Ashley Judd, Dennis Haysbert and Trace Adkins head the superb “Civil War 360”

A power film. An unforgettable war. The acclaimed Smithsonian Channel three-part miniseries Civil War 360 (Public Media Distribution) explores one of the most divisive eras in American history from multiple perspectives. Celebrity hosts Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins and Dennis Haysbert each helm an hour-long program that takes viewers back to a time when their ancestors and those of many viewers were involved in the conflict. Through exploration of iconic and often poignant Smithsonian artifacts, the hosts gain insight into their own family’s experiences and uncover new dimensions of our nation’s history.

Here’s some insights into each episode: 

Fight for Freedom
In some ways, the story that Haysbert tells is perhaps the least known of all, but it is an agonizing and heroic account of a great struggle for freedom. Haysbert experiences painful reminders of this struggle firsthand as he encounters Smithsonian treasures: a ship’s manifest listing a cargo of slaves, the inkwell Lincoln used to write the Emancipation Proclamation, and a hymnal owned by Harriet Tubman.  As Haysbert traces his ancestry back to enslaved people in America’s deep South, we are transported back to the brutal and complicated time when those with the most to gain also had the most to lose.  For Haysbert the lesser known stories, especially of individual courage, are the most inspiring, “So many people stood up and fought together to make this country a free country. It just gave me a different perspective on what our country is about and what we can be.”

The Confederacy
Hosted by dkins, this program begins back in 1861, when the South made the radical decision to leave the Union and form a new nation.  While honoring the experiences of everyday soldiers like his great-great grandfather, a Confederate infantryman from Louisiana, Adkins explores music, art, and firearm collections at the Smithsonian Institution. Says Adkins: “I’ve had a real personal connection with the Civil War ever since I was a kid. This is our last best chance to raise awareness. The battlefields, the guns, the pikes, the uniforms and flags–all these things are all that we have left from that pivotal period in this nation’s history.  They should be treated as treasures, and we should try to preserve them and save them for future generations. Because it’s impossible to know who you are if you don’t know your history, or where you’ve come from, or what you’ve done.”

The Union
It’s common knowledge who won the Civil War. But 150 years ago, a Union victory was anything but guaranteed. Judd seeks to understand the experiences of two of her great-great-great grandfathers, both Union soldiers from Kentucky. In the program Judd remarks: “I hope it inspires people to take a look at their own family history, and learn the interesting stories that can help enlighten them as well as move their hearts.”  Judd is visibly moved when she examines field surgical instruments, a Union private’s letter home about life in Kentucky, and battered dishes from Libby Prison- all providing glimpses of daily life during the grinding war.

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