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Smithsonian’s Great Battles of the Civil War a House Divided

First episode of a 13-hour account of the Civil War poses no threat to the stature of Ken Burns' magnificent, detailed, spellbinding account of the War Between the States. Jay Wertz's version, originally a 1993 seven-part video series, has been augmented with new footage; it doesn't help.

Cast:
Voices: Charlton Heston, Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Dennis Weaver, Ossie Davis, Peter Graves, Brian Keith, Hoyt Axton, Burgess Meredith, Trish Van Devere, Jessye Norman, Brian Cummings, David Love, J. Daniel Jones.
Narrator: Richard Dreyfuss.

First episode of a 13-hour account of the Civil War poses no threat to the stature of Ken Burns’ magnificent, detailed, spellbinding account of the War Between the States. Jay Wertz’s version, originally a 1993 seven-part video series, has been augmented with new footage; it doesn’t help.

Subtitled “Battles From FortSumter to Fort Donelson,” first chapter calls up drawings, stills, sketches, maps, paintings, period photos and music, artifacts from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, spurts of live-action footage and countless pictures of generals and politicians. Various celebs read historical figures’ words.

Several experts offer sincere, authoritative accounts of battle lore, including a droning account on weaponry. Facts are plentiful, but when it comes to explaining military action via graphics, program is a head-spinner.

As docu points out, Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address declaring that the spread of slavery must stop helped set the tone for Southern secession. But the docu trips in buying it as entertainment. Personal touches are skipped.

The amount of work here is prodigious, and the first program is admirable if resistible. Events and personnel areticked off with dispatch, but it’s more a litany than an evocation of history.

Smithsonian's Great Battles of the Civil War a House Divided

Mon. (26), 7-8 p.m., Learning Channel

Production: Taped by MasterVision Prods. Executive producer, Richard Stadin. Producer/director/writer, Jay Wertz.

Crew: Film camera, Andrew Wertz, E.N. Abodaber, Norman Grahl, Jay Wertz; tape editor, Victor Sitowski; production designer, David E. Streib.

Cast: Voices: Charlton Heston, Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Dennis Weaver, Ossie Davis, Peter Graves, Brian Keith, Hoyt Axton, Burgess Meredith, Trish Van Devere, Jessye Norman, Brian Cummings, David Love, J. Daniel Jones.
Narrator: Richard Dreyfuss.

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