Gettysburg Address in Burns’s sights

Ken Burns is at it again.

The heralded documentary filmmaker has assembled another masterpiece that airs April 15 on Panhandle PBS, dealing with President Abraham Lincoln’s landmark speech at the site of what many consider to be the most decisive battle of the American Civil War.

The Gettysburg Address is only 272 words long. It took President Lincoln about three minutes to deliver it to the crowd gathered on that “hallowed ground.” He said no one would remember what would be said then. The president’s words, of course, have become the standard for political eloquence.

Burns’s latest documentary, which airs beginning at 8 p.m. on April 15, is a feature film that looks at how students with learning difficulties use the Gettysburg Address as a tool for success. As the website notes: “The film tells the story of a tiny school in Putney, Vt., the Greenwood School, where each year the students are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address. In its exploration of the Greenwood School, the film also unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.”

A second film to air that same evening, “Lincoln@Gettysburg,” discusses the role the telegraph played in helping the president lead a nation at war with itself.

The telegraph was a fairly new invention then. Call it a sort of precursor to the instant communication we have today. Lincoln, though, needed to lead a nation torn by war. The telegraph enabled him to spread his message of preserving the Union.

A single speech at one of those battlefields helped him rally a nation beset by division, secession, spilled blood and heartache.

Ken Burns has stepped up once more — as he has done on public television over many years — to tell a gripping story of a single speech and how its message lasts through the ages.


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