Great Movies for Teaching US History: Civil War

This series on Great Movies for Teaching U.S. History, from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War, will publish on consecutive weekdays through May 2. It features films and documentaries inspired by historical events in the United States, including information about their educational value, ratings and appropriateness for children, and how well they represent the time periods covered.

The Civil War 1861-1869

The Civil War is arguably the most trying time in American history: 600,000 men lost their lives during the five-year engagement, our country was almost divided, and a president assassinated.

Glory: 1861-1863

Following the 54th regiment the all black the first all-black regiment in the Civil War. The movie is based on the actual letters from Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who was the ranking officer for the regiment.

While the Civil War ended slavery, it does not mean that all union soldiers were in favor of it, nor did it mean that they even liked African Americans. The story can serve as a metaphor for white and black relations as well as how the Union Army viewed black soldiers. Early on, there is distrust and resentment between the soldiers and commanders. However, as they get to know one another, mutual respect and understanding develops.

The movie portrays actual battles, and historians and critics have praised the film for its historical accuracy.


Lincoln: 1865

The film is based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

This film portrays the month before the end of the Civil War, and how Lincoln fought and use his powers as president to ensure that slavery was abolished.  The movie tells a story that is not often told, and shows behind the scenes of war, focusing on the political battles rather the ones fought with weapons.

The film is produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, who specializes in historical dramas and has been a part of many of the films featured in this series. While most of the movies on this list feature battle scenes that keep the view engaged, this movie is unique in that the most engaging scenes are between politicians and the dialogue between them.


The Civil War Documentary: 1861-1865

This is another documentary by director Ken Burns and is one of the most thorough retellings of the Civil War. Throughout the nine parts, every year of the war is covered in depth, and all major milestones and events are explained, giving personal testimony through letters on both sides. Historians, writers and poets give their professional view of what happened, and the impact events had on the lives of Americans during that time.

Gone with the Wind: 1861-1869

This film follows the lives of several white southerners against the backdrop of the Civil War and its reconstruction. The film begins early in the Civil War, when those in the South were confident that they would beat back the Yankees and succeed from the Union. The story follows one woman through the film and focuses on her love interests, but viewers can get a feel for what many families in the South experienced. Many lives were disrupted by the war, especially after the Union victory, and their way of life is changed forever.

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