“The Underground Railroad” written by Colson Whitehead
Link to the picture:

Looking for a visual to depict this era of USA-s history, I came across a book published in 2016 called “The Underground Railroad”. During this era, underground railroads were purely a metaphor used to describe the journey of slaves escaping their awful living conditions with the help of abolitionists. Colson Whiteheads book on the other hand takes the metaphor and imagines what would have been if the metaphor was a reality. The book follows my aged girl named Cora and her struggles to become free, to reach the North states using an underground railroad. The book still manages to keep its historical accuracy and combine fiction with the truth while also adding in the problems in the United States from our time. I felt that this is a nice visual because we would be lying if we said that at least for a second we did not think that the underground railroad was a physical railroad. Before researching the notions, I had a vision of the railroad in my head and it reminds more of the books idea than what actually went down. It also shows how history is not forgotten, on the contrary, it can still be modernized and used to spark someones´ imagination to create something different. The book uses a piece of US history and flips it, taking the readers to a parallel universe and showing what could have happened and what could have been. With those reasons in mind, I picked the books cover to tie the past with the present.

The Review

“Glory” is said to be on of the most historically accurate war films and praised for its incredible acting. Denzel Washington even received an Oscar for his role as Trip in the film. Nevertheless, “Glory” is still a film meant for entertainment so not everything is 100% true.

Firstly, I want to bring the attention to the character Major Forbes:

” The second-in-command during the period of the film was not the completely made-up character of “Major Forbes” but the actual person, Edward Needles Hallowell. After Robert Gould Shaw’s death at Ft. Wagner, Col. Hallowell commanded the regiment until the end of the war. This alteration of fact is still all the more bewildering considering the Hallowell family’s considerable role in the Massachusetts Black Regiments. Edward Hallowell’s brother Norwood Penrose Hallowell was Colonel of the second Massachusetts black regiment, the 55th and his brother William Penrose Hallowell, its adjutant.”

Link to the review:

Of course, it is not possible to feature every characters family in on film, but E. N. Hallowell´s family had quite a big role. It came out that in the beginning of the 54th Massachusetts, his brother Norwood Hallowell was the second in command and Colonel Shaw´s right hand. While recruiting people for the regiment, there was so many volunteers and after some time they needed to start a second, 55th Massachusetts regiment. By doing so, N. P. Hallowell was promoted to Colonel and became the head of the 55th regiment. That gave his brother a change to become the second in command and a major. Unfortunately, the film completely skips that part of history and changes the name of the character, creating a story of this friendship between Shaw and Forbes.(1)

To add, I wish the film could have mentioned that he took over leading the 54th Massachusetts regiment. Major Forbes/Hallowell went to many battles with the regiment and won them but “Glory” cut that out. He was the person who took over in the assault on Fort Wagner when Shaw died and lead the 54th. In my opinion, the film could have payed tribute to Edward Hallowell as he is an important part of the Civil War and not just a good friend of the leading Colonel.(1)

Secondly, I am going to touch on the scene where Trip gets whipped:

” Lastly, the way in which they whipped and flagged the black soldiers is historically inaccurate because the practice of flogging had been outlawed before the civil war, and Robert would not have whipped them because it symbolizes slavery, which is what they were trying to abolish.”

Link to the review:

I had to include this in my review, because the scene in the film was absolutely wrecking and beautifully done by the director. To find out that it was actually false and could not have happened was a bit disappointing. Flogging was outlawed in 1861 and the film took place in 1862/1863. To me, that means the scene was used to make the audience feel bad, to manipulate our emotions. I am sure that the struggle of the African-American soldiers could have been shown differently and historically accurately.(2)

To sum up, I enjoyed the film and was moved by the incredible acting. It depicted a side of the Civil War that is not talked about a lot but is important to the development of the United States and human rights.

Links used for the review:

(1) http://www.militaryhallofhonor.com/honoree-record.php?id=222503

(2) https://taskandpurpose.com/10-brutal-punishments-used-legal-military

The Notions

Film Q&A

In what war were the characters in the movie fighting in? Give a brief overview of the causes of the war.

The action of the movie took place in 1863, when the Civil War was in full swing. The Civil War was fought between the Northern, industrialized, educated and anti-slavery, states and the Southern, rural. railway, arms, pro-slavery, states. Many slaves lived free lives in the northern states and they wanted to live in a free America, where no-one was a threat to them. Pro-slavery states supported Democrats, while northerners wanted Republicans. The gap between the states became so large, that the South declared their own nation, the Confederate States of America. Many African-Americans escaped up north and wanted a personal freedom and to fight. That is why many wanted to go to military, but there was very few attempts on a coloured regiment.

Who was Shaw’s father? How is he depicted in the film?

Shaw’s father was the Governor of Virginia Francis Shaw and he firstly offered his son to be the colonel of a new coloured regiment in Massachusetts. Shaw wrote him letters from the army and he wanted his father to directly write a letter to president Abraham Lincoln in order for his regiment to go to battle.

What are the backgrounds of the soldiers in the regiment? How do they differ?

Some were free men , some were slaves. Thomas grew up together with Shaw, he was an intelligent person (Snowflake). Trip former slave, doesn’t know how to read. They came from very different backgrounds, but were eventually equal in the regiment.

What was the opinion of other white soldiers towards the Massachusetts 54th Regiment?

Noobs, don’t know how to fight, weak. Racism was very widespread. Only suitable as slaves. When the black soldiers first entered the camp, many white soldiers were booing and they were used to slavery and not that they could be in the army themselves.

Why didn’t Thomas fit in with anyone/anywhere? How does that change throughout the film?

Thomas was black so at that time even in Northern States, he was still not equal to others. He had his friend(Shaw) who looked at him as an equal but most people wouldn’t quite accept him. In the 54th regiment, black men look down on him because he has a higher education and stand out. Trip is really mad as he believes that Thomas wants to look and seem white, but from Trips experience that is not possible and Thomas is a dumb white mens lap dog in his mind. Thomas tries to help but Trip makes it feel like Thomas thinks better of himself than others in the 54th regiment. By the end, Thomas has managed to educate quite a few of the soldiers and taught them to read, he is definitely accepted as a part of the family the men created while serving together.

What differences were there between whites and blacks? What difference did Robert mention?

The ability to relax and enjoy the moments –

“But the moment they are dismissed from drill, every tongue is relaxed and every ivory tooth is visible and you would not know from the sound of it that this is an army camp.”

The fearlessness and bravery

How did Shaw learn the issues of soldiers in the training camp?

He talked to Rawlins, the wise old man, who gave information about the well-being of the soldiers. For example, Rawlins told Shaw that they need new shoes. When Shaw realised the real situation, he demanded new shoes for everybody. Also with the blue uniforms.

How did the the blacks’ attitude towards Shaw change throughout the movie and vice versa?

They considered him a young, “small guy” who tried to hide behind his title, but realised he really cared for them and was becoming one of them, they respected him more than anyone.

At first, Robert tried to stay distant and remain the “higher power”, later became closer, forming a team.

Robert said “I owe them my freedom… my life if necessary”. Why?

“It is my job to get these men ready. And I will. They have risked their lives to be here, they have given up their freedom. I owe them as much as they have given. I owe them my freedom… my life if necessary.”

What kind of an outlook does general Montgomery have on black battalions and soldiers?

Montgomery is racist and he is certain that African-Americans are a bunch of senseless monkeys who are there for labor and hardwork, or destroying villages by stealing from houses and burning them down.

What is the difference between Montgomerys’ and Shaws’  battalions? Where does the difference come out and how? Why is there a difference?

Roberts’ 54th regiment is well behaving honourable soldiers, who are treated like normal soldiers. Montgomery already treated his men like wild animals so they act like a bunch of headless chicken, ramaching houses and burning villages without thinking about what they are doing. It is shown in the way the two regiment march to a village in Georgia and what happens while they are in the village.

What happened in Georgia? Why did Robert let the town be burnt down?

Montgomery gives orders to raid the town and when one soldier proposes burning down the town he responds, “Why not. Go ahead,” then goes on to insult the negro soldiers,calling them “animals”.

Montgomery threats to take his troops away.

What did Robert have to do to get his men the permission to fight?

He blackmailed a higher officer. (Smuggling, looting, grafts)

Why do you think Thomas didn’t want to go home after shot in the battle of St. James Island?

He wasn’t a coward and didn’t want to lose the first chance he ever had to fight for what he believed in.

Why doesn’t Trip want to carry the flag?

Because he’s not fighting for Robert nor for the country, he’s fighting for himself and the ones who share his destiny.

What is there to fighting? What do these mean?

Character, strength of heart – courage, determination, self-confidence, ability to control emotions.

Why did Shaw want to be the “suicide squad” at the invasion of Fort Wagner?

Because he wanted to show, that his men are eager to fight for freedom and are ready to die for it. Proving, that black people are vital and equal to others as well. It was considered an honorary move and white soldiers saluted them, when they went to battle.

Why did the soldiers meet the night before the final attack? What happened there?

It was a singing party, everyone made a speech. Rawlins, Thomas, Trip as well. It showed, how close they had become during their training. Trip said, that the regiment was like a family for him. As many soldiers did not have a family, it really meant a lot for them to have someone that took care of them.

What were your expectations concerning the end of the movie? How did it make you feel after watching it?

The end of the movie should be realistic, depicting the accurate end. Too many good people died. Very sad, tragic, that they could not conquer it. But it showed, that the brave attack influenced the Congress to encourage black people. The end was symbolic, as it was a right step towards equal rights for all races.

Did you find anything else odd in the final scene if the film?

The dead soldiers’ weren’t wearing any shoes(they had probably been taken before burying them to give to other regiments) but everyone was still dressed to their uniforms. Historically their uniforms were taken off as well.

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