THE SERIES “Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War”
WHEN | WHERE Wednesday at 10 p.m. on AHC
WHAT IT’S ABOUT This six-parter covers, with re-enactments, some of the major battles of the Civil War, beginning with the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run. In the opener, viewers learn about a chaotic battlefront where soldiers from both sides wore a combination of blue and gray uniforms — depending on the uniform colors of their state regiment — and had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude toward direct orders. The battle that was supposed to end the war almost before it had started first swung in the Federals’ favor, followed by the Rebels’ rout. The war had just begun.
MY SAY Everyone knows, or should know, that Confederate forces won the First Battle of Bull Run, which then set the stage for a long, agonizing, bloody, convulsive conflict that still (yes, still) reverberates in some places to this day. What most everyone doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t need to, is how. American Heroes Channel’s intelligent, measured overview, “Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War,” takes care of some of those “hows.”
The first episode — the only offered for review — almost certainly offers what will come when it gets around to Antietam (Dec. 21) then Fredericksburg (Dec. 28): lots of dramatic re-enactments of the battles, explained by scholars who offer just enough detail to say what’s going on without getting in the way of what’s going on.
For true blue (or gray) Civil War buffs who know where every rock and tree on these battlefields is located, and where they were located 150 years ago, nothing here will hold much of a surprise. Instead, this is for everyone else — the novice, or beginner buff, or simply curious. For comparison purposes, think of 2003’s “Gods and Generals,” based on the Jeffrey Shaara bestseller, which covered two of these battles (Bull Run and Fredericksburg). For a more recent comparison: last year’s History Channel four-parter, “Blood and Glory,” which actually colorized some vintage black-and-white photos.
But comparisons end there: “Gods” had the budget and stars — Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang and Robert Duvall — to make larger-than-life figures even a little larger. “Blood and Glory” had the color, and some very ambitious re-enactments.
By contrast, “Blood and Fury’s” are only serviceable. They handle the required chore of hinting at the chaos of the battlefield — but don’t even begin to convey the scope or savagery.
Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS series, “The Civil War” — still without equal on TV — essentially directed viewers’ imaginations to go where cameras couldn’t possibly go. Even competent re-enactments — and these are competent — tend to diminish the great drama that unfolded on July 21, 1861. Doubtless, that wasn’t the producers’ intentions here.
Instead, viewers will do much better by getting battlefield analysis from consultants like Dennis E. Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, or Lincoln historian Matthew Pinsker, who observes that the South’s “greatest advantage (at war’s outset) was size of territory.” A little more of their expertise, a little less of those re-enactments, would have better explained the “blood” and “fury” of the title.
BOTTOM LINE Good analysis, competent re-enactments, but more of the former (less of the latter) would have dramatically improved this dramatization.