Civil War Minutes is a compilation of vignettes that uses real documents (like letters and official government papers) and reenactments to explore the everyday heroes of the American Civil War — the men who lived, loved, fought and died for their cause. Narrated by Civil War historian Michael Kraus (military coordinator for the 1993 film Gettysburg), Civil War Minutes is a fine alternative for those that find history books too dense or intimidating. Although not a great looking documentary (with a decidedly ordinary image and a less than spectacular soundtrack), The Civil War Minutes certainly holds exceptional educational value, especially for history buffs.
The documentary is made of a combination of videotaped reenactments, old photographs, drawings of combat scenes, and a varied array of old documents. Since most of the documentary is composed of shots of different documents and old photos, the quality of the presentation mostly depends on how well these documents have been preserved. The documentary showcases these historical artifacts with wildly varying results; sometimes it is quite easy to read some of the maps presented throughout the duration of the program, and at other times it is almost impossible to see the details of the documents.
The remaining bulk of the documentary consists of brief reenactments that consist of real actors recreating historical events. These brief segments are accompanied by Kraus’s narration. The reenactments are for the most part well handled by director Mark Bussler. It’s a low-budget presentation so don’t expect Steven Spielberg-like quality.
Most of Kraus’s narration is very clear and intelligible, although some segments sound slightly out of sync. On the other hand, the quality of the sound varies from vignette to vignette, in that the programs containing sound effects (like the sound of heavy artillery) fare somewhat better than the ones without it — the powerful noise of cannons and gunshots help recreate the chaos of the battlefield. Even though most of the sound effects are rendered with great fidelity and range, some of the segments have a tendency to come across as harsh and unnatural.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
This nicely put together program combines two passions of mine: cinema and history. Although not nearly as good as Ken Burns’ legendary documentaries, Civil War Minutes is a very informative program that succeeds in clarifying some of the problems that triggered the conflict. Always making an effort to tell the story of the Civil War from the perspective of the brave people who participated in the conflict, Civil War Minutes is a must for history buffs and anyone interested in the American Civil War. Color, 360 minutes, Not Rated.