As former President Abraham Lincoln said, "Slavery may long exist, and perhaps the best way for it to come to an end peaceably is for it to exist for a length of time. But… the spread and strengthening and perpetuation of it is an entirely different proposition. There we should in every way resist it as a wrong, treating it as a wrong, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end." As Lincoln addressed, throughout the 1860s, a political and proverbial war of ideology in the United States raged alongside the physical battles between north and south. Perhaps the most personal of battles, however, took place within Lincoln himself. A determined proponent of anti-slavery from an early age, Lincoln fought to control his personal beliefs on the subject in front of the public, transitioning from the stance of anti-abolition at the beginning of his political career (even quoted saying, “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”), to claim the title of the ‘Great Emancipator’ after issuing a proclamation freeing slaves in rebellious territories, and finally to work with radical republicans to pass the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery in 1865. Throughout Lincoln’s presidency and larger political career, his main goal was to preserve the Union and to protect the constitution, goals which necessitated morphing to appease public perception. In one such occurrence, when Lincoln felt the Union was strong enough and the public opinion lenient enough after not losing the battle of Antietam, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which not only called for the freedom of slaves in parts of 10 states, but also allowed for the conscription of black men into the Union army. This topic is thoroughly discussed in the 1989 film Glory, and although the majority of Glory’s main characters were completely fictional and the 54th regiment was composed mostly of educated freedmen rather than the ragtag bunch of runaway slaves that were depicted in the movie, the film’s portrayal of the regiment’s climactic march against Fort Wagner, of the 54th regiment’s leader, Robert Gould Shaw, and of the treatment of black soldiers throughout the civil war were remarkably accurate, making the film as a whole extremely historically correct. The film’s historical accuracy is also part of what makes it great; and although a few characters’ acting is sometimes subpar, Glory’s overall emotion, cinematography, and music creates a beautiful work of art worthy of 4 ½ out of 5 stars
Throughout Glory, there are scenes that make you weep, characters whom you grow to love, and battles so infuriating that you shake with rage. The range of emotion is so diverse and intense, the already important subject matter is made even more powerful. In one of the most incredible and best acted scenes of the entire movie, the character Trip is whipped, and a single tear falls down his cheek. The cinematography in Glory also contributes to its ranking of 4 ½ out of 5 miniballs; the battle scenes of Fort Wagner were filmed with strange angles and jerky movements, making one feel as if they are a part of the fight itself. Another example of advanced cinematography can be seen in the final scene, as Shaw is dragged to a ditch and thrown in with piles of other dead bodies, the camera trained on his lifeless face as it tumbles on a stack of the deceased, symbolic of his importance and ultimate mortality. The music within the film also contributes to its “goodness,” in particular the scene in which the 54th regiment soldiers gather around a fire and sing the night before going into battle. The song itself is highly emotional and peaceful, becoming nearly heartbreaking when juxtaposed against the chaos and violence of the next day. Overall, Glory was an excellent movie, thoroughly enjoyed, and utterly worthy of its ranking.
Glory was incredibly historically accurate. Although the majority of its main characters were fictional, such as Trip, John Rawlins, and Private Jupiter Sharts, they enhanced the film as they represented archetypes of real people who would have been a part of the 54th regiment. Trip was the angry runaway slave, John Rawlins the grandfather-like figure, Private Sharts the religious fanatic, and Thomas Searles the educated free black man. Additionally, the assault on Fort Wagner was portrayed extremely truthfully, with huge casualties for the 54th and the 54th’s failure in capturing the confederate stronghold (the only fault here that the attack took place from south to north, rather than north to south as depicted in the movie; but this neither matters, nor does it take away from the entire movie). Shaw’s death is also accurate; there are many reports of him being shot three times through the chest, as it was also shown in the film. His burial too, is historically correct—in both the movie and in real life, Shaw was buried with his fellow soldiers and the confederates refused to give his body to the Union. The way in which the black Union soldiers were treated is once again historically accurate; in both the film and in real life, Black soldiers were paid three dolares less than white Union soldiers, and the entire 54th regiment did not accept payment until the Union government passed a law promising equal pay. The 54th’s struggle to see real battle in the film was also historically correct; The scene of the 54th being forced to plunder the Georgian coastal town of Darien after Colonel Montgomery ordered Shaw to command his regiment to raid the town is historically documented in letters of Shaw, and the scene even includes a real, direct quote of Montgomery’s, “You see sesesh has to be cleared away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. Now I will have to burn this town.” The Confederate Proclamation calling for the execution of all Union soldiers working with black soldiers was also real, as was the Contraband/Confiscation Act that allowed the Union to free any slaves it came across in rebellious territories. The film also included small details that were historically correct, such as the pidgin many former slaves spoke, the 54th’s struggle to attain proper footwear, the tension between Irish and blacks in the north, and the horrific and primitive medicinal methods used in the civil war. Overall, the film Glory was astonishingly accurate and should be recommended to any student who wants to gain a better knowledge of the Civil War and/or the 54th regiment.
Glory is more than just a film about the 54th regiment and its bravery; it's about the people that fought and died for the freedom of blacks in the United States. Although it has its minor inaccuracies, Glory is overall an ambitiously correct telling of black Union regiments during the Civil War, and portrays significant events and people nearly flawlessly. The accuracy of the film, combined with the cinematography, music, and emotion, makes the entire film readily enjoyable, with a ranking of 4 ½ out of 5 miniballs.