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The Revolutionary War

[Shown on "The Learning Channel" (U.S.); 6 episodes; 1995]

[I am only reviewing two episodes of this multi-part documentary, Part 5: "The Dark Days" and Part 6: "A Harvest of Victory," (both written by Paula Deats) which cover aspects of the Southern Campaign.]

In general, it presents a surprisingly even-handed recounting of the "civil war" characteristics of the war in the south, acknowledging that most battles were fought between opposing groups of Americans and that a conflict which began over issues of loyalty and politics devolved into a progression of bloody feuds between neighbors or within families. The long-term persecution of Loyalists is discussed at some length, along with how it started the chain of events which led to escalating brutalities on both sides.

Unfortunately, whenever the topic turns to Banastre Tarleton or, to a lesser extent, Patrick Ferguson, we fall back into propaganda -- though less of it, admittedly, than we were asked to swallow in Frontier.

Banastre's customary "demon straight out of the dark regions" treatment is pretty much confined to the account of the Waxhaws, which follows a standard checklist of factual errors and misdirections for that skirmish:

Aside from the account of Waxhaws, Tarleton plays a fairly neutral role in the narrative, getting a number of passing mentions but no particular venom. His one "voice over" -- the famous "damned old fox" quote about Francis Marion -- is done by an American who is barely pretending he's anything else. The description of Cowpens is overly simplistic, but not seriously inaccurate as far as it goes.

On an amusing note: As usual, no one explained to the narrator (in this case, Charles Kuralt) how to pronounce "Banastre," though he doesn't mangle it quite so spectacularly as Frontier's Peter Coyote. Obviously he recorded his dialogue without listening to the "talking heads" portion of the program, because mixed in with Kuralt's mispronunciations are comments from historian Burton K. Kummerow, who says the name correctly. [And if you're not sure, see trivia for a pronunciation guide.]

While it is not -- unfortunately! -- a surprise, the level of factual inaccuracy in the descriptions of Waxhaws, King's Mountain, etc. is doubly disappointing because the overall quality of the documentary is better than average. Even with all its problems, it is far superior to Frontier.

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