Sunday, January 20, 2008

The American Civil War in Four Minutes


This striking video, which follows the war from the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 through the surrender of the last Confederate forces in June 1865, has been making the rounds of the internet. It's based on a large-scale display map created for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, which explains on its website:
To inform and illustrate the scale, scope and tragedy of the Civil War, the museum’s Civil War in Four Minutes was created. It is a large animated map which plays out the progress of the war with continuously shifting battle lines and flare-ups that mark specific major battles. The entire war is presented in this way in roughly 4 and one half minutes. Nothing like this has been done before on the Civil War. [....]

The emotional effect of all this is both hypnotic and devastating. [....]
At the lower right there is a running tally of casualties--which show big spikes after the major battles, but keep rising continuously. Clicking on the fullscreen button toward the right-hand side of the frame under the video will allow you to follow the figures clearly. The effect is sobering.

=> And to complement that visual mini-history, here is "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", composed by the anti-slavery and women's-suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe while visiting a Union Army camp near Washington in 1861.

(This is, let's be frank, a call to Holy War--though on behalf of human freedom, not of any particular religion. I confess that it never fails to move me when I hear it. Martin Luther King's last public speech in April 1968 ended with the first line of this song: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.")

--Jeff Weintraub