American Experience: Death and the Civil War

(Rochester, NY) - From acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns, Death and the Civil War explores an essential, but largely overlooked aspect of the most pivotal event in American history: the transformation of the nation by the death of an estimated 750,000 people – nearly two and a half percent of the population – in four dark and searing years from 1861 to 1865. American Experience: Death and the Civil War premieres on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). Based on the book This Republic of Suffering by Harvard historian and president Drew Gilpin Faust, Death and the Civil War measures the impact of unprecedented casualties on the American people.

Death and the Civil War tracks the increasingly lethal arc of the war, from the bloodless opening in 1861, through the chaos of Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and the unspeakable carnage of 1864 – down through the struggle, in the aftermath of the war, to cope with an American landscape littered with the bodies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, many unburied, most unidentified. The work of contending with death on this scale would propel extraordinary changes in the inner and outer life of all Americans – posing challenges for which there were no ready answers when the war began – challenges that called forth remarkable and eventually heroic efforts on the part of individuals, groups and the government – as Americans worked to improvise new solutions, new institutions, new ways of coping with death on an unimaginable scale. 

Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries in America. No provisions for identifying the dead, or for notifying next of kin, or for providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans. No federal relief organizations, no effective ambulance corps, no adequate federal hospitals, no federal provisions for burying the dead. No Arlington Cemetery. No Memorial Day.

Participants in Death and the Civil War include Drew Gilpin Faust – Lincoln Professor of History at Harvard University, David W. Blight – Professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition, Vincent Brown – Charles Warren Professor of History and Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, J. David Hacker – Associate Professor of History at Binghamton University SUNY, Thomas Lynch – author of poems and essays related to the topic of death, Admiral Mike Mullen – former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark S. Schantz – Provost and Professor of History at Birmingham-Southern College, and George F. Will – Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post.

Television’s most-watched history series, American Experience has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 14 George Foster Peabody Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 30 Emmy Awards, including, most recently, Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking for Freedom Riders.

 


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