The Civil War (1990)
4 user 1 critic

The Cause (1861) 

Slavery began to flourish in the U.S. at the end of the 18th century with Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin. Whereas it would take one person a day to produce a pound of clean ... See full summary »


Ken Burns


Add Image Add an image

Do you have any images for this title?



Episode cast overview, first billed only:
David McCullough ... Himself - Narrator (voice)
Shelby Foote ... Himself - Writer
Barbara Fields Barbara Fields ... Herself - Historian
Ed Bearss Ed Bearss ... Himself - Historian
Sam Waterston ... President Abraham Lincoln (voice)
Julie Harris ... Mary Chestnut (voice)
Jason Robards ... Ulysses S. Grant (voice)
Morgan Freeman ... Frederick Douglass (voice)
Paul Roebling Paul Roebling ... Joshua L. Chamberlain / Sullivan Ballou (voice)
Garrison Keillor ... Walt Whitman (voice)
George Black George Black ... Robert E. Lee (voice)
Arthur Miller ... John Brown / William Tecumseh Sherman (voice)
Christopher Murney ... Pvt. Elijah Hunt Rhodes (voice) (as Chris Murney)
Charles McDowell Charles McDowell ... Pvt. Sam Watkins (voice) (as Charley McDowell)
Horton Foote ... Jefferson Davis (voice)


Slavery began to flourish in the U.S. at the end of the 18th century with Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin. Whereas it would take one person a day to produce a pound of clean cotton, the cotton gin could produce 1000 lbs per day. Business boomed and the demand for slaves to work new cotton fields rose accordingly. Serious objections to slavery began as early as 1831 and the abolitionist movement in the North grew quickly. There was particular concern about whether new States entering the Union would be free or slave States. Some, like John Brown, added religious zealotry to the cause and his raid on the federal at Harper's Ferry in 1859 ended in failure. The Southern States were genuinely concerned that the Union would outlaw slavery altogether. There were 21 million people living in the North compared to only 9 million in the South, which included 4 million slaves. The turning point came in the election of 1860 which essentially became a referendum on slavery. The South ... Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

photo montage | See All (1) »


TV-PG | See all certifications »




Release Date:

23 September 1990 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films, WETA See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Ken Burns repeats the old story that Robert E Lee was offered the command of the Armies of the United States, but there is no evidence that this was ever done. Instead, Lee was offered Command of the army defending Washington, DC.

There is no evidence that Lincoln ever met Lee, although it is possible Lee was present when Lincoln visited the War Department, but this is not substantiated either. See more »


Sam Houston: Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win southern independence, but I doubt it. The north is determined to preserve this union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates, but when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Episode 1: The Cause
2 November 2012 | by Michael_ElliottSee all my reviews

The Civil War: The Cause (1990)

**** (out of 4)

The first episode in Ken Burns' documentary takes a look at the events that led up to what would become the bloodiest war in American history. The events of 1861 are covered and include such topics as: Bull Run, the impact of 1793's cotton gin, how in 1860 one out of every seven Americans was owned by someone else, John Brown, Thomas Jackson, the election of Abraham Lincoln and the first battles of the war. History buffs are certainly going to love this episode as it takes its time but fully explains everything that was happening in the country during 1860 and 1861 and it gives you a clear idea of why both sides thought war was the only hope for their sides. The documentary also does a terrific job at showing why both sides also thought that the war would only last a few months with even a few people thinking that no one would have to die. The film uses narration to tell its story as well as actors (Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman) to do parts of various characters. This here has always been a very effective way for Burns to tell the story and connect with the viewer. There are also a great collection of photos from the era including some very haunting ones dealing with the amputations that were rampant throughout the war.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 4 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Free Movies and TV Shows You Can Watch Now

On IMDb TV, you can catch Hollywood hits and popular TV series at no cost. Select any poster below to play the movie, totally free!

Browse free movies and TV series

Recently Viewed