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updated 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

There was nothing civil about the Civil War, from the first Confederate volley fired at South Carolina's Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, to Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9, 1865, the vicious battle between North and South claimed more American lives than any war in history. In this anniversary week, viewers looking for an introduction to the faces and places forever linked with that confrontation are well served with this collection of videos:


Even Civil War buffs will learn something in this hour-long tape that re-enacts four battles between the Blue and the Gray, plus General Lee's surrender. This well-researched video is packed with maps, war charts, casualty counts and vivid anecdotes.

The battle scenes, staged in full costume, seem repetitive—war in those days often amounted to enemies standing a gentlemanly distance apart and opening fire—and one can't help wondering how these amateur warriors know who should fall and when, but viewers can still get a feel for the way it was. Take, for example, the spring day in 1861, when crowds of picnickers from Washington, D.C., traveled to Manassas, Va., to see the rebel upstarts trounced and instead found themselves fleeing along with the Union troops. The tour passes through Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, ending at Appomattox Court House. It's hard not to be moved at the sight of the parlor where General Lee made small talk with Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant before signing the notice of surrender, thus ending the most divisive four years in American history. (Encounter Video, $29.95; 800-633-5633)

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