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A&E Home Video presents
Civil War Journal—The Commanders (1993)

"All these guys, even though they went in different and did their damnedest to kill each other, they never forgot they were Americans."
- Thomas Fleming (Author and Historian)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: August 24, 2001

Stars: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant
Other Stars: Danny Glover (host)
Director: Donna E. Lusitana

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for all audiences)
Run Time: 03h:04m:04s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 733961702958
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Featuring scores of photographs, historical reenactments, and noteworthy material, Civil War Journal—The Commanders offers extensive background on the leaders of both sides of the American Civil War. Noted authors and historians provide their take on the famous military leaders and describe the key events of the war. Danny Glover relates interesting narration that keeps the story on an understandable level. However, this History Channel four-part series does drag at times and generates some tedium along with the intriguing moments. Much of its effectiveness depends on your interest in the subject matter. Civil war enthusiasts and history buffs will likely enjoy this documentary series, but audiences looking for more energetic material may not derive much from this two-disc collection.

West Point Classmates takes a broader look at the group of Civil War commanders by focusing on their studies at the renowned military academy. Much of this piece covers the intricate details of life at West Point, including the methods for admittance, instruction, and the demerit system. Using this information as a guide, it then provides noteworthy items about each major figure. For instance, Robert E. Lee never received a demerit during his entire time there, and Ulysses S. Grant only finished 21st out of his class of 39. The most compelling section of this episode covers the dividing line within West Point that mirrored the split of the nation. The officers remained true to their homes, and the differing viewpoints created a rift and lead to arguments and fights between soldiers. This program has some good parts, but it's arguably the least interesting of the four segments. Since it takes a less specific approach, certain material is dry and seems unnecessary to understanding the time period.

General Robert E. Lee was a fascinating leader who helped to convert a ragtag army into a fighting machine that decimated the superior numbers of the Union army. The second episode gives a brief overview of the life and ideals of this brilliant tactician. Lee decided to take command of the Army of Northern Virginia because of his feelings concerning duty and devotion to his family. This piece quickly follows his early life, than moves on to his time at West Point. During the war, Lee led the Confederate Army to numerous victories, but the loss at Gettysburg was devastating. It is difficult to summarize his life in 45 minutes, but this program does a nice job. It clearly defines the key moments in his life and the war, and gives us a glimpse into the thoughts of this storied individual.

Perhaps the most crushing blow to the Confederacy came from their own guns with the accidental death of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. This God-fearing man served as Lee's right hand and urged the army on to amazing victories in 1862 and 1863. Jackson started at the bottom of his class at West Point, and slowly moved up the ladder due to endless hard work. His entire life revolved around God, and he was considered a fairly simple family man. Similar to Lee, he joined the Confederate Army to defend his home state of Virginia. This is a decent episode, but it falls short of Lee's story, because it focuses more on his personal background than his role in the war. The portions concerning his larger-than-life status and fighting prowess are interesting, but they should have expanded this coverage even further.

Sherman and the March to the Sea discusses the controversial tactics and background of General Tecumseh Sherman. His destructive march through Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean was heralded by Union leaders, but it also garnered the ire of Southern citizens. Sherman led a chaotic, uneven life and never really felt comfortable away from the confines of the military. This episode contains plenty of nice information about this intriguing character. One ironic aspect of his crude ways is the fact that he loved the South and its people. However, he considered war as hell and felt that cruelty was a necessary trait for ending the conflict. Similar to the entire collection, this segment works well if you find this material interesting. It won't convert viewers into history buffs, but it does provide good depth for those interested in the time period.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This full-frame transfer contains no glitches and offers a clear, bright picture throughout its running time. Since its origin is television, there are obvious limitations to this type of feature. Considering these hindrances, the presentation is top-notch and probably couldn't be much better. Both the present-day recreations and historic photos appear in an easily viewed manner.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer on this disc contains easily understandable dialogue from Danny Glover, Civil War experts, and speakers meant to resemble historical figures. There's very little included in terms of sound effects except a few gun shots and cannon explosions during the battle reenactments. There is some music, but it's pretty limited and provides some background to the discussion. This track works fine to present the dialogue, but that's basically the extent of its use.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Packaging: other
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This "Collector's Choice" DVD contains no supplements, which is not a surprise considering it stems from a cable television series.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Helped by the likable personality of Danny Glover, Civil War Journal—The Commanders provides a nice overview of several major figures in the American Civil War. This two-disc collection contains plenty of quotes and background into these leaders, and the result is four well-crafted documentaries. Although they should succeed for those interested in Civil War history, these episodes do have a limited audience.


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