American director, producer, screenwriter. Studied literature at Harvard and film at AFI, Los Angeles. Worked as a journalist and editor for The New Republic and Rolling Stone. First success was with TV series "Family" (1976-80) then creator and executive producer of the award-winning "yuppie" show "thirtysomething" (1987-91).
Peter Buchard, One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (1965) (New York: St. Martin's, 1989).
Linclon Kirstein, Lay This Laurel ()
Robert Gould Shaw, Letters (1864, 1976).
Civil War began in 1861 with the attack on Fort Sumter but Pres. Lincoln did not issue an Emacipation Proclamation (freeing the slaves) until September 1862 . The origin of the war lay in Northern resentment of the expansion of slavery (slave states sent two senators each to Washington), the intrusion of southern fugitive slave catchers into Northern states, and finally the secession of 11 of the 14 slave states from the Union. As many abolitionists noted, the Constitution which the Union was defending by force of arms guaranteed the ownership of slaves by Southern whites and punished severely any whites (John Brown) or blacks (Nat Turner) who challenged the legitimacy of slavery. Given this background and the lateness of Lincoln's proclamation the decision to "free" the blacks might be seen as a weapon in the increasingly "total" war against the South rather than an original cause of the civil war. The South responded to Lincoln's proclamation with a counter-proclamation threatening that any slave taken in uniform and under arms would have the laws governing servile insurrection applied to them.
54th Mass. organised shortly after Lincoln's proclamation by Mass. Governor John Andrew with the assistence of Frederick Douglass as recruiter.
179,000 blacks served in the Union army in 166 black regiments (all segregated until integrated units were introduced following the Second World War), of which 33,000 men died. Of the 1,354 blacks who served in the Mass. 54th 23 died, 394 wounded, 57 missing (total casualties 664). White soldiers were paid $13 per month; black soldiers were paid $10 per month (the rate black labourers earned) but had $3 per month deducted as "clothing allowance". Black soldiers did not get equal pay until September 1864 (well after the events depicted in the film). Blacks continued to serve in segregated units until the Korean War (see Milestone's Pork Chop Hill). No black regiment was permitted to participate in the Grand Review of the victorious Union Army in Washington D.C. in August 1865. The Mass. 54th returned to Massachusetts and was mustered out of existence.
A curious title in my view. Why is this film called "Glory!"? What is glorious about a regiment of soldiers (black or white) storming an impregnable fortress and suffering horrendous casualties (247 out of 600 in the 54th- total Confederate casualties 174; total Union 1515). Compare with the more traditional depiction of military glory in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and the bleak and ironic depiction in Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) (taken from Thomas Gray's "Elegy written in a country churchyard ("the paths of glory leads but to the grave"). Another comparison might be with Gallipoli - Australia "coming of age" as a nation vs. black Americans "coming of age" as a race by means of heroic defeats and noble deaths? The chorus in the song "John Brown's Body" goes "Glory glory hallelujah (times 3)... His soul goes marching on."
Filmed in Georgia and Florida with the help of hundreds of Civil War historical re-enactors. Oscar winning film (Cinematography, Sound, and Supporting Actor - Washington) about a unit of black soldiers during the Civil War and the young Northerner from a patrician, abolitionist family who is given the job of training and leading them. The climax of the film is the assault on 18 July, 1863 on the fortress of Fort Wagner guarding the entrance to Charleston harbour.
Some critics regard this film as "the finest historical drama ever made" and "the most powerful and historically accurate movie about that war ever made" (McPherson, p. 22). In a rapturous review of the film in the American Historical Review (October 1990), Gerald Horne states:
African-Americans, and indeed history itself, have not received a fair hearing when it comes to the Civil War. The "moonlight and magnolias" approach has been the dominant motif, as exemplified by Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind; perhaps not coincidentally, both are viewed by many film scholars as the apex of U.S. cinema. With Glory, 125 years after the fact, Hollywood finally gets this chapter in history right. Though not without flaws, this gripping drama underscores the decisive role of African-Americans in a war whose reverberations are still felt in the Constitution and does so in a manner that should inspire the viewer to pick up a history book and learn more about it.
... (I)t may be difficult for a two-hour film to grapple with the subtle complexities of the past: again, perhaps all we can ask is if the basic thrust of the film has been true to history. Glory easily passes this test.
... In the context of the glory that is Glory, the force of its anti-racist theme, these quibbles pale into insignificance. Only 125 years after the Civil War, millions in the nation finally are seeing a more complete version of its military history. Glory merits the plaudits it has garnered and deserves much, much more. (pp. 1141-3)
The Black Military Experience, Ira Berlin, ed. Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (New York: Russell & Russell, 1953)
Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: the Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: Free Press, 1990).
Gerald Horne, Review of Glory, American Historical Review, October 1990, vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 1141-43.
Ira Berlin, "Glory Be," Radical History Review, Spring 1992, no. 53, pp. 141-48.
James M. McPherson, "The 'Glory' Story," The New Republic, January 8 & 15, 1990, pp. 22-28.
1. Has "the basic thrust of the film has been true to history" (Horne)? Does the film "(merit) the plaudits it has garnered and deserves much, much more"?
2. Why is this film called "Glory!"? What is glorious about a regiment of soldiers (black or white) storming an impregnable fortress and suffering horrendous casualties (247 out of 600 - total Confederate casualties 174; total Union 1515). Compare with The Charge of the Light Brigade and Kubrick's Paths of Glory. Another comparison might be with Gallipoli - Australia "coming of age" as a nation vs. black Americans "coming of age" as a race by means of heroic defeats and noble deaths? The chorus in the song "John Brown's Body" (Battle Hymn of the Republic) goes "Glory glory hallelujah (times 3)... His soul goes marching on."
3. The brief appearances of the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass who campaigned vigorously for blacks to enlist in the Union army. It is curious that the filmmakers did not choose to focus on FD's sons Charles and Lewis - the latter a sergeant-major - (instead of the white abolitionist's son RGS) who joined the Mass. 54th in March 1863. Or William Carney the first black to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Or Eli Biddle who demonstrated great heroism in the attack on Fort Wagner. Once again Hollywood makes a film about blacks seen through the eyes of a European. Compare Walter Hill's Geronimo .
4. The Mass, 54th Regimental flag has a gold cross and star with a Latin motto which translates as "In this sign, conquer". Given the very religious nature of the black regiment this suggest a "crusading" mission of the regiment. The importance of carrying the flag and not letting it fall to the ground.
5. The battles mentioned in the film: Antietam, Maryland 1862; Fredericksburg; Beaufort, Sth Carolina 1863; Darien, Georgia June 1863; James Island, Sth Carolina; Gettysburg and Vicksburg 4 July 1863; Fort Wagner, 18 July 1863.
6. The regiment as a "family" where "boys" grow into "men". The colonel as father figure. The idea of "fatherly" discipline applied with "love" by white officers and white NCOs. Compare Paul Fussell's notion of tyrannical petty discipline ("chickenshit").
7. The scene when RGS charges on horseback and slashes watermelons (food associated with blacks by racist whites) with his sword.
8. The historically accurate rendering of uniforms, weaponry and battle (the closeness of the opposing lines, the siege of a fortress) is in contrast to the "bending" of other historical apsects such as the very much older depiction of Frederick Douglass; the central role given to RGS; the speed with which he accepted his commission to lead the 54th (he did so reluctantly when in the field - not at a fancy ball - and after much soul-searching); very few ex-slaves enlisted, most were free-born blacks drawn from all over the North, some of whom had drilled in local militias before they were officially allowed to enlist; the use of whipping in the Union Army to discipline soldiers; the suggestion that the 54th was the first black regiment (black units were orgainsed in late 1862 and used in the lower Mississippi Valley, the Kansas-Missouri border, Sth Carolina sea islands - see McPheson, p. 23); the depiction of Col. James Montgomery as a racist murderer and his Sth Carolina Colored Volunteers as an undisciplined rabble of looters and rapists distorts the fact that he was an abolitionist who supported John Brown and that his tactics up the rivers of Georgia in the summer of 1863 were a guerrilla tactic designed to harm the slave-owning class in the region (Gen. Sherman was to adopt similar tactics of "scorched earth" policy in his "march to the sea" as part of the "total war" against the South); the assault on Fort Wagner (which McPherson describes as "the most realistic combat footage in any Civil War movie I have seen" (p. 23)) takes place with the sea on their left (i.e. travelling south) when in fact they were travelling north with the sea on their right.
9. The eulogies heaped on RGS by the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson and the poet Robert Lowell ("For the Union Dead" 1963) and the memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (depicted in the final credits of the film) erected on Boston Common which shows RGS on horseback leading his black soldiers (walking). From Robert Lowell's poem, a reworking of the Horatian ode where it is claimed "it is sweet and fitting to die for one's fatherland":
Right in the van,
On the red rampart's slippery swell,
With heart that beat a charge, he fell
Foeward, as fits a man;
But the high soul burns on to light men's feet
Where death for noble ends makes dying sweet
Black sodliers of 54th raised $2,832 for erection of a monument to RGS. Black poets eulogised RGS as well, e.g. Benjamin Brawley:
And Lancelot and Sir Bedivere
May pass beyond the pale,
And wander over moor and mere
To find the Holy Grail;
But ever yet the prize forsooth (no doubt)
My hero holds in fee;
And he is Blameless Knight in truth,
And Galahad to me (quoted in Quarles, p. 19)
10. The voiceovers which use RGS's letters reveal his idealism and conviction and that of North Eastern abolitionists.
11. The depiction of Northern racism: use of black soldiers in support roles or cannon fodder; reluctance to issue proper equipment; paying less than whites. And the resistance of black soldiers to their demeaning position in the Union army.
12. When is a military defeat a defeat and when is it a "victory"? The 54th failed to take Fort Wagner and suffered nearly 50% casualties (possibly due to the failure of naval support). After a lengthy siege the Union was unable to take the fort until the Confederates withdrew and blew it up. The "victory" of the 54th is the proof that blacks could fight and die like whites, thus proving their "manhood" and their right to equal rights of citizenship (what about black women?).
13. The suitability of Matthew Broderick as RGS.
14. Augustus Saint-Gaudens' relief commemorating the Mass. 54th the "Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw" (1884-1901). Personally a racist and a bigot but eager for commission. Depicted white officer in superior position on horseback surrounded by inferior black soldiers on foot.