Here you can find posts about books, videos, DVDs, and other types of media.

“The Address” by Ken Burns on PBS

“The Address,” a 90-minute documentary by Ken Burns, airs this week on PBS.  Check your local listings, but many stations should have it Tuesday (tonight) at 9:00 pm.  The show tells the story of a school in Putney, Vermont, where each year students memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address.  For more information, see

PBS to air “Lincoln at Gettysburg” November 19 @ 9:00 pm

You can watch “Lincoln at Gettysburg” on your local PBS station tonight at 9:00 pm (probably; check your local listings).  Here is a press release with information about this show:

PBS to Air LINCOLN@GETTYSBURG on 150th Anniversary of Historic Speech, November 19 at 9:00 p.m. 

– New special traces Abraham Lincoln’s pioneering use of the telegraph and the words that remade America, the Gettysburg Address –

ARLINGTON, VA; October 8, 2013 — This fall, PBS presents LINCOLN@GETTYSBURG, a special airing on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Premiering Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET., the program describes a major turning point in American history: the rebirth of a nation and the dawn of the information age.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proved himself a master of a new frontier with his “high-tech” command center — the War Department Telegraph Office, America’s first “Situation Room.” The telegraph, the internet of the 19th century, gave Lincoln the power to re-invent leadership and wield control across distant battlefields and have his finger on the pulse of the nation.  This flow of communication led to some of the most dramatic moments of the Civil War, and shaped the words that Lincoln would use to reunite a shattered country at Gettysburg.

Narrated by David Stratharin (Lincoln, The Bourne Legacy, Good Night, and Good Luck) LINCOLN@GETTYSBURG reveals how Lincoln’s interest in new technologies gave him control never before exercised by any commander-in-chief. “Abraham Lincoln recognized that he who controls the conduit also controls the content,” said Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails. Lincoln used these innovations to connect himself to the country – receiving dispatches by telegraph from his generals in the field – and, in turn, transmitting his words and strategic plans for the nation with more clarity and efficiency than ever before. Throughout the documentary audiences hear a range of views from historians, political scientists and Civil War and military experts; including screenwriter for the award-winning motion picture Lincoln, Tony Kushner; former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell; historian and author Eric Foner; author Jeff Shaara; political scientist and TV commentator Melissa Harris-Perry and more.

“Abraham Lincoln is held in high esteem as an American president for so many significant acts of leadership, including the transformative power of his Gettysburg address,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS.  “Many viewers may not be aware of Lincoln’s pioneering use of technology to lead the country.  It’s only fitting on the 150th anniversary of this historic speech that we bring this story to light.”

LINCOLN@GETTYSBURG highlights the significance of several elements: the battle and its aftermath; the genesis of America’s new National Cemetery; the last-minute invitation for Lincoln to speak; the president’s daylong “special” train from Washington; the assembly of thousands of spectators from all across the union to the little town in the hills of southern Pennsylvania; and the ceremony itself — crowned by the 272 words with which our 16th president reaffirmed the meaning and purpose of American democracy, and made his case that preserving the union was the only end that could justify the horrors of the war and the slaughter of 10,000 men in the fields and forests surrounding Gettysburg. The address was the opening salvo in a new battle for the fate of the nation.

“Lincoln’s powerful and poetic words are still relevant today. One of the most masterfully written addresses of all time, there’s a reason why it was the first political speech to go viral. ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people…’ It doesn’t get much better than that,” said Peter Schnall, producer and director.

LINCOLN@GETTYSBURG is a production of Partisan Pictures. Producer/director: Peter Schnall. Writer: Chana Gazit. Editors: E. Donna Shepherd and Jim Isler. Coordinating producer: Whitney Johnson. Associate producer: Tristan Walker. Associate editor: Matt Flassig. Production manager: James Burke. Director of photography: Peter Schnall.

Some Civil War-related shows on Canadian Cable TV station DTour

For those of you reading from Canada, the new Canadian cable TV station DTour (formerly TVTropolis) has a few shows that, while not brand new, haven’t been aired in Canada before and that relate, at least in part, to the American Civil War:

  • “Dig Wars” has a few episodes relating to Civil War locations, including Antietam and Fort St. Philip.
  • Some of the episodes of “Mysteries at the Museum” touch on, in part, items related to the Civil War.

For more info, see their web site at

Did blacks fight in combat for the Confederacy?

Did blacks fight in combat for the Confederacy? Some Neo-Confederates claim, in the face of the available evidence, all of which suggests that there were few if any black soldiers in the Confederate ranks, that tens of thousands of blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army. Here is an excellent blog post that discusses this topic: Did blacks fight in combat for the Confederacy?. Another good resource that provides some insight into this question is the book The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, edited by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta.

Constitution USA with Peter Sagal

Constitution USA with Peter Sagal” is a four-part series airing on PBS this month (check your local listings) about the constitution of the United States. This week’s episode, “Created Equal”, may be of interest to those interested in Reconstruction.  It discusses the Fourteenth Amendment, passed shortly after the Civil War, which made equality a constitutional right and gave the federal government the power to enforce it, as well as the consequences of that amendment.

“Lincoln” released on DVD and Blu-Ray today

The critically-acclaimed movie “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was released on DVD and Blu-Ray today.  It is available on a single-disc DVD, a 2-disc Blu-Ray combo pack, and a 4-disc Blu-Ray combo pack, as well as on various on-demand platforms.  It appears to be selling well so far; as of this writing, the DVD is holding down #4 spot on Amazon’s list of top-selling DVDs. Read a review of “Lincoln” from the Salt Lake Tribune.

What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning

It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review, so I thought it was about time for another. This book review is about What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery and the Civil War, Chandra Manning’s first book, published about five years ago. The thesis of this work is that “what this cruel war was over” was slavery. While this truth should hopefully no longer be a surprise to many, the approach that she uses is fairly novel. She tries to get into the minds of the soldiers fighting the Civil War, both those from the North and from the South, through using the letters and diaries of those men, as well as a large number of regimental newspapers, to show that the enlisted men viewed slavery as a central cause of the Civil War. In total, a very large number of sources were used, as shown by how many pages are taken up by notes and a list of primary sources. The methodology that she uses to derive conclusions from this vast array of material is described at the start of the book. The book then proceeds in roughly chronological order, discussing general trends with extensive quoting from soldiers’ letters.

The fact that this book is primarily based around the perspective of the enlisted men, a perspective that is not well-represented in the history books, makes the book quite interesting as a whole. The direct quotes from soldiers’ letters bring the war to life, especially as many of them are replete with spelling and grammar mistakes (particularly noticeable in letters to and from Confederates; these would have made a good argument for public schools in the South)

For Union soldiers, while Manning shows that many of them enlisted primarily to preserve the Union and not necessarily to free the slaves, slavery and emancipation were definitely on the soldiers’ minds from the earliest days of the war. Many of the soldiers initially had mixed feelings about this topic, but as the war proceeds, with a few reverses here and there, support for emancipation and for civil rights for those so freed increase significantly among the enlisted men (with some exceptions; Manning quotes a few soldiers from Kentucky who are very unhappy about the idea of emancipation).

The book provides some useful insights into why Confederate soldiers, most of whom wouldn’t have been slaveholders themselves, fought to preserve slavery, many of them feeling that defeat would result in the collapse of the whole social structure of the South, a highly undesirable outcome for them. Yet, many Confederate soldiers were conflicted. They weren’t the ones who wanted to rebel in the first place, nor were they the ones benefitting from it; meanwhile, some of them felt that those who had caused the war were not doing their part to uphold the Southern way of life. These conflicts sapped some Confederate soldiers’ interest in fighting the Union.

Even though the events in the book are 150 years old, I feel that the book still speaks to the modern reader in several ways, some of which Manning sums up near the end of the book. These dramatic changes in the attitudes of Union soldiers show that people can change for the better under the right circumstances. Even with all this promise, however, the task of reconstructing the nation into one where “all men are created equal” was not finished, nor is it complete today. Yet, the selections of letters still paint a picture of hopefulness even to the modern reader.

The 25 Best Books About Abraham Lincoln

There are a lot of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln. In 2012 Ford’s Theater Centre for Education and Leadership in Washington constructed a 34-foot pillar of unique titles about Lincoln; over 15,000 unique books were included. Hundreds of new ones come out every year. Which ones are the best? The AbeBooks blog offers their suggestions as to the top 25.  Check it out!

“Abe Lincoln in Illinois” on TCM Monday @ 10:15 pm

The 1940 biographical movie Abe Lincoln in Illinois airs on Turner Classic Movies tomorrow (Monday, February 11) at 10:15 pm. The movie details Lincoln’s life during the time when he lived in Illinois.  See for more information.

P.S.  With Lincoln’s birthday being celebrated on Tuesday, be sure to check your local television listings; there’s likely several Lincoln-related shows on.  Add a Comment if you’d like to let us know about anything of interest.

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