How the Men of ‘Glory’ Stood Up To the U.S. Government

Denzel Washington tears up his pay voucher in Glory

Head on over to the Atlantic for my most recent essay on the legacy of our Civil War’s African American soldiers and the movie, Glory.  The essay brings together a couple of posts that I recently did on how I teach the movie and how I utilize the history of the pay crisis try to give students a different perspective on the significance of what these men accomplished during the war [see here and here].  You can check out all of my Atlantic essays here.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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8 comments… add one
  • Matt McKeon Feb 24, 2012 @ 9:49

    The portrait o the 54th, the supply problems, being made up of fugitives, illiterate, is more true of the majority of United States Colored Troops units, who were made up of recently freed slaves, than the 54th, so I give that a pass.

    The character I don’t like isn’t the Irish drill sergeant: a movie staple since the silents, but Thomas(Thomas, get it? It’s like a literacy allusion for people who don’t read), the prissy friend of Shaw’s, who’s a walking cliche.

  • Ryan A Feb 24, 2012 @ 8:47

    There may be some techincal innaccuracies in the film – like the men of the regiment and supporting white regiments attacking Fort Wagner in the wrong direction, or the really fat and “farby” Confederates in the battle scenes. Of course, the biggest innaccuracy is that very little of the regiment was comprised of runaway slaves, but rather free blacks born and raised in the North, and a good lot of them highly educated.

    But it remains – in my opinion – the best Civil War movie ever made. I think all of it stands up well over the last 20 years – except for the Irish drill sergeant. Great performances – I think it was Denzel’s best – and the buildup to the final assault gets me every time.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 24, 2012 @ 8:55

      Hi Ryan,

      I certainly agree with you that the movie does hold up incredibly well after 20 years. Another major historical problem with the movie is that the regiment is depicted as lacking vital resources such as uniforms and weapons, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Governor Andrew ensured that this regiment would not suffer for anything, but this once again points to the intersection between history and Hollywood.

      The post at the Atlantic reflects how I use the movie in class, which functions more as a catalyst for discussing the experiences of black Union soldiers as well as well as how we have chosen to remember their service and sacrifice.

  • Pat Young Feb 22, 2012 @ 15:01

    Nice article over at The Atlantic. I remember that a lot of members of my CWRT disparaged the movie as unrealistic, while drooling over other CW films that left slavery out but had “great tacticals”.

    • Andy Hall Feb 22, 2012 @ 15:33

      It’s one of the best ACW movies out there. I’ve seen it many times, and parts of it don’t wear well. There are a lot of cliches, and a lot of characters that, in retrospect, seem standard. But this one scene — two actors, sparse dialogue, no scenery-chewing — really captures the whole complexity of the story. Kevin Jarre got Golden Globe and Writer’s Guild nominations for the screenplay.

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