History vs. Hollywood
Glory: Hollywood vs. History Glory is a movie about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official all black units in the United States during the Civil War. It’s an inspirational story of how a young Union soldier, Robert Gould Shaw, is offered the chance to lead an army unit that will change not only his life, but the lives of many other Americans. Glory does a great Job of capturing many of the feelings towards the black soldiers during the Civil War. The film is based off of the writings of Robert Gould Shaw, from letters he sent to his friends and family members.
Most of the events in the movie re depicted very closely to how they actually happened. Director Edward Zwick tried to keep the movie as historically accurate as possible but, as many history movies do, Glory left out some important details. Shaws parents were both well-known abolitionist, and in Glory, so is he. Truthfully, Shaw didn’t share his parents’ passion for freeing the slaves. Shaw spent most of his youth studying and traveling in Europe. Eventually he attended Harvard, but ended up dropping out. Not long after leaving Harvard, the war began and Shaw found his purpose.
He immediately Joined the army and headed to the fght. After nearly 3 years, Shaw reached the rank of Captain. This is when he received the opportunity to lead the 54th. In the film, Shaw is asked by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew to lead the 54th while at a dinner party, and after little hesitation, he gladly accepts. In reality, Shaw wasn’t Andrews first choice for the position, nor was Shaw ever at said dinner party. Shaw was actually approached by his father at a Union camp. At first Shaw declined, then after a few days of thought and pressure from his mother, he reluctantly accepted.
In the movie, Shaw is promoted to Colonel immediately after accepting the position, but military ecords show he was a major for several months until the regiment grew in numbers. In Glory, Shaw asks his best friend, Cabot Forbes, to be his Major. In reality, Forbes doesn’t actually exist, or never did. The writers of Glory combined two of the recipients of Shaws letters’ names together and created the character of Cabot Forbes. In fact, of the main characters in Glory, Shaw is the only one who was a real person. Silas Trip, John Rawlins, and the rest of Glorys stars are all composite characters.
On that note, the movie gives the idea that most of the members of the 4th were runaway slaves, while nearly all of the members were actually free blacks from the North. Frederick Douglass makes in appearance in the movie, but his two sons, who were actually members of the 54th, do not. Going back to Shaws feelings about the 54th, Shaw was, at first, dubious. After working with the men and realizing that they could fght Just as well as white soldiers, he grew to respect them. Shaw became eager to get his men into action, so he could prove what they were capable of.
Shaw later learns that the black soldiers were to be paid less than the white ones. In the movie, Shaw announces this to the regiment, and Private Silas Trip, a former slave who escaped his masters, begins protesting and gets all of the men to tear up their paychecks and boycott. Shaw then says “If you men will take no pay, then none of us will. “, and tears up his check as well. In reality, Shaw was the one who led the boycott, refusing all wages until the problem was fixed. In the movie, Shaw spends a lot ot time tgnting to get unitorms and shoes tor his soldiers.
The unitorms eventually arrive, but the shoes do not. Shaw has to go to one of his superiors and argue for the shoes. There is a moment where the colored men escort Shaw to the door and stand watch in a comical way. This scene shows that Shaw has truly developed a bond with his men, but is really for the audience’s pleasure. Nothing is written of this dispute, though there is no doubt was an actual problem. Shaw married Annie Kneeland Haggerty, Just days before the 54th is sent to the South for service, which is never mentioned in the film.
There is another scene in the movie that is clearly for the audience, but it does have some truth behind it. When the 54th is marching south, they run into a regiment of white soldiers, and a quarrel breaks ut between Private Trip and some of the white men. Rawlins steps in to stop the fght and one of the white men is about to be disciplined, but Rawlins says that there is no need. This scene is displays the harsh criticism the 5th received, even from their own side, but it also gives a halo effect to Rawlins, who could have easily said nothing, and watched the soldier get punished.
Later on down the road the 54th meets up with Colonel James Montgomery, the colonel of another all black regiment. In the movie Montgomery was a racist and didn’t discipline his men at all. While the eal Montgomery was noted to have discipline issues, the movie probably took it way out of hand, Montgomery even shoots one of his men for misbehaving. Montgomery later takes the 54th “to see some action”, which actually meant looting and setting fire to a town of innocents.
In the movie, Montgomery threatens Shaw to set fire to the town by saying he’ll take command of the 54th if he doesn’t follow orders, so Shaw reluctantly orders the town to be burned. Shaw writes of this event in his letters, stating “the civilian population of women and children were fired upon, forced from their homes, their possessions looted, and the town burned. Shaw also noted, “On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be. ” Shaw even states he was ordered to set fire to the town but he refused.
There is no mention of Montgomery threatening him, but he stated “The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to eing made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”; but that makes it nonetheless revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenseless. Soon after the ordeal with Montgomery, the 54th gets some real action, their first battle. They defeat the attacking rebels, suffering minor casualties. Only two days after the skirmish, the 54th was chosen to lead an assault on Fort Wagner. In the movie, Shaw heroically volunteers, even though he knows that leading this ssault will cause great casualties to his regiment. Before the battle Shaw says “If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry on? “, and Thomas says he’ll do it. However, this wasn’t actually how it happened.
General George Crockett Strong was the one who asked the question, and Shaw was the one who replied. During the assault in the movie, the water is to the left of the men, but really the 54th attacked with the water on their right. In the movie, the original flag bearer is killed, as you would expect, and Shaw gets it He then stand up and snouts ” Forward Fi and is shot in the chest multiple times. According to the survivors, these were Shaws actual last words, and he hollered them shortly before being shot through the heart.
After all of the carnage there is a scene where the Confederate soldiers drag Shaws body into a mass grave full of men from the 54th. This actually happens, though there is a little more to it. Confederate General Johnson Hagood told the Union he would not return Shaws body because he was leading colored men. This was intended to be an insult, but the Shaws didn’t take it that way. Shaws father even said “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his rave and devoted soldiers….
We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has! ” Overall, Glory is a very good historical film. The writers didn’t change too many facts or change the character of the actual people too much. Even though most of the main characters are fictional, the story was still almost completely factual. Glory has a great cast and a good plot. The story of the 54th Massachusetts is interesting and inspirational, and Glory is a must-watch movie for all ages.