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The Civil War Experience (CD-Rom), from SouthPeak Interactive, Cary, North Carolina, 919-677-4499, $39.95.

The Civil War Experience opens in booming fashion: dramatic music pours from computer speakers; on the screen, cannon fire lights up the sky over Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and Confederate shells smash into the thick walls of Federal-held Fort Sumter. These are the opening salvos of the Civil War, April 12, 1861.

This sharp new CD-Rom is not all flash, but the two hours of clips from the History Channel series Civil War Journal that highlight the program–including commentary from James I. Robertson, Paul Andrew Hutton, and other historians–bring it to life. The main menu includes six major sections ranging from “Politics of War” to “Daily Lives.” Each section explores several narrower topics; “People,” for instance, covers 150 political, civilian, and military figures from the war. Aided by battlefield sound effects and animated troop movements, “Troops and Battles” describes eight pivotal campaigns. Among the program’s many other features are two computer games, an in-depth timeline, and links to Civil War-related websites.

Walt Whitman once wrote of the Civil War: “Its interior history will not only never be written–its practicality, minutiae of deeds and passions, will never even be suggested.” The Civil War Experience does little to counter that claim. Its content is standard stuff. The text is shallow and occasionally misleading. (Confederate Major General George E. Pickett did not actually lead the charge named for him.) But the producers deserve credit for addressing not only the larger issues of war, but also less glamorous subjects such as the Compromise of 1850, conscription acts, and the suspension (by both sides) of the writ of habeas corpus. If you’re looking to gain a general understanding of the Civil War era, and maybe even a little inspiration, The Civil War Experience is one experience you’ll want to have.

Eric Ethier