The movie Glory is loosely based on the first black regiment sponsored in the North, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Like many history based films, Glory, exaggerates some aspects of the story, like characters and relationships. However, there is an element of truth in just about every scene. The film follows the 54th Massachusetts from formation of the infantry and the life style of the soldiers to the work they did and the battles they fought.
The opening scene takes place on the battle field of Antietam. Although Antietam was only briefly shown in the movie it was a pivotal point in the Civil War. President Lincoln had created the Emancipation Proclamation and was waiting for a big Northern victory before he put it in to action and Antietam was the victory he had been waiting for. The Emancipation Proclamation freed many blacks. [Fon91]. After the Emancipation Proclamation was put in to action, Frederick Douglass and Massachusetts Governor John Andrews created the 54th Massachusetts. This regiment was comprised of black volunteering soldiers (including two of Frederick Douglass’ sons) and all white officers. One of whom was Robert Gould Shaw; a member of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry who fought and was injured in the battle of Antietam. He returned home to Boston shortly after the battle had ended [Bow10]. Shaw was personally asked by Governor Andrews to be the colonel of the 54th [Mil00]. In the movie Shaw says yes to this proposal almost immediately. However it actually took several long talks with his parents for Shaw to accept. His main hesitations were leaving his men in the 2nd and the prospect of heading a regiment of armed blacks would not be popular among white ranks. In a letter to his wife Annie, Shaw wrote 'You know how many eminent men consider a negro army of the greatest importance to our country at this time. If it turns out to be so, how fully repaid the pioneers in the movement will be, for what they may have to go through….I feel convinced I shall never regret having taken this step, as far as I myself am concerned; for while I was undecided I felt ashamed of myself, as if I were cowardly.'[Kas06]
The regiment and officers had to navigate the discrimination of the Union Army from day one. They trained in Readville Massachusetts under the 24/7 watch of white soldiers. Many white soldiers believed that the black soldiers lacked not only the guts for combat but the intelligence become trained soldiers as well. The constant negative view of the regiment inspired the soldiers and officers to become just as good (if not better) than white regiments. In the movie Shaw hires one of the toughest drill sergeants. The sergeant he bring in is named Sgt. Maj. Mulcahy an Irishmen. Some of the white soldiers and officers feel that Shaw is being too rough on the soldiers by hiring the drill sergeant; but Shaw is simply getting them ready for combat. Slowly the soldiers and officers become united and fully commit themselves to each other. When the soldiers only receive $10 pay compared to white soldiers who receive $13, soldiers and officers (including Shaw) refuse pay until their regiment is paid the same as all of the other Massachusetts regiments. Colored regiments did not receive equal pay until almost a year and a half after the first regiment was formed.[Kas06]. The movie showed everyone tearing up their papers and chanting about not accepting pay, I do not believe this to be accurate. However I do believe that the tearing and chanting is a symbol of them all coming together as a regiment. It shows soldiers and officers being united as one for the first time. Not long after the 54th was mustered into service the Confederate Congress passed an act stating that 'any Negro' as well as 'white commissioned officer [who] shall command, prepare or aid Negroes in arms against the Confederate States will be put to death.’ Despite the threat from the Confederate Congress the 54th remained strong and united. A soldier from the 55th Massachusetts colored infantry wrote “If President Davis were to ‘enforce his threats of treating us as servile insurgents, there will be but little quarter shown to rebels who fall in to our hands’.” [Mil00]
Since many of the soldier in the 54th were freed blacks, many of them lacked appropriate clothing especially shoes. In the movie one of the men’s feet are so tattered that he is willing to risk being whipped just to get new shoes. After about a month of training the soldiers marched through Boston in their brand new uniforms (including shoes, guns and basic supplies) on their way to Battery Wharf.
The discrimination of the colored troops really hit the 54th when they reached Port Royal Island .They were set to be a manual labor troop not a combat troop like they had hoped. The only action the men saw was when Colonel James Montgomery took them on an expedition with a troop of colored volunteers; they went to raid a small town called Darien. The movie portrayed this expedition pretty accurately. Darien was a small town and there were only a few people who still lived there. Montgomery’s troops forage for supplies, and when they found furniture or goods they thought they could sell or use, they would take those. Often time stolen goods would end up in officers’ quarters or back up North to sell. It was Montgomery’s soldiers that did all of the raiding, however when they were done Montgomery ordered Shaw to have some men set fire to some of the buildings. Shaw had to obey the orders because Montgomery had a higher rank. In the film Shaw was very upset and felt horribly guilty commanding him men to start the fire. His anger and guilt in reality were shown in the letters he wrote his wife Annie, “being bound by the rules of regular warfare….but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenseless.”[Hut02] It wasn’t until after the raid at Darien that Shaw learned that Montgomery was acting on the orders of his superior General David Hunter. In the film, Shaw’s wife Annie was never mentioned. She was a big part of Shaw’s life and the letters that were sent to her have played a key part in letting historians know what actually happened during the time Shaw spend with the 54th. The movie also portrays Montgomery as being the bad guy when in reality he was following orders.
The battle scenes at the end of Glory were probably the most accurate. The 54th got their first chance to fight July 16 1863 alongside white troops on James Island. That night they went to Morris Island where battle lines were beginning to form for the attack on Fort Wagner. Although there were tired and worn out the 54th was determined to fight. General Strong heard how brave the 54th was and asked Shaw if they would like to take the lead on the attack on Fort Wagner. Shaw and his men agreed. There were 600 men form the 54th that were split up in to two groups. Company A lined up on the left and Company B lined up on the right. At dusk Strong addressed the men of both companies. He pointed to the man who was carrying the colors and said “If this man should fall, who will pick up the flag?” Shaw raised his hand and turned to his men and gave them a few words of inspiration. As they charged the fort Confederate soldiers threw grenades, shot cannons and guns at the Union Army and men fell left and right. The men were able, charged the fort with Shaw. Shaw made it all the way to a parapet before he was killed. The battle at Fort Wagner was a tragic loss for the 54th and the Union army in general; they lost 1,515 soldiers. Although they fought gallantly, the battle was a victory for the Confederacy.
The major differences in the film in the battle scenes were, the 54th did fight for the first time on the 16th but they didn’t fight alongside white troops. They fought the battle on James Island alone. When they reach Fort Wagner, Shaw wasn’t asked by Strong if he would like to lead the attack he volunteered to do it. And he told Strong how brave his men were. Shaw was the one who said “If this man should fall who will take the flag?” There are minor differences but differences none the less.
For the most part I found Glory to be fairly accurate in relation to my research. As I stated before, there were some elaboration on things like relationships, and people. For example Cpl. Thomas Searles was a main character in the movie, he was one of Shaws best friends. However he is a fictional character along with Maj. Cabot Forbes and Pvt. Trip. They were all very interesting characters and they all provide different views on the 54th. The character that was the most impressive was Robert Gould Shaw. He was portrayed the way he is in text books, articles, and other historically based movies. Shaw was represented as being a honest man, and great leader who didn’t see the color of peoples’ skin but their ability to be a soldier. The film followed the time line of events very closely from the formation of the infantry to the battle at Fort Wagner. And to make it even better the events are relatively accurate. I think that the movie does a great job of representing the first black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. As well as the events that unfolded before them.