GLORY Comes to Netflix

Earlier this month the popular streaming service Netflix added the Hollywood movie, Glory, to its catalog. Released in 1989, Glory is still in my mind the best Civil War movie ever made.

Pay crisis scene in Glory

To mark its re-release I shared some thoughts about the intersection of fact and fiction in an essay published by Smithsonian Magazine. I also briefly reflected on the movie’s significance on the ongoing debate about Confederate monuments:

Altogether, these [Confederate] monuments ignored the steps that African Americans took to undermine the Confederacy by fighting against it and as a result denied that they had any interest in attaining their freedom. This denial helped to reinforce the Jim Crow culture of white supremacy that prevented black Americans from voting and the ability to take part in any public discussion about how to commemorate the past in public spaces.

Glory still offers a powerful reminder of the stakes of the Civil War for communities across the country debating whether to remove their Confederate monuments. The decisions made will go far in determining whether ‘Black Lives Matter’ today and in history.

This coming Sunday evening you can watch the movie with other Civil War enthusiasts as part of the popular “Historians at the Movies” series on Twitter.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

14 comments… add one
  • Thomas Carter Oct 26, 2020 @ 1:11

    I do not read any pro Confederate Voices. Civilian communities were attacked by Colored Troops and atrocities occurred. So I have read. I was not there. I have not read anything contrary to that. How can you teach the Civil War from only a Northern perspective?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 26, 2020 @ 2:05

      I don’t know what you mean by “pro Confederate Voices.” Perhaps you can share the sources that you are reading related to this subject. Thank you.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 19, 2020 @ 10:31

    Much of Shaw’s voice overs in the early part of the movie are actually from the letters of another commander of black troops, Thomas W. Higginson.

    Its interesting that the use of voice over ends partway through the training sequence..

    • London John Oct 26, 2020 @ 4:04

      Re Higginson, I think one sequence in Glory that was wrong was then the 54th goes on a joint mission with a regiment of escaped slaves commanded by a crude and racist colonel who shoots one of his own men to stop him stealing from a white home. Higginson’s First South Carolina was together with the 54th for a time, and obvs Higginson was nothing like that.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 26, 2020 @ 6:20

        You are referring to the scene where Shaw and the 54th accompany James Montgomery’s men to Darien, Georgia. That scene is fairly accurate, especially its depiction of Montgomery.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 19, 2020 @ 4:17

    Another theme was the growing solidarity between Shaw and the men, crystallized in the scene where he FOLLOWS their lead and destroyed his own pay stubs, turning a divisive issue into a unifying moment. In real life there were some boring meetings and talking among the soldiers, hammering out a line of action: that would have been good to see, but not very movie like, I guess.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 19, 2020 @ 4:12

    One of the more vivid scenes is the strict Irish born drill sergeant. While the theatrically abusive drill sergeant is a stock movie character(Full Metal Jacket, anyone?), the 54th didn’t have white drill instructors. But several of black regiments did have white noncoms(T.W. Higginson mentioned some white sergeants in the 33rd USCT, gradually reduced to a single white man, who was replaced eventually). Again, maybe not true of the 54th, but broadly true.

    I think a theme of the film was that military discipline, and slavery’s discipline are different things, that look a lot alike.

    The 19th century notion that the enslaved had a transitional period(army life) where they were still strictly controlled, before earning freedom is a little problematic, but crops up.

    • Matt McKeon Sep 19, 2020 @ 6:04

      Re: the tough drill sergeant. While entertaining to watch(the utter certainty! the showmanship!) my dad, who was in the First Cavalry Division, informed me that it isn’t as entertaining to be the recruit in real life.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 19, 2020 @ 4:05

    I use Glory most years when I teach the Civil War.

    Several of the scenes wouldn’t have been necessarily true for the 54th, but would be for most USCT regiments: the 54th literacy rate was similar to white regiments, but military service was an opportunity for literacy for many black soldiers, especially those who had escaped from slavery, again something that would be more true of other black regiments. So its both historically inaccurate, but broadly, historically true.

  • Msb Sep 15, 2020 @ 11:22

    Good post and excellent article. While I’m delighted by Glory’s survival, I’d be much happier if it were surrounded by other films featuring USCTs’ contributions, for example, their role in the battles of Franklin and Nashville, or in the final chase of Lee and entry to Richmond in 1865.
    JL Chamberlain recalled USCTs pressing forward alongside his men, “black men fighting to save the white man’s country” (IIRC). That idea alone would be well worth exploring. While Fort Pillow and the Crater would also be well worth covering in film, audiences of all colors might enjoy a story where USCTs live to enjoy the fruits of victory, for as long as they lasted.

  • Mike Musick Sep 15, 2020 @ 10:08

    I was intrigued when a childhood friend (USMA ’66, with several tours in Vietnam) told me he thought “Glory” was the best war movie he had seen, period. He stressed that the film shows how in combat you don’t have an overview of what is going on, but rather that your experience is confined to your immediate vicinity.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2020 @ 11:20

      Hi Mike,

      Great to hear from you. Hope all is well. I couldn’t agree more. It stands in sharp contrast to the wide angles that Maxwell favored in “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.” You get a hint of the horrors of battle in that opening scene of “Glory.”

  • Lee Hodges Sep 15, 2020 @ 4:17

    Interesting essay. However, I have an issue with the last two sentences:

    “Glory still offers a powerful reminder of the stakes of the Civil War for communities across the country debating whether to remove their Confederate monuments. The decisions made will go far in determining whether ‘Black Lives Matter’ today and in history.”

    I don’t know if this is what you intended to imply, but if a community decides not to remove a Confederate monument, it doesn’t automatically follow that they believe that the lives of African Americans don’t matter. That’s much too black and white (no pun intended) a way of thinking.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2020 @ 4:22

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I would agree with you, but for the fact that I said “will go far in determining…” and not that it alone determines whether ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the present and past.

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