U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Archive for October, 2008


This week for class we watched “Glory.” It is about the 54th Massachusettes Regiment in the Civil War. They were an all black regiment. I thought the movie was good, but it is not something I would sit down and watch for fun one afternoon. For a movie based on actual letters there are several things they got wrong. Cary Elwes’ character is made up and all of the black characters are stereotypical. Robert Gould Shaw had to be persuaded to take the job as the captain and he was the one to tell the soldiers they should refuse pay until they were paid an equal amount. The battles and uniforms appeared acurate and the final assualt on Fort Wagner was right. They did lose almost half of their men including Captain Shaw and he was buried in a common grave with the rest of the men. However they did not volunteer to lead the charge on the fort. My biggest problem with the story is that the characters were wrtiien in such a way that I didn’t connect with them and become invested in their outcome. It was one of those stories where you and sit and watch it til the end to find out what happens but you don’t care because the characters haven’t drawn you in.


Well I have to say that this movie no longer holds the same meaning for me that it once did.  Back in the seventh grade this movie helped to create my love for the civil war.  I always had an interest ever since I was little because of Gone With the Wind but this moive really helped it grow.  This summer I watched this movie again after what seems like years and it really didnt seem all that great to me.  Now after getting the background information in class I really dont like the movie at all anymore.
Well I will have to say that the movie did do at least some things right.  It shown a whole new light on a topic that many Americans love.  It told the story of an all black regiment who really helped to make a difference.  While somewhat exaggerated it shows many of the discrimination that black soldiers had to face.  One major problem that I found is that the movie suggests that many of the soldiers are escaped slaves when in actuality most were free blacks from the north.  It seems to me that if you are making a film based off of letters from the real Shaw that you would take more reality into account.  The one major problem that I had is in the end of the movie when the 54th volunteers to lead the charge on Ft. Wagner, they never actually did this.  They did not volunteer they were commanded.  While I understand that they were very brave to lead the charge, the movie makes them seem even braver by making it seem like it is their choice to lead the attack.
All in all it is not the movie I remember loving growing up.


The first time I ever saw Glory was in middle school, and like every other kid in class I was awfully impressed. I was then unaware that the Union employed blacks in their ranks and found the story very compelling. Fast forward to today and ultimately I still feel that this is a compelling and mostly accurate depiction of history.

I found the depiction of the battles to be fairly accurate, as it seemed almost silly at times that the units would literally walk right into canon fire as they were shown to do at Antietam and at Ft. Wagner. As silly as it may look to the contemporary viewer, that was the reality of the Civil War. Also, little things like the “three aimed shots in 60 seconds” were on point- there wasn’t the issue of loaded guns materializing like in Last of the Mohicans. Also the hospital scene was grisly, essentially the Gone with the Wind scene on steroids (though lacking GWTW’s epic crane shot).

There were some issues though. There were no mention of the New York City draft riots. (Gangs of New York, a movie likely rife with historical liberties, does give a depiction of these riots. I am curious as to its veracity, though it at least conveyed the sense of unrest I imagine.) We are expected to believe that the only issues concerning race with the Union army is that a) some people think they can’t fight and b) that they are only good for digging ditches, whereas there were serious concerns among people in the Union of arming former slaves at all. Also, though Frederick Douglass is a character in the movie, where are his sons and brother? How was that not deemed compelling enough for the narrative? Then there is the distortion over the contraband issue. Whereas Gen. Butler is the one who pioneers its use to free slaves, the movie has Col. Montgomery as the creator. He then uses the concept simply to exploit the slaves to add to his collection of plunder, which seems only to serve as a counterpoint to Shaw’s higher moral intentions. This struck me as an unnecessary distortion, as they could have just played up the resistance of the white soldiers more. Lastly, I wonder why there were no depictions of the slave revenge as mentioned in the Hatton letter. A scene of slave redemption, whipping an old slave master, would have been powerful.

Yet, I believe that the movie did well to not over-hype the importance of the 54th beyond their symbolic importance. It would have been easy for filmmakers to not print the final text of the movie which gave the reality of the situation, that the regiment was decimated and that the assault on Ft. Wagner, and leave the viewer to think that maybe the remnants of the regiment stormed through the fort to achieve victory. But instead the movie portrays the 54th as certainly not the first regiment of black soldiers, or the last, or even the most effective. Glory simply portrayed the 54th as an extremely influential regiment. This is where the reporter from Harper’s plays into the story. Shaw instructs him to tell the country of what they did at Wagner. The 54th became a rallying point for support of black soldiers. They were, as mentioned in lecture, a “glorious failure.” The final shot of the statue of the 54th hammered home the point to me that these men were essentially martyrs to the abolitionist cause.

Glory, an Exceptional Story

Glory is my favorite movie by far. I found it’s portrayal of history to be the most accurate. However, I found the group of black soldiers that the movie concentrates on to be somewhat stereotypical. There is the sage, wise one, the intellectual, the badass and the stuttering, naive one. Aside from this downfall, the movie was very captivating and held my interest. I was somewhat confused during the scene when the 54th regiment arrives in Beaufort, SC because the house in the scene displays a Union flag, or what I thought was a Union flag, although it is a Southern city, so I assumed a Confederate flag would be displayed. Also, the eagerness of the black soldiers to enlist in the Army was accurate because they were fighting for their freedom and for a moral way of life. This was their opportunity to fight for their country and to pledge their allegiance to a free and democratic nation.


So this is my first post.  I must say, I enjoyed Glory alot.  This was the secod time I had seen it.  The best thing it does for us, as a secodary source about the past, is show us how many members of the North were in fact racist.  We like to beleive that North was all about figting for all that is right.  This includes more than fighting against slavery but fighting against racism as well.  The movie does do a diservice to its audience, though, by pretending that most of the regiment were runaway southern slaves when in fact they were mostly free northern blacks.  The filmakers wanted the regiment to be made up of people that had a clearly dramatic reason to fight.  As for the movie being a primary source about the past; I think it still portrays blacks stereotypically, albiet modern stereotypes.


First off, I have to say that I had never seen “Glory” before this week. I didn’t really have any preconceived notions of it, as I had heard of it, but only in passing. My American history is also not that great, so I didn’t have a lot of ideas going into it at all.

“Glory” was very emotionally affecting and, I think, fairly well done. No movie that we have watched this semester has been 100% historically accurate, but I appreciated the character development, the lack of a cheesy made-up romance, the focus on telling a historical story, and the fact that the end wasn’t just inspiring and perfect. Now, none of these qualities erase the historical inaccuracies that we are taking this course to single out and study, but overall, I approve of this movie as a historical film.

In terms of looking at the movie as a secondary source, one scene that stands out is the scene when Matthew Broderick tells his men that he and the higher-ups will not accept their pay if the black soldiers won’t accept theirs. Now, this may be true, but I think it was also an important scene for an audience in the 1980s/1990s to see. Equality! Fairness! Even in the time of the terrible, racist South, there were white guys just like us who wanted to erase the race lines! I have a hard time believing that the soldiers, who had wives and children, would turn down that $10 a month that they probably dearly needed.. even in the face of such unfairness.

The scene where Denzel Washington was whipped was by far the worst of the movie. I was watching it at home and had to pause it and walk away right before it started. I think that scene was right up there with “Amistad” except almost worse, in a way, because it was a concious choice by Broderick’s character to take him back to being a slave — exactly the kind of treatment they were all supposed to be fighting. I suppose, of all of the scenes though, this one might bring us back to some inner conflicts of the white commanders, defying the norm beliefs of society.

For all possible criticisms of the movie (most likely, as Kelly W. refers to them, of the films “Patriot” moments), I think that it was leaps and bounds above some of the other movies we have watched. It didn’t match the beauty of “Gone With the Wind” or the direction of “Amistad” but at least we had history.


I have to say that this is, as I’ve told a classmate, the PERFECT historical war film. Of all the movies we have watched, Glory is the one that REALLY gets everything as close to “Right” as a Hollywood movie can. As Dr.M explained, the South was NOT the only part of the nation that was racist. The hostility and resentment towards the blacks was something that never seemed exaggerated in this film, yet was never glossed over either. The importance of the 54th MA unit showed itself, and without a Disney-fied grandstanding.

However, I think the most important part is the fact that they did not try to change the events of the attack on the fort. Very often, especially with the pass we have given Hollywood to try and transform less-than-satisfactory results for a more Hollywood ending, these movies will try and tie a pretty bow around a less than pretty event. It was nice to see that Ed Zwick, known for About Last Night, thirtysomething and the (in my mind) overrated Blood Diamond, did not try to sanitize the results of this attack.

All in all, honestly, as close to perfection as we have seen. And this coming from a Denzel hater.

Historical Film Glory

This was the first time I saw “Glory” and I really enjoyed the film. I felt that the film accurately portrayed the 54th Regiment and its fight for freedom and glory. The fight at Fort Wagner showed the greater effect of black soldiers participating in combat. Black soldiers fought less than whites, which was shown in the film; black troops did mostly manual labor work for the Union Army. The film was also accurate in showing how hard it was to receive shoes, uniforms, and equipment for the black soldiers. Though, many black regiments did not see combat. In the film the 54th proved in one battle that they could fight, which allowed them to be the first line into combat in the Battle of Fort Wagner, but this was usually not how it worked. The film did not give an overview of how these black men became a part of the Union Army. It would have been interesting if they gave some information on how the main black characters joined the army. In the end, watching the film makes me wish that both sides of the armies could have put their racial issues aside earlier and really taken advantage of using the black men to help them. The more men the better chance of a side winning battles.

It’s What Glory Did Not Say

This was the first time I had ever seen this movie and I must say I was impressed. I thought it was entertaining and engaging. I agree with Elizabeth, I too would put this in the Amistad category of historical accuracy with crucial shortcomings. The problem I have with this movie is that it portrays the 54th, in fact, the entire Union victory as a forgone conclusion. The sense I got from the lecture and readings was that during the war, the situation was a little more tenuous. Dr. McClurken said that Blacks learned the heartbreaking realities of politics and discrimination through their service. Although the movie did a good job of showing racism towards blacks in the military at first, by the end of the movie all of the wounds were healed. The movie did not reference the New York draft riots, or convey the truth that the majority of black battalions were actually labor units. This movie makes it seem like once the black soldiers proved themselves as capable brothers- in- arms, a certain equality had been achieved. I also take issue with the fact that the film portrays the South as all bad, and the North as either racist- white or tolerant- white. The political situation was far more complicated, and the movie fell short in representing the viewpoints that shaped the social and political landscape of the Civil War.  I guess the best way to put it is, what the film left out is more damaging than what was in.

A Solider’s Honor and “Glory”

After viewing Glory I pondered it historical meaning and context for quite some time.  Overall, I felt the film did a good job portraying the 54th Massachusetts regiment.  The film showed how they had difficulty acquiring their gear at first, but was given weapons and clothing.  Also, it did an excellent job showing just how fast the African Americans learned to march and acquire other military skills.  They did this by commenting on their progress and later, by other officers commenting to Colonel Shaw about how well his regiment marched and behaved.

I liked how the movie incorporated the letters Shaw wrote to his family back home, I thought that added a nice touch, especially since lettering writing was prevalent and it is part of the primary documents that show the history of the 54th.  It also served as a nice narration between scenes, events, etcetera.  Glory captured the struggles through which the 54th went through to gain recognition and dealing with racism during the war.  I remember in the readings that the men were pissed off that the Confederates did not treat Shaw to a proper officer burial and buried him in the trench.  Glory showed Shaw being thrown into the trench, but did not mention that his men went back and dug him out to give him the proper burial.

The movie overall serves as a guideline history for the 54th Massachusetts regiment and could be used as a secondary source, but only with the knowledge that not everything is correct.  Characters are made up and some events as well, but one has to remember it was made for a general audience appeal.  The film does explain at the end in text that Fort Wagner was never taken and the 54th lost over half its men in the attack, which is true.  The text also tells the audience, in much less words, that this is a moment in the war, a moment that stood out and gave recognition to African Americans as men, not as property.  This moment got Congress to recognize African Americans and authorize the raising of black troops throughout the Union.

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