If you’re looking for a more personal approach to the Civil War, you can always check out the mini series “North and South.” The mini series was highly successful with the first installment (1985) becoming the seventh highest rated mini series in TV history and features the swoon-worthy presence of a young Patrick Swayze and James Read.
This was before Swayze was Johnny Castle in the 1987 “Dirty Dancing” and Sam Wheat in the 1990 “Ghost,” and before he was named the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine in 1991. He was 33 at the time of the original series. He had just appeared in “The Outsiders” in 1984.
Read is perhaps best known as the father of the main character, Elle, in the 2001 “Legally Blonde” and the 2003 sequel “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.” He co-starred in the 1988 movie “Beaches” with Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard and Spalding Gray.
The mini series in based on a trilogy of novels by John Jakes about two friends who meet at West Point: Orry Main of South Carolina (Swayze) and George Hazard of Pennsylvania (James Read). The Mains are slave owners. The Hazards own a mill.
Orry is in love with Madelaine (Lesley-Anne Down). His sister Brett (Genie Francis) is the good one and his sister Ashton (Terri Garber) is selfish. while George has a sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) who is an abolitionist. Many famous actors appear in the 1985 mini series including Johnny Cash who portrays John Brown, Robert Guillaume as Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Taylor as a madam, Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln, and Morgan Fairchild, Gene Kelly and Robert Mitchum as fictional characters. A pre-Star Trek TNG Jonathan Frakes appeared as Stanley Hazard in all three series.
This is the soapy side of history, but won an Emmy for Outstanding Costuming and was nominated for nine other Emmy Awards.
“North and South” (1985) This covers the summer of 1842 to April 1861 when the Civil War begins.
North and South: Book II (1986) Beginning in June 1861, this mini series covers the Civil War up until General Robert E. Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865.
Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III (1994) was less well received with only archival footage of Swayze. Orry is murdered in the first episode. Beginning in the summer of 1865, this mini series covers the least amount of time, ending in the summer of 1866.
“North and South” is available on DVD on Netflix and includes all three mini series.