Film Study Guide


In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, South Carolinian artillery forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. After some 35 hours of relentless bombardment, the garrison, heavily damaged and its ammunition exhausted, was forced to surrender. Many years of angry bickering and reluctant compromise between the North and the South had now turned into military hostilities. The Civil War was underway.

Although some blacks had fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, they were, according to law, barred from military service. Consequently, during the early stages of the Civil War, blacks eager to enlist were turned away. But the dire need for manpower soon convinced the federal government to change its policy. In mid-1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton approved certain local enrollments of blacks in Kansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina. A year later, the Emancipation Proclamation specifically authorized unlimited black enlistment. Wholesale recruitment ensued, and by late 1863, well over 50 black regiments had formed. In all, about 200,000 blacks would eventually join the Union Army, comprising some 166 regiments. Nearly one-fifth of them perished during the Civil War.

Black soldiers were segregated and commanded by white officers. Initially, pay was $7 per month for blacks, which was about half that of their white counterparts. In addition, the black regiments were usually outfitted with the poorest equipment and received the most meager supplies. Predictably, black prisoners were afforded especially cruel regimen by their Confederate captors—some unfortunates were even summarily shot. While the shoddy treatment and lousy conditions were somewhat expected, the worst of it, from the perspective of the blacks, was that many northerners were skeptical of their courage and fighting ability.

Racism among the Union troops was profound. Many northerners who accepted the idea of black troops did so only because the blacks were often assigned either especially heavy work or tasks considered too menial for whites (after all, the simple black man was used to strenuous routine labor) rather than actual battlefield fighting. When black companies were included in battle tactics, it was not unusual for them to be placed in the most strategically dangerous situations (no sense putting the lives of white soldiers in positions of extreme risk when there were plenty of blacks on hand). A popular song in the North celebrated "Sambo's Right to be Kilt" as the only justification for black enlistments.

The most famous of the black volunteer regiments was the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. It was commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a blond Bostonian only 25 years of age. His parents were wealthy abolitionists. On July 18, 1863, the Massachusetts 54th spearheaded the land-and-sea assault on Charleston, during the Coastal Campaign of 1863, with Fort Wagner as the immediate objective.

By the war's end, one soldier in eight was black. In fact, the Union's black troops alone, more than a third of which came from the states of Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas, outnumbered the entire Confederate Army! Blacks had an even greater impact in the Navy, where they comprised a quarter of the force. Sixteen black soldiers and four black sailors received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during the Civil War.


The Massachusetts 54th is chronicled in the motion picture Glory, produced in 1989. Its cast includes Matthew Broderick, who portrays Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and Cary Elwes, playing the part of Major Cabot Forbes, Shaw's confidant and fellow officer. The movie received three Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor, won by Denzel Washington ("Trip") for his role as a runaway slave, now enlisted in the 54th, who embodies the unyielding spirit of the black regiment. His misdirected energy and common insolence is tempered by an empathetic and inspirational old sergeant, played by Morgan Freeman ("Rawlins"). Also among the raw recruits of the 54th are Andre Braugher ("Searles"), a free black from an established northern family, clearly accustomed to many comforts and benefits enjoyed by privileged society, including a fine education, and Jihmi Kennedy ("Sharts"), a timid ex-slave who learned unquestioned submission to white authority on a South Carolina plantation.

Shaw wrote home to his parents regularly, telling his version of life in the Army of the Potomac. The letters (currently held by the Houghton Library at Harvard University) provide the historical basis for much of Glory; several brief excerpts are read by a voice-over throughout the movie. Other sources used by the filmmakers are Lay This Laurel, by Lincoln Kirstein, and One Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard. While Glory has an R rating, owing to violence and language typical of historically genuine presentations about war and racism, it is not overly embellished with either.

From the outset, director Edward Zwick resolved to uphold the movie's historical integrity. Glory modifies some of the facts, but the deviations are relatively minor and do not detract from presenting the true legacy of the Massachusetts 54th and in doing so, fulfilling the film's overall purpose. For example, the Massachusetts governor did not offer Shaw command of the new 54th person-to-person at a lavish reception. Rather, the governor conveyed the offer through Shaw's father. Nor did Shaw immediately accept; he initially refused, but later changed his mind.

The membership base of the Massachusetts 54th is the subject of another minor historical flaw within Glory. Although about 80 percent of the blacks who served in the Union Army were ex-slaves, the bulk of the 54th's recruits were free blacks residing in the North. The movie, however, would have viewers believe the regiment was composed almost entirely of runaway slaves.

Understandably, the use of physical punishment was a major point of contention between ex-slave recruits and white officers during the Civil War. During an especially agonizing scene in Glory, Shaw has one of his black recruits whipped for disobeying camp orders. The real Shaw did not submit his soldiers to such treatment. Not only had Congress recently outlawed flogging in the military, but for the compassionate Shaw to have done so is inconceivable. Hence, the scene is apart from fact.

One particularly memorable episode in Glory shows the frenzied black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th (at the urging of the fiery private portrayed by Washington) tearing up their paychecks to protest wages unequal to that of white Union soldiers. In truth, the blacks of the 54th did refuse to accept any pay at all until it was equalized, though it is doubtful their show of displeasure was as raucous as that in the movie.

Immediately after the war, efforts began to create a memorial to Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th in Boston. It wasn't until 1881 that enough funds were raised to commission the project from the distinguished American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. At the insistence of Shaw's family, Saint-Gaudens included some of the regiment's soldiers in the memorial. The finished piece, unveiled in May of 1897, shows Shaw mounted on a horse amidst 23 black troops. Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute, was among the speakers at the dedication ceremony. Also present was Sergeant William H. Carney, a survivor of the 54th's assault on Fort Wagner and the first black to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Carney, though wounded twice and soaked with blood, retrieved the American flag from a fallen flag-bearer and managed to haul it from the battleground. Over the years, Saint-Gaudens's work has become one of the most popular of the countless monuments commemorating the Civil War. It can be seen as background while the final credits roll in Glory.

Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing Glory, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
  1. The Civil War took place during:
    1. 1855-1860
    2. 1861-1865
    3. 1863-1866
    4. 1865-1869

  2. President Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to:
    1. punish the South for its transgressions against blacks
    2. stabilize the economy, suffering the effects of uncooperative southern planters
    3. abolish slavery in the United States
    4. preserve the Union, threatened by secession of numerous southern states

  3. The Civil War began:
    1. with the Confederate advance through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley
    2. when South Carolina militia fired on Fort Sumter
    3. with the clash of Union and Confederate forces at Bull Run
    4. when the South refused to accept the Emancipation Proclamation

  4. The state formed as a direct result of secession and war was:
    1. Kansas
    2. Missouri
    3. West Virginia
    4. Nebraska

  5. One of the clear southern advantages at the outset of the war was that the South:
    1. would fight a defensive war
    2. had a greater populace
    3. contained more miles of railroads
    4. controlled the seas

  6. The northern and southern armies differed most profoundly in that:
    1. many more Union than Confederate officers were West Point graduates
    2. Confederate forces often suffered serious shortages of weapons and ammunition, whereas Federal troops were sufficiently supplied
    3. the average northern soldier was generally more dedicated than his southern counterpart to the war's cause
    4. northern troops were better clothed and fed than southern soldiers

  7. The Massachusetts 54th was primarily formed of:
    1. ex-slaves from southern territories occupied by the Union army
    2. runaway slaves
    3. free northern blacks
    4. northern slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation

  8. For most blacks, the primary desire to fight in the Civil War was to:
    1. punish their former southern plantation owners for over 200 years of bondage
    2. end slavery once and for all throughout the entire United States
    3. resist Confederate secession and preserve the Union
    4. demonstrate equality, in this case of fighting ability, with the white race

  9. All of the following injustices/inequities were shown in Glory except:
    1. unequal pay for black and white soldiers in the Union Army
    2. disrespect for black soldiers by white soldiers and officers
    3. especially cruel treatment by Confederate captors of black soldiers taken as prisoners
    4. black regiments commanded exclusively by white officers

  10. Letters written by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw to his parents in Boston:
    1. reveal many of the reasons why the assault on Fort Wagner was unsuccessful
    2. indicate that Shaw was unhappy with his appointment as commander of the Massachusetts 54th
    3. criticize the overall behavior of his black soldiers
    4. provide much of the historical knowledge for Glory

  11. The Massachusetts 54th's assault on Fort Wagner was part of the:
    1. Peninsular Campaign
    2. Anaconda Plan
    3. Coastal Campaign
    4. Seven Days Battles

  12. All of the following actors in Glory represent fictional, though plausible, characters except:
    1. Matthew Broderick
    2. Cary Elwes
    3. Morgan Freeman
    4. Denzel Washington

  13. The greatest frustration of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War was:
    1. finding a capable military commander to lead the Union
    2. campaigning around the country for re-election in 1864 while in the midst of war
    3. deciding what to do with all the freed slaves who migrated to the North
    4. punishing captured Confederate soldiers

  14. General Robert E. Lee's decision to invade the North at Gettysburg was based on hopes that a Confederate victory there might accomplish all of the following except:
    1. divert Union troops northward and remove heavy pressure being exerted on the lower Mississippi
    2. convince England and France to enter the war on behalf of the Confederacy
    3. discourage the war-weary North into possibly abandoning the war
    4. significantly lessen the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation on the slave population south of the Mason-Dixon Line

  15. The key factor in Great Britain's decision to reject Confederate expectations of a British declaration of war against the United States was the:
    1. brilliant diplomacy of Charles Francis Adams, who served as American minister in London throughout the Civil War
    2. unexpected need for northern wheat, rather than southern cotton, due to crop failures in Great Britain
    3. clearly emerging battlefield superiority of the North
    4. public pressure exerted on Parliament by the mass of common people in Great Britain who favored the North

  16. "This young West Point graduate became the North's first Civil War hero when he drove Confederate forces out of western Virginia. He possessed solid qualifications for command, including the ability to inspire troops. But undue caution too often outweighed his bravado. President Abraham Lincoln dismissed him twice because he was reluctant to pursue defeated Confederate forces, even though his numbers were superior." The general described is:
    1. Ambrose E. Burnside
    2. Joseph Hooker
    3. George B. McClellan
    4. Philip Sheridan

  17. The Emancipation Proclamation accomplished all of the following except:
    1. established that the Civil War was henceforth being fought not just to maintain the Union, but to eliminate slavery as well
    2. served as propaganda to convince free northern blacks to join the Union ranks, and spurred many slaves near Union lines to desert their plantations
    3. helped dissolve British support for the Confederacy
    4. provided the necessary legal foundation to punish Confederate military officers and government officials when the war was over

  18. Historians generally consider the turning point of the Civil War to be the:
    1. Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg
    2. death of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson at Chancellorsville
    3. Chesapeake Bay clash between the ironclads Monitor and Merrimack
    4. attack on Fort Wagner led by the Massachusetts 54th

  19. All of the following are books written about the Civil War except:
    1. The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
    2. Gray Lady Down, by Bruce Catton
    3. Andersonville, by MacKinlay Kantor
    4. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

  20. "This Union victory, coupled with success at Port Hudson in Louisiana, isolated Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, thus giving the North complete control of the Mississippi River. Additionally, it led President Abraham Lincoln to recognize the military leadership prowess of General Ulysses S. Grant, subsequently appointing him commander of all Union forces." The engagement described is the:
    1. Battle of Shiloh
    2. Vicksburg Campaign
    3. siege of Atlanta
    4. Battle of Gettysburg

  21. During the final months of the war, the South was defeated largely due to:
    1. superior military leadership and strategy of the North
    2. lack of adequate financing to continue the war
    3. internal rebellions in some of the northernmost Confederate states
    4. simple attrition of southern fighting forces

  22. General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia was designed to:
    1. procure needed supplies for Union armies in Virginia and the Carolinas
    2. break the psychological will of the South
    3. free what slaves remained in central and western Georgia
    4. pin Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg against the Atlantic Ocean

  23. All of the following episodes in Glory deviate somewhat from historical fact except:
    1. the offer to Captain Robert Gould Shaw, by the Massachusetts governor, to command the new 54th and Shaw's immediate acceptance
    2. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw's approval of whipping as punishment meted out to a black soldier caught breaking camp rules
    3. the boisterous refusal of the Massachusetts 54th troops to accept their first paycheck as a way to protest the salary discrepancy between white and black soldiers
    4. cheering of white Union troops as the Massachusetts 54th marched smartly into position to attack Fort Wagner

  24. The most renowned Civil War photographer was:
    1. Edwin Stanton
    2. Henry Wirz
    3. Alexander Stephens
    4. Mathew Brady

  25. The movie Glory is best evaluated as:
    1. pure fiction
    2. historically precise
    3. mostly speculation
    4. reasonably accurate

Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).
  1. "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races." Explain how this 1858 statement made by Abraham Lincoln can be reconciled with his Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. Is "Great Emancipator" an accurate description of Lincoln?

  2. Discuss the respective strategies of the North and the South during the first two years of the Civil War. To what extent do you agree with the idea that a Union war victory was a foregone conclusion? What was the relative position of the two belligerents by early 1863? Explain General Ulysses S. Grant's strategy in the final 18 months of the war, including some of the major battles which enabled him to guide the North to victory.

  3. Select any three of the following engagements and discuss the impact each had on both the North and the South during the Civil War—assault on Fort Sumter; First Battle of Bull Run; Battle of Antietam; Vicksburg Campaign; Battle of Gettysburg; General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia.

"The eyes of thousands will look upon what you do tonight."