed. That image and the many of Lincoln's gaunt face counterpoint the battlefield corpses after each ghastly battle.

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