On the other hand, I see it as a great character study, a masterpiece. Millions of people have seen the film, commercially very successful even though it is heavier on dialogue than action. These are viewers who for the most part don't read Eric Foner or the hundreds of history books written about the Civil War, a vast historiography over time.
Afterall, Sherman was marching through the South destroying everything in his path, a "total war" strategy approved by Lincoln. Slaves followed Sherman in droves across Georgia to the sea, hoping for "40 acres and a mule," their dream of freedom. Events were fast moving toward Appomattox, with General Ulysses Grant planning his final battle and preparing for Robert E. Lee's surrender, the friends from West Point in a scenario they could not have imagined as young men. Slaves were fleeing plantations or taking them over, declaring their own freedom, not waiting for the president or Congress to act. Congress was in a lame-duck session, a sideshow really to more important events, playing political games that were more limited in their scope than they seemed, but providing a colorful cast of characters (all men) for a movie.
The women didn't stop there. They founded the National Women's Loyal League to organize a petition campaign to ensure its passage. Imagine! Under the leadership of the indefatiguable Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of America' greatest civil rights reformers, intellects, and activists, the Loyal League gathered 400,000 signatures in 15 months, an incredible feat then, as now. If anyone has tried to get names on a petition, pre-internet age, you''ll know what this means!
*An army of abolitionists and reformers who spoke out before, during and after the War.
*An army of women who fought for freedom for slaves and discovered they needed to fight for their own as well, creating a women's suffrage movement.
*An army of slaves who defied servitude, joined the Union army, put freedom on the war's agenda, fled farms and plantations to seek out family members, and played a central role in their own emancipation.
*The larger army of people, movements, and grassroots reform that together created the multi-layered process necessary for social change.
*The mighty army, including 4 million freed people in the South, that then carried the process forward, beyond the turbulent Reconstruction years, beyond the Black Codes and massive injustice, and into the 20th century and the rebirth of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Spielberg's character study of Lincoln compliments Burns' documentary.
Sometimes it’s better to get history in small doses, and in popular formats. It reaches more people. Historians can use the opportunities to add their voices. In that sense, Lincoln the film is an important slice of history that provides insight into the character of a great president. Viewers can't help but come away from this movie with a sense of the meaning of the Civil War--a heroic struggle for freedom on many levels--and a grand model of the kind of president America needs, then, now, and always.