The Civil War

The Civil War (1990) chronicles the war that began as a bitter dispute over Union and States' Rights, and ended as a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America.


  • Battle of Gettysburg | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore a collection of images taken from the Battle of Gettysburg, including scenes of battlefield and fallen soldiers. This gallery also features an image of Matthew Brady, who documented the Civil War in more than 10,000 photographs. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Union soldiers from the North and Southern Confederate forces. It is considered to be one of the most important battles of the Civil War, and was a key victory for the Union Army. The Civil War was one of the earliest wars to be documented on camera. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • African-Americans | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images highlighting the lives of African-Americans during the Civil War. By 1861, the pressure between the Northern and Southern states exploded into a Civil War. Southern leaders, claiming states’ rights, were threatened by the anti-slavery stance of many Northern states and the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. Dred Scott had attempted to sue the United States for his freedom, and lost. The great orator and writer Frederick Douglass, a former slave living in the North, became a leader in social reform and the abolitionist movement. African Americans would fight in Northern regiments. The term “contraband” was used to describe those individuals who had escaped slavery in the south to the north.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Leaders and Generals | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    View a gallery of Civil War leaders and generals, from the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, and the Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, to the Commanding General of the United States Army, Ulysses S. Grant, and General George McClellan. During the years 1861-1865, the Civil War was fought in 10,000 locations across the United States, and nearly tore the country in two. The war claimed more than 600,000 lives, but it would also bring the end of slavery and introduce a new political and economic order to the country. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Abraham Lincoln | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore a gallery of images about Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and his assassination. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, the first president from the Republican Party, and the leader of the country during the American Civil War. Lincoln’s firm anti-slavery position led to his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slaves living in southern, rebel states were free. His oratorical and writing skills, and firm belief in preserving the future of the Union of the United States, appealed to the best of American ideals. Lincoln served as president from 1861-1865. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC on April 14, 1865. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • USS Monitor, Iron-Clad Gunboats, and the Federal Navy | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    View images of the USS Monitor and other iron-clad gunboats. The Monitor was part of a new class of naval warship, an iron-clad steamship, developed during the Civil War. The Monitor fought the Confederate Army’s CSS Virginia (Merrimack) in the first battle between two iron-clad boats. The battle was considered a draw between the North and South. While impressive in its initial battles, the Monitor was not fit for open sea and the poorly designed ship sank in 1862 off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with 16 men still aboard it. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Battles: Fort Sumter | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    View images of the battle of Fort Sumter and ruins of the Fort, which Confederate forces took. The Battle of Fort Sumter took place on April 12, 1861, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Fort Sumter is considered to be the site of the first shots fired during the war. After Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency, southern states attempted to secede from the Union in protest over what they saw as a threat to states’ rights, particularly in the opposition the new president and northern states had to slavery. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Battles: Atlanta | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images of the city, Confederate defenses, and ruins from the battle that took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The City of Atlanta fell to Union forces, commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman, in July of 1864. The fall of Atlanta was a blow to the Confederate Army and a critical victory for the North and Abraham Lincoln, who used the momentum of the win to fuel his reelection campaign. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Battles: Petersburg | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images of the ruins of the city of Petersburg, Virginia. The Commander of the Union Armies, Ulysses S. Grant, believed that capturing the city of Petersburg could be the key to taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Petersburg was a vital hub for Richmond to receive supplies and communication. Petersburg fell to Grant’s forces on April 2, 1865.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Civil War Battles: Charleston and South Carolina | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images taken Charleston, South Carolina during the Civil War. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, on April 12, 1861. Many battles took place in South Carolina during the war, but Charleston suffered particularly, when the Union Army, under commander General William T. Sherman, passed through on its March to the Sea.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Battles: Antietam | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images of the battlefield of Antietam. On September 17, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Maj. General George McClellan faced off in a battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, with 22,720 men killed, wounded, or missing after 12 hours of fighting. The battle was considered a draw from a military perspective, but the Union declared victory. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in the south were free. 

    Grades: 7-12
  • Civil War Battles: Richmond | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images of the fallen city of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. General Ulysses S. Grant tried unsuccessfully to capture Richmond for nearly a year before he took the city on April 2, 1865. The battle would be a crippling defeat for the South, and led to Robert E. Lee's surrender to Grant one week later on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Infantry, Troops, Regiments, and Reserves | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    View a gallery of images of Confederate and Union Army regiments, troops, and infantry from Pennsylvania to Georgia, Virginia to Massachusetts. From 1861-1865, more than three million men fought in the American Civil War, and over 600,000 lost their lives in battle. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Band and Drum Corps | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore a gallery of images of drum corps and bands of the Civil War era. Regimental bands consisted mostly of brass and percussion instruments. They served an important purpose during the Civil War by playing at recruitment rallies, boosting morale among soldiers, and playing songs that weary soldiers would march to as they prepared for battle. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Hospitals | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore images taken from Civil War era hospitals. The sheer number of wounded and ill soldiers tested the medical community during the Civil War and challenged doctors and nurses to find ways to treat the thousands of injured, sick, and maimed. Homes, churches, and any viable structure near battlefields would be converted into field hospitals. Many soldiers died of diseases during the war, such as dysentery, pneumonia, typhoid and more. Hospitals began to assess and separate the injured into categories, from mortally wounded to treatable and needing surgery. This form of triage is still used today.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Civil War Armament and Artillery | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore a gallery of Civil War artillery, ordnance, and military supplies. The Civil War was fought in 10,000 locations across the United States. More than three million men fought in battle, and more than 600,000 lost their lives to injuries and disease.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life During the War | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    Explore a collection of images highlighting life during the Civil War. The Union Army Balloon Corps was established to observe enemy positions from above, in balloons piloted by aeronauts like Professor Thaddeus S. Lowe. The U.S. Military Telegraph Corps was created to support the communications needed between officers on the battlefield and President Lincoln. More than a thousand operators sent and received messages across 4,000 miles of telegraph wires. Over 400,000 soldiers were held in Union and Confederate prison camps, an estimated 56,000 of whom died while emprisoned. The Civil War also created a refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Images from Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia | Ken Burns: The Civil War

    View images from the locations of famous Civil War battles, such as First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, near Manassas Junction, Virginia, and siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. The first and second battles of Bull Run, in 1861 and 1862, were Confederate victories and a blow to the Union Army’s confidence. The Union victory at Vicksburg, a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, would divide and weaken the Confederacy. The Civil War was fought in 10,000 locations across the United States. 

    Grades: 9-12