SUBJECTS — U.S./1860 – 1865; Diversity/African-American; Massachusetts;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Leadership; Courage in War;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Citizenship; Trustworthiness.

AGE; 14+; MPAA Rating — R for violence;

Drama; 1989; 122 minutes; Color. Available from

Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide:


One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction;

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Glory tells the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment, the first regular U.S. army unit composed of black soldiers during the Civil War. Colonel Shaw, a white abolitionist, and hundreds of black volunteers in his regiment gave their lives to prove that black men could fight as well as whites in the armies of the mid-19th century.


Selected Awards:

1989 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Washington), Best Cinematography, Best Sound; 1990 Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Washington; 1989 Academy Award Nominations: Best Film Editing; Best Art Direction – Set Decoration; 1990 Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Score; Best Screenplay.

Featured Actors:

Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Jihmi Kennedy, Andre Braugher, John Finn, Donovan Leitch, John Cullum, Bob Gunton, Jane Alexander, Raymond St. Jacques, Cliff DeYoung.


Edward Zwick.


After an extensive review of Colonel Shaw’s letters, TWM estimates that the movie is 90% historically accurate. The film addresses a significant episode in U.S. history, the effort by abolitionists to make the Civil War into a war to end slavery, rather than just war to preserve the Union. The fact that black men would take up arms and fight and die on the Union side was a major step in changing Northern attitudes toward slavery and the purpose of the war. The assault on Fort Wagner in which the Massachusetts 54th lost hundreds of men was “a turning point in recognition of blacks’ capacity to serve in the army”. Foner pp. 251 – 253.

Students will understand the struggle to make an end to slavery a goal of the Civil War. They will expand their knowledge of the participation of black soldiers in the Civil War as well as the commitment of white abolitionists to the cause of ending slavery. Research and writing assignments in pursuit of these topics can be of great benefit in the study of the conflict that cost more American lives than any other.


Portions of the film graphically show the violence of the Civil War and the suffering of the soldiers. However, the violence is not gratuitous in its depiction of the horrors that the soldiers would experience in battle.


Before watching the movie, prepare your children for the violence they will witness in the film tell them that this film is one of few examples of the experience of black soldiers, over 30,000 of which fought in the Civil War.


Before the summer of 1863, a few experimental black units had been organized by Union Commanders. Some of these regiments won plaudits for their performance but their actions were not well known in the North. The performance of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment during the summer of 1863 in the almost suicidal attack on Fort Wagner was the first engagement in which the participation of black soldiers received wide publicity. By the end of the war, there were approximately 198,000 black soldiers in the U.S. Army and the Navy. They may have been decisive in turning the tide of the war.

After the assault on Fort Wagner, a reconstituted 54th Massachusetts, still consisting of black volunteers led by white officers, fought for the rest of the war. The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts were among the Union troops that marched into Charleston, South Carolina when it surrendered in February of 1865. They sang “John Brown’s Body” as they entered the city.

The Emancipation Proclamation had strong psychological and political effects. It made allies of many slaves in the South. It was welcomed by the working class in Great Britain (which was strongly against slavery), stopping in its tracks a plan by British politicians to give assistance to the South. Had England entered the war on the side of the South, the result could have been very different. The Emancipation Proclamation also caused terrible riots in the North by workingmen afraid of competition from newly freed black slaves.

Before the Civil War, abolitionists were regarded in most states as dangerous radicals who were going to drive the South out of the Union and, perhaps, cause a civil war.

The Massachusetts 54th consisted of 1,000 men. Six hundred of these men participated in the attack on Fort Wagner, the remainder having been left behind as a camp guard, in the hospital, as a fatigue detail, or having been killed or wounded in the recent fight on James Island.

Frederick Douglass (1817 – 1895) escaped slavery and became a leading spokesman for abolition before and during the Civil War. His gifts as an orator propelled him to the head of the anti-slavery movement. He was largely self-educated, as he put it “a recent graduate from the institution of slavery with his diploma on his back.” The threat of being seized and returned to his “owner” under the Fugitive Slave Law forced him into exile in England where he continued the crusade. Eventually, supporters purchased his freedom and he returned to the U.S. He then took charge of the Underground Railroad in Rochester, New York. Douglass was associated with John Brown but withdrew from the conspiracy when Brown revealed that he intended to attack Federal property. During the Civil War Douglass helped raise two regiments of black soldiers, the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Volunteer Regiments. Two of his sons were the first to volunteer for the 54th and one was the Sergeant Major of the regiment. After the war, Douglass became a spokesman for former slaves nationwide. He also served as Marshall for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, and U.S. Minister to Haiti.

When visiting Boston be sure to see the monument to Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th. It is on the Boston Common, directly across the street from the Statehouse.

The Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment was the first official regiment of black soldiers in the Union Army. All the commissioned officers were white. The soldiers and the officers felt that it was up to them to prove that black troops could fight well, and while the performance of the 54th was the first publicized heroic engagement by black troops and quite important, it was not the major catalyst in convincing the Union Army to accept more black soldiers. That process had begun several months before.

Many of the specific incidents shown in the film are true, including the enthusiastic sendoff from Boston, the destruction of the South Carolina town of Darien and Colonel Shaw’s objection to this action, the initial prejudice of many white troops, Shaw’s action in handing letters to a newspaper reporter before he died, and the 54th’s heroic and almost suicidal assault on Fort Wagner. However, there are several incidental inaccuracies. They include the following: (1) most of the members of the regiment were not former slaves but had been free all of their lives; (2) the refusal to accept reduced pay was at Shaw’s initiative; it did not come from the ranks (see Letters by Shaw to his father and his sister-in-law dated July 1, 1863 — this scene is justified, however, to show the fact that many black soldiers from the Massachusetts 54th and other regiments repeatedly requested and demanded equal pay; see Foner pp. 253 & 254); (3) after the burning of Darien, Colonel Shaw discovered that Montgomery had been acting under specific orders of his commander, Major General David Hunter (See letters June 26 and June 28, 1963); Shaw later came to like and respect Montgomery; (4) Shaw did not have to blackmail a Union officer to get his troops into battle; (5) our review of Shaw’s correspondence reveals no situation in which he had to threaten a Union Army quartermaster to get shoes for his soldiers and (6) the film omits any mention of Shaw’s wife. Everything being considered, TWM estimates that the movie is 90% accurate.

Post-viewing Handout for Glory

Teachers may want to provide the following handout for students to read in class or as homework. For a version of the handout in word processing format, click here. In the alternative, the handout could be read to the class or, following the teacher as a facilitator approach, students can be asked to find this information, alone or in groups.


The Two Women in Colonel Shaw’s Life

Mother: Colonel Shaw was risking his life more than if he had been an ordinary officer in the Union Army when he agreed to lead the Massachusetts 54th. Confederates summarily executed captured white officers who led black troops and Shaw knew that he would have to lead his regiment into their first battles, making himself a prime target for deadly Southern sharpshooters. If you had taken a command of an army unit in such circumstances what would your father and mother say?

Robert Gould Shaw came from a family of strong abolitionists. His father had founded the National Freedman’s Relief Association. He was supportive of Shaw’s actions. Shaw’s mother was strongly in favor of his acceptance of the Colonelcy of a black regiment. She wrote to him: “God rewards a hundredfold every good aspiration of his children, and this is my reward for asking [for] my children not earthly honors, but souls to see the right and courage to follow it. Now I feel ready to die, for I see you willing to give your support to the cause of truth that is lying crushed and bleeding.” Burchard, One Gallant Rush p. 74.

Wife: Shaw was married to Annie Haggerty shortly before he assumed command of the regiment. He was able to spend only a few weeks with his new wife between their wedding and the assault on Fort Wagner. On the day of the assault, Shaw’s second in command, Ned Hallowell, found Shaw alone, lying near the pilot house on the top deck of the ship that was taking the regiment to the scene of the battle. Hallowell said: “Rob, don’t you feel well? Why are you so sad?”

Shaw replied, “Oh Ned! If I could live a few weeks longer with my wife, and be home a little while I think I might die happy. But it cannot be. I do not believe I will live through our next fight.” An hour later Shaw came down and Hallowell reported that: “All the sadness had passed from his face, and he was perfectly cheerful….” Burchard, One Gallant Rush p. 130.

As Colonel, it was Shaw’s choice of whether he would lead his men at the front of the assault, or whether he would bring up the rear. He chose to lead at the front.

The Burial of the Dead Soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th and their Colonel:

After the assault, Iredell Jones, a Confederate officer who had witnessed the battle said, “the Negroes fought gallantly, and were headed by as brave a colonel as ever lived.” However, the Confederates tried to dishonor Colonel Shaw in death. After the battle, the Union Army sought to collect its dead for burial, a common practice during the war. This request was granted for the white soldiers who died in the battle but refused as to Shaw and his men. As an insult, the Confederates stripped Colonel Shaw’s body and tossed it into the bottom of a trench, along with the rest of his men. Union efforts to retrieve Colonel Shaw’s body and those of his men were rebuffed. There was great indignation in the North about the Confederates’ refusal to comply with the usual rules of war with regard to Colonel Shaw.

Shaw’s father ended the dispute issuing the following statement for the family:

We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave 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!

The statement was widely publicized in the North. What the Confederates had meant as an insult, turned into honor, increasing Shaw’s stature as a hero.


[End of Handout]


Introducing the Movie

Before showing the film, tell the class that most of the incidents portrayed in the film really happened.

Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet:

The self-sacrifice of the soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th was made in the context of the effort of abolitionists and free blacks to get Lincoln and the Federal government to make the Civil War a war to abolish slavery. When the war began it was only to preserve the Union, as important a goal as that was. For classes that have not already studied the topic, TWM suggests that students be required to read and respond to the questions in the following enrichment worksheet.

Enrichment Worksheets are a TWM innovation containing text and questions designed to get students thinking. Questions are focused on comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses, or evaluation. Questions can be answered in class or as homework, as quick writes, journal entries, formal essays, or research papers. For a version of the Worksheet in word processing format, click here.

Changing Reasons for the North’s Involvement in the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln was not elected President based on a promise to end slavery. In fact, it was just the opposite. He promised to leave slavery alone in the South. However, Lincoln wanted to prevent slavery from extending to any free state or any of the territories. It was this position that brought on secession.

Most Union soldiers fought so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” At the beginning of the war, abolitionists were a minority. Had the war been seen as a crusade to end slavery, most Union soldiers would not have fought. In addition, the Union desperately needed the border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. It was difficult to keep these states in the Union and would have been impossible if Lincoln had proposed ending slavery at the beginning of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, freed the slaves only in the areas of insurrection and did not affect slavery in the Border states.


Question #1: In the present day and age, is preserving the United States as one country and not letting states secede from the Union, worth fighting a bloody civil war?


During the War several things happened to seal the doom of slavery in the United States. Among these were the fact that the death toll for the war was incredibly high and even the goal of preserving one of the few broad-based democratic governments then existing in the world, did not justify all the bloodletting. By the end of the War, 360,000 Union soldiers had died from disease or wounds suffered in battle. Many more were injured. The death toll for the Confederate armies was about 258,000. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass had been telling President Lincoln that the war didn’t make sense if slavery was allowed to exist when the conflict was over. Second, while most Confederate soldiers were not slave owners, the power structure in the Confederacy was based on the ownership of slaves. As the war ground on, the North realized that the elimination of slavery was an efficient way to destroy the power-base of the secessionists. A third reason was the increasingly important role that black soldiers came to play in the Union Army. Authorization to enlist black soldiers was granted by Congress in July of 1862. The Massachusetts 54th, the first all black regiment began to enroll black soldiers in March of 1863. Eventually, some 179,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army (about 10% of its total strength) and another 19,000 served in the Navy (a total of 198,000 men). About 37,000 black soldiers lost their lives in the struggle; that’s about one in five of those who enlisted. As more black men took on the Union uniform, the possibility of retaining slavery after the war became more and more remote. After all, when a man had risked his life for his country, who could deny him citizenship? Who could look him in the eye and argue that members of his family or he himself must be enslaved?


Question #2: Should the U.S. allow legal or even illegal aliens who risk their lives in combat to become citizens?


Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, is one of the most moving speeches ever given by a political leader. It was delivered when the Union Armies were ascendant and when Lee’s surrender, April 9, 1865, was just over a month away. The great bulk of Union casualties, both among white soldiers and black, had occurred by this time.

The President started the speech by reflecting on the time of his first inaugural address.

. . . On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, just 40 days after his second inaugural address.


Question #3: Would you be willing to donate a kidney to allow another person to live? How is this the same or different than joining the army to fight in a war in which there were very high casualties?


[End of Handout]

After Watching the Movie

Interesting Facts:

Teachers can cement the lessons of the movie about the strength of the commitment of the abolitionists by having students research, individually or in groups, the following questions and present their conclusions to the class. The answers are not what one would expect.

(1) What was the attitude of Colonel Shaw’s mother to his actions in taking command of the Massachusetts 54th?


(2) Describe Colonel Shaw’s marriage. What did he say about his wife just before the assault on Fort Wagner?


(3) Where were the officers and soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th, including Colonel Shaw, buried after the battle at Fort Wagner, what was the public reaction, and what did Colonel Shaw’s father have to say about the situation?


Information that is responsive to these questions is set out in TWM’s Post-Viewing Handout for Glory. As an alternative to the research and classroom presentations, teachers can assign the handout for in-class or homework reading or teachers can present the information as brief comments after the movie.

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1. Where in the film do you see evidence that white soldiers have grown to respect their black counterparts?

Suggested Response:

In one scene white soldiers ridicule the blacks as they are working in construction along the roadside. The event nearly erupts into a fight. Then as the black troops march to the Fort Wagner battle site, the white soldier who had been most disrespectful calls out to the troops: “Give them hell, 54th.” Among these men, this is an important symbol.


2. Using a white colonel, Robert Shaw, to tell the story of the 37,000 black soldiers who died during the Civil War generated some controversy. However, others defended the focus of the film on Colonel Shaw because they claimed that his story was, itself, important. What was the basis for that argument?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The argument is that it was important to show the strength of the abolitionist’ commitment the cause of ending slavery. Abolition was one of the most important social reform movements in the United States. This is an important story in itself.


3. What irony lies in the scene in which Trip is lashed after he is brought back to camp after having run away?

Suggested response:

Trip did not run away; he left in search of shoes which the northern command was not supplying to the black troops. Colonel Shaw did not want Trip lashed but understood the importance of discipline and thus had to order the punishment. Trip’s back carried the scars of having been lashed as a slave; being lashed in the struggle against slavery is especially ironic. Because of close camera work, irony can also be seen in the fact that during the lashing, Shaw’s facial expression shows more suffering than Trip’s.

Additional Discussion Questions.

4. Trip, the character played by Denzel Washington, is cranky and contrary yet by the end of the film he has grown considerably. What evidence can you offer that illustrates his change?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Midway in the film Trip says to Shaw that he is not fighting this war for the Colonel. He says that the blacks will get nothing, win or lose. When he is asked to carry the flag into battle, an honored task, he refuses. But at the end of the film, he prays with the other soldiers and he fights admirably against overwhelming odds. He picks up the flag when the color guard is shot. He dies in battle.


5. Several incidents of racism in the film indicate that, at least originally, many in the North were not fighting the war in support of justice for blacks. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural tells us that the goals of the war had changed by 1864. What was the change and why did that change come about?

Suggested Response:

While keeping the modern world’s first great democratic republic from splintering apart was an important goal and certainly, worth a war, the great blood-letting caused by the Civil War required an even more fundamental goal, not only to preserve the Union but to purge from the Union the great evil of slavery. After all, how can a country be a beacon of liberty when 1/8th of its citizens are slaves? In addition, more than 198,000 black men had joined the Union army or navy and had fought in the war. 37,000 had died. Black Americans had done their part in the war and it didn’t make sense for them or their families to be slaves. Finally, to outlaw slavery would destroy the power base of the Southern interests that had caused the war.


6. Why is this film told through the eyes of the regiment’s white Colonel?

Suggested Response:

Some possible responses: the white audience is larger than the black audience; the film is about changing white perceptions of the ability of black soldiers; the fact that Colonel Shaw was not black and had no vested interest in proving that black soldiers could fight makes his sacrifice even more poignant than the sacrifices of the black soldiers, no matter how heroic those were.


7. What were most of the Union soldiers fighting for, an end to slavery or preservation of the Union?

Suggested Response:

Most of the Union soldiers, certainly at the beginning of the war, were not fighting to end slavery. Instead, they were fighting to preserve the Union.


8. In the 1860s, why was the preservation of the Union important to the cause of democracy worldwide?

Suggested Response:

The United States was one of the few democracies in the world and one of the largest. If the U.S. could not hold itself together against the forces of disintegration, it would have set back the cause of democracy for many decades, perhaps for centuries.


9. U.S. history (and the history of most countries) is replete with men and women who served their country at great risk of their lives and who died as a result. Why did they do this? What would you risk your life for?

Suggested Response:

A person will risk his life when he or she realizes that there is something more important than just continuing to live. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine what those circumstances might be, but for the Union soldiers in the Civil War, it was one of two things. For most, it was the continuation of the most vibrant and largest experiment in democracy the world had ever seen. For others, a lesser number, it was to free men, women, and children from the yoke of slavery. And there were always other motives. For many, it was just to get away from the monotonous drudgery of farm work. Some men love the military, the uniform, the pageantry, and the idea of serving their country. For the men of the Massachusetts 54th, it was also to prove that black men would not run away when fired upon and that they had the discipline to be effective soldiers in a modern army.



1. Give some examples of how Colonel Shaw exhibited leadership in his regiment?

Suggested Response:

Here are a few: advocating for the men to get equal pay with the white soldiers, imposing strict discipline, getting shoes for the men and advocating for them generally, and leading the charge on the Fort.



2. In the Civil War, defensive technology (such as repeating rifles) gave defenders a great advantage. Can you explain why tens of thousands of soldiers on each side, in battle after battle, had the commitment and the courage to march in regular order against the withering fire of the defenders while those around them fell with hideous and usually fatal wounds?

Suggested Response:

Loyalty to the unit, peer pressure, not wanting to be called a coward, fear of courts-martial, and commitment to the cause.


3. How does the virtually hopeless attack on Fort Wagner differ from the charge on the Turkish trenches by the ANZAC soldiers in WWI shown in the film Gallipoli?

Suggested Response:

The only difference was that the soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th proved in the attack on Fort Wagner that black soldiers could fight well in a modern war against hopeless odds; they triumphed even though they were unable to take the Fort.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)



(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)


1. Colonel Shaw believed that slavery and racial prejudice was a scourge on the nation and he was willing to give his life to destroy one of the most frequently used arguments to support it. Can you think of anything as patriotic that a U.S. citizen could do?

Suggested Response:

Responses will differ but the overall idea is that it was very patriotic.


2. Why did Colonel Shaw decide to take the colonelcy of the 54th Massachusetts when he knew that it would probably led to his death? Would you have made the same decision in the circumstances?

Suggested Response:

His devotion to the cause of abolition was more important to him than his life.


3. In the assault on Fort Wagner, Colonel Shaw could have chosen, without any dishonor, to lead his regiment from the rear rather than from the front. He probably would have survived. Why didn’t he do this, especially given the fact that he had just been married and had obligations to his new wife?

Suggested Response:

His devotion to the cause of abolition was so strong that it over-road those over values.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:


1. Research and write a formal report on the integration of black soldiers into the American military system. Be sure to include a bibliography at the end of your report and use only credible reference sites.


2. Research and write a formal report on the North’s shifting reasons for the terrible carnage of the Civil War. Be sure to include a bibliography at the end of your report and use only credible reference sites.


3. When the character named Trip suggests that there is nothing in the war efforts for the black troops, he is making an important point. Research the difficulties faced by the emancipated slaves, as well as the surviving black troops and write an evaluation of the post-war period in terms of the promises of freedom. Look at economic, social, and political factors in Reconstruction to write an analysis of the validity of Trip’s remark.

Additional Assignments.

4. There has been some criticism of the film in terms of its use of emotional appeal. Write an opinion essay in which you use scenes from the film, dialogue and action to support your belief that the movie is accurate or overly sentimental in its depiction of the soldiers, their cause and the interaction between the characters. Conclude your essay with your opinion about whether sentiment was of greater importance than factual presentation in terms of telling the story.


5. Write a formal paper describing the history of the Massachusetts 54th from its inception to the end of the Civil War.


6. Write an essay on the question of whether strong commitment to a cause, a commitment that is stronger than the commitment to life itself, is a beneficial thing. What is the difference between Colonel Shaw and a suicide bomber?


For an eloquent description of why the slavery was added as a purpose of the Civil War, see Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World by James Carroll, pages 209 – 216.

Books specifically about Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th include: “We’ll Stand By the Union”: Robert Gould Shaw & the Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment by Peter Burchard and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard. Colonel Shaw’s letters are collected in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, edited by Russell Duncan. The most interesting letters are the following: 1861: May 2 (recounting an introductory meeting with President Lincoln); 1862: September 25 and October 5, 1962; 1863: February 20, February 23, March 30, April 1, May 2, June 1, 3, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 26 – 7, 28, and July 1, 3 – 6, 4, 6, 9-13, 15, 17 & 18.

For good readers try the best selling historical novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This book is historically accurate and details the battle of Gettysburg. It forms the basis for the film Gettysburg. There are thousands of excellent books on the Civil War. Reference librarians are a good source for recommendations. Books that we have reviewed and which are excellent are listed below: Gettysburg: The Final Fury by eminent historian Bruce Catton. This short work contains 41 illustrations and 5 maps. It describes the battle and its historical context. The Boys’ War by Jim Murphy describes in text and pictures the experience of children who fought in the War. It won the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction in 1990. If you are interested in visiting Civil War battle sites, look at the National Geographic Guide to Civil War Battlefield Parks.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995;
  • One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard; St. Martin’s Press; 1965;
  • Blue Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, edited by Russell Duncan, The University of Georgia Press, 1992.
  • Foote, Lorien (2003). Seeking the One Great Remedy: Francis George Shaw and Nineteenth-century Reform. Ohio University Press (page 120 for quote from Shaw’s father).
  • The Fiery Trial — Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner, W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden and was last revised on February 11, 2014.

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction;

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


See the films collected in the Heritage Index under the topic U.S./Civil War. See also Tuskegee Airmen for a film about blacks fighting to become accepted as fighter pilots.


There is a lesson plan with online copies of original documents developed by the National Archives entitled The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War.

TWM has read the Colonel’s letters that he wrote to his parents. It’s obvious that the screenwriters had read these letters as well. See Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, edited by Russell Duncan, The University of Georgia Press, 1992.

RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School on the two alternative traditions relating to racism in America:

“I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that’s right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.

I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there’s an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexities of race in American life. I think we need actually a new vocabulary.

So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don’t mean that much.   From Fahreed Zakaria, Global Public Square, CNN, December 26, 2021

Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide: TWO CONTRASTING TRADITIONS RELATING TO RACISM IN AMERICA and a Tragic Irony of the American Revolution: the Sacrifice of Freedom for the African-American Slaves on the Altar of Representative Democracy.

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