I was the most impressed by the moment when the Shenandoah Valley tilted the election to Lincoln and, therefore, changed the course of history in Episode 7. What was especially remarkable to me is the role that the geography of the Shenandoah Valley played in the military actions. Apparently, the valley gave almost equal advantages to both sides which they used to advance their causes. For example, Lincoln’s priority was Unionist east Tennessee to which the valley provided access. Conversely, the valley was a natural and safe invasion route northward for the Confederates.
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The documentary is often criticized because of its dubious historical accuracy. What Ken Burns might have omitted is the role that the slavery issue played in starting the Civil War. In the first episode, historian Barbara Fields states that slavery was the root cause of the conflict between the Union and the Confederates. Later, the statement is not supported but rather downplayed to the two parties’ inability to compromise. For all its strengths, it seems as if the documentary lacked that important dimension.
Episode 7 and Episode 8 helped me put together and contextualize the information that I found in the class readings for this week. In particular, The Civil War was extremely useful in understanding the intricacy of military operations that may not be immediately understood from plain text. Episode 8 is especially eloquent and well-organized in terms of showing how the Confederacy came to an end after battles in the heart of Georgia and the Carolinas. Connecting to Ken Burns’ cinematography the current events, I think that the documentary might have formed a prevailing social opinion regarding the Civil War. Many people remain uninformed about slavery in the context of American history and prefer to see both the Union and the Confederacy as sides with equally respectable stances.