Glory  is a 1989 American war film. The screenplay by Kevin Jarre was based on the books “Lay This Laurel”  by Lincoln Kirstein and “One Gallant Rush” by Peter Burchard, and the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The film is about the 54th, which was one of the first military units of the Union Army during the American Civil War to consist entirely of African-American men, except for its officers, as told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw, its white commanding officer.

Soldiers’ Shoes

During the Civil War, soldiers sometimes marched up to 30 or 40 miles a day. As a result, shoes became worn out and badly needed by both sides. In the movie we see the 54th regiment being denied new shoes, thus the regiment’s feet suffered even more than most soldier’s. The incident is one of many in the film that shows the discrimination black people (soldiers) faced during that time.

The shoe situation was also one in which the north once again had the upper hand: “The Union, backed by its industrial strength and factories, had the benefit of the sewing machine.” Southern states on the other hand faced corruption and instances of soldiers getting shorted and profits pocketed were rampant. There were occasions of men marching barefoot on snow and even stealing shoes off off dead soldiers’ feet. Funny to think how something so elementary nowadays could have been something so hard to access only a couple centuries ago.

Critical response

Glory tells the story of the 54th, a regiment composed of about 600 black soldiers and 2 white commanding officers. Glory is praised as one of the most historically accurate war movies of all time, specifically of the American Civil War.

“While the tendency in films about race relations is to tell the story exclusively from the white perspective, screenwriter Kevin Jarre (Tombstone) wisely alternates Glory’s narrative emphasis between Shaw and the soldiers under his command;”

Some reviewers think differently but I agree. I felt that the movie’s focus was on the soldiers as much as (if not more than) Shaw. The film had diverse black characters (although based on stereotypes) and showed the relationships between the men well. Similarly it showed relations between whites, and how their views often differentiated, even in The Union. I especially liked how for the last night before battle, the movie showed the soldiers together, sitting around a bonfire, singing, talking. I am willing to bet that Shaw was as nervous as them and (assuming by his actions in the first battle we saw in the movie) freaking out, but the movie didn’t show that, because, in the end, it was about black soldiers and their story. However, I wish that the main character had also been black and that the top billing hadn’t gone to a white actor.

“Shaw’s troubles have a bit of the white man’s burden about them.”

That is: “The task, believed by white colonizers to be incumbent upon them, of imposing Western civilization on the black inhabitants of European colonies.” This did bother me at some points in the movie, for example the shooting lesson. I understood that Shaw did it out of tough love and because he himself had experienced getting overwhelmed in the battlefield but the way a shot showing the soldiers shouting and shooting rather randomly was followed by Shaw intimidating (I’d even go as far as to say scaring) them into silence and order kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The fact that Shaw’s parents were abolitionists – wealthy intellectuals at that – and how it is sometimes speculated that some abolitionists were secretly driven by snobbish reasons only adds to this gut feeling of mine.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie, the historical accuracy and realistic battle scenes were a breath of fresh air. We will never know what Shaw’s real intentions were and even so, the outcome is long known.


Different developments in the North and South

(North industrialized, become more opposed to slavery, lots of aristocrats. The south got left behind, relied on slaves in agriculture)

Between 1815 and 1861 the economy of the Northern states was rapidly modernizing and diversifying. Industrialization had taken root there. Moreover, Northerners had invested heavily in an expansive and varied transportation system that included canals, roads, steamboats, and railroads; in financial industries such as banking and insurance; and in a large communications network that featured inexpensive, widely available newspapers, magazines, and books, along with the telegraph.

The Southern economy was based principally on large farms (plantations) that produced commercial crops such as cotton and that relied on slaves as the main labour force. The price of cotton, the South’s defining crop, had skyrocketed in the 1850s, and the value of slaves—who were, after all, property—rose commensurately. By 1860 the per capita wealth of Southern whites was twice that of Northerners, and three-fifths of the wealthiest individuals in the country were Southerners.

ANCESTRY/ETHNICITY is another difference.  The rural areas in the northern states tend to be populated by people with German and English ancestry.  In the Southeast, people of African descent and “American” (i.e. people who are either unaware of or uninterested in reporting their ancestry) tend to predominate.  Those people who describe themselves as “Americans” in the Southeast are believed to mostly be descended from colonial-era settlers south of the Mason-Dixon line, which makes it harder to trace their ancestry.  A lot of them are probably descended from Scottish, Irish, and Scots-Irish colonists.  In the Southwest, there are a lot of people with Mexican ancestry.

The SOCIAL/CULTURAL/POLITICAL OUTLOOK is also different.  The Southeastern states are historically more conservative socially and politically. The Northern tier states tend to be more liberal historically, be it famously progressive New England, the “hippie culture” of the Pacific Northwest.

Abolitionist movement

Abolitionism in the United States was the movement before and during the American Civil War to end slavery and the end of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States. In the 17th century, enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds and English Quakers and some Evangelical denominations condemned slavery as un-Christian. At that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. The colony of Georgia originally abolished slavery within its territory, and thereafter, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in the Thirteen Colonies.

ABOLITIONIST LEADERS have been scorned as cranks who were either working out their own personal maladjustments or as people using the slavery issue to restore a status that as an alleged New England elite they feared they were losing. The truth may be simpler. Few neurotics and few members of the northern socioeconomic elite became abolitionists. For all the movement’s zeal and propagandistic successes, it was bitterly resented by many Northerners, and the masses of free whites were indifferent to its message. In the 1830s urban mobs, typically led by “gentlemen of property and standing,” stormed abolitionist meetings, wreaking violence on the property and persons of African Americans and their white sympathizers, evidently indifferent to the niceties distinguishing one abolitionist theorist from another. The fact that abolition leaders were remarkably similar in their New England backgrounds, their Calvinist self-righteousness, their high social status, and the relative excellence of their educations hints that their cause was either snobbish or elitist.

Missouri compromise

Missouri Compromise, (1820), in U.S. history, measure worked out between the North and the South and passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed for admission of Missouri as the 24th state (1821). Missouri had been admitted to the union as a state in which slavery was legal, and, indeed, slavery was already well established at the time, not only on the plantations operated by immigrants from the South but also in the French lead-mining ventures. In this atmosphere, new arrivals from the North and from Europe not only challenged the traditional Southern institution but also challenged the principle of states’ rights (sovereignty of the states within the union). Laws were enacted to prohibit the teaching of reading and writing to black residents and to prevent free black people from entering the state.

The Missouri Compromise was criticized by many southerners because it established the principle that Congress could make laws regarding slavery; northerners, on the other hand, condemned it for acquiescing in the expansion of slavery (though only south of the compromise line). Nevertheless, the act helped hold the Union together for more than thirty years.  Northerners argued that Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in a new state. Southerners held that new states had the same freedom of action as the original thirteen and were thus free to choose slavery if they wished. After the Senate and the House passed different bills and deadlock threatened, a compromise bill was worked out with the following provisions:

  1. Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) as free, and
  2. except for Missouri, slavery was to be excluded from the Louisiana Purchase lands north of latitude 36°30′.

Fugitive Slave Act

The Fugitive Slave Acts were a pair of federal laws that allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the territory of the United States.  The Fugitive Slave Acts were among the most controversial laws of the early 19th century.

1793: Enacted by Congress in 1793, the first Fugitive Slave Act authorized local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. This edict was similar to the Fugitive Slave Clause in many ways, but included a more detailed description of how the law was to be put into practice. Most importantly, it decreed that slave owners and their “agents” had the right to search for escaped slaves within the borders of free states. In the event they captured a suspected slave, these hunters had to bring them before a judge and provide evidence proving the person was their property. If court officials were satisfied by their proof—which often took the form of a signed affidavit—the owner would be permitted to take custody of the slave and return to their home state. The law also imposed a $500 penalty on any person who helped harbor or conceal escaped slaves.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was immediately met with a firestorm of criticism. Northerners bristled at the idea of turning their states into a stalking ground for bounty hunters, and many argued the law was tantamount to legalized kidnapping. Some abolitionists organized clandestine resistance groups and built complex networks of safe houses to aid slaves in their escape to the North. Widespread resistance to the 1793 law led to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which added more provisions regarding runaways and levied even harsher punishments for interfering in their capture.

1850: this new law forcibly compelled citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. It also denied slaves the right to a jury trial and increased the penalty for interfering with the rendition process to $1,000 and six months in jail.  The number of abolitionists increased. Widespread opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 saw the law become virtually unenforceable in certain Northern states, and by 1860 only around 330 slaves had been successfully returned to their Southern masters.

Republican and Free Soil congressmen regularly introduced bills and resolutions related to repealing the Fugitive Slave Act, but the law persisted until after the beginning of the Civil War. It wasn’t until June 28, 1864, that both of the Fugitive Slave Acts were repealed by an act of Congress.

Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states, Canada and Nova Scotia with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the “Railroad”.

Though neither underground nor a railroad, it was thus named because its activities had to be carried out in secret, using darkness or disguise, and because railway terms were used in reference to the conduct of the system. Various routes were lines, stopping places were called stations, those who aided along the way were conductors, and their charges were known as packages or freight. The network of routes extended in all directions throughout 14 Northern states and “the promised land” of Canada, which was beyond the reach of fugitive-slave hunters. The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. The network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 1700s, and it ran north to the free states and Canada, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. Those who most actively assisted slaves to escape by way of the “railroad” were members of the free black community (including such former slaves as Harriet Tubman), Northern abolitionists, philanthropists, and such church leaders as Quaker Thomas Garrett.

The Underground Railroad reached its peak in the 1850s, with many slaves fleeing to Canada to escape U.S. jurisdiction. British North America (present-day Canada), where slavery was prohibited, was a popular destination, as its long border gave many points of access. Most former slaves settled in Ontario. More than 30,000 people were said to have escaped there via the network during its 20-year peak period, although U.S. Census figures account for only 6,000. Numerous fugitives’ stories are documented in the 1872 book The Underground Railroad Records by William Still, an abolitionist who then headed the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.

Safe houses were an integral part of the Underground Railroad, the network of safe house locations that were used to assist slaves in escaping to the primarily northern free states in the 19th century United States. Some houses were marked with a statue of an African-American man holding a lantern, called “the Lantern Holder”.

Most of the slaves helped by the Underground Railroad escaped border states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland.

In the deep South, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made capturing escaped slaves a lucrative business, and there were fewer hiding places for them. Fugitive slaves were typically on their own until they got to certain points farther north.

Dred Scott case

Dred Scott decision, formally Dred Scott v. John F.A. Sandford, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6, 1857, ruled (7–2) that a slave (Dred Scott) who had resided in a free state and territory (where slavery was prohibited) was not thereby entitled to his freedom; that African Americans were not and could never be citizens of the United States; and that the Missouri Compromise (1820), which had declared free all territories west of Missouri and north of latitude 36°30′, was unconstitutional. The decision added fuel to the sectional controversy and pushed the country closer to civil war.

Dred Scott did, in fact, get his freedom, but not through the courts. After he and his wife were later bought by the Blow family (who had sold Scott to Emerson in the first place), they were freed in 1857. Scott died of tuberculosis in St. Louis the following year.

Among constitutional scholars, Scott v. Sandford is widely considered the worst decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court. It has been cited in particular as the most egregious example in the court’s history of wrongly imposing a judicial solution on a political problem. A later chief justice, Charles Evans Hughes, famously characterized the decision as the court’s great “self-inflicted wound.”

Formation of Confederacy

Confederate States of America, also called Confederacy, in the American Civil War, the government of 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860–61, carrying on all the affairs of a separate government and conducting a major war until defeated in the spring of 1865.

Convinced that their way of life, based on slavery, was irretrievably threatened by the election of Pres. Abraham Lincoln (November 1860), the seven states of the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) seceded from the Union during the following months. When the war began with the firing on Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861), they were joined by four states of the upper South (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia).

The election of Abraham Lincoln was labeled an act of war by some Southern politicians, who predicted armies would come to seize slaves and force white women to marry black men. Secession meetings and assemblies started to appear across the South. Southern politicians began to procure weaponry, and some secessionists even proposed kidnapping Lincoln.

The main concern of the Confederate States was raising and equipping an army. The Southern Congress first voted to permit direct volunteering up to 400,000, but conscription was begun in April 1862. The total number of Confederate soldiers is estimated at 750,000, as opposed to twice that many Federal troops. (Confederate population stood at about 5,500,000 whites and 3,500,000 black slaves, as against 22,000,000 Northerners.) In railroads, the South had only 9,000 miles, the industrial North 22,000.

Causes of the Civil War (1861-1865)

(Everything mentioned above)

SLAVERY: The North was broadly opposed to slavery and this cultural difference shaped the rhetoric of war. Northern popular culture depicted Southerners as decadent, un-Christian sponges. Economic and cultural fear propelled the country into war.

TAXES: Prior to fighting, relations between the North and South had been poisoned by disputes over taxes. The North financed its industrial development through crippling taxes imposed by Congress on imported goods. The South, which had an agricultural economy and had to buy machinery from abroad, ended up footing the bill.

POLITICS: north – liberal, south – conservative.

The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and the roughly 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square km) of new territory that the United States gained as a result of it added a new sense of urgency to the dispute. More and more Northerners, driven by a sense of morality or an interest in protecting free labour, came to believe, in the 1850s, that bondage needed to be eradicated. White Southerners feared that limiting the expansion of slavery would consign the institution to certain death. Over the course of the decade, the two sides became increasingly polarized and politicians less able to contain the dispute through compromise. When Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the explicitly antislavery Republican Party, won the 1860 presidential election, seven Southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) carried out their threat and seceded, organizing as the Confederate States of America.

Developments and outcome of the war

The enormous death rate—roughly 2 percent of the 1860 population of the U.S. died in the war—had an enormous impact on American society. Americans were deeply religious, and they struggled to understand how a benevolent God could allow such destruction to go on for so long. Understanding of the nature of the afterlife shifted as Americans, North and South, comforted themselves with the notion that heaven looked like their front parlors. A new mode of dealing with corpses emerged with the advent of embalming, an expensive method of preservation that helped wealthier families to bring their dead sons, brothers, or fathers home. Finally, a network of federal military cemeteries (and private Confederate cemeteries) grew out of the need to bury the men in uniform who had succumbed to wounds or disease.

Throughout the war British public sentiment favoured the slave-holding South. In October 1861 Karl Marx, summed up the view of the British press: ‘The war between the North and South is a tariff war. The war is, further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery and in fact turns on Northern lust for sovereignty.’

Emancipation Proclamation

When the American Civil War (1861-65) began, President Abraham Lincoln carefully framed the conflict as concerning the preservation of the Union rather than the abolition of slavery. Although he personally found the practice of slavery abhorrent, he knew that neither Northerners nor the residents of the border slave states would support abolition as a war aim. But by mid-1862, as thousands of slaves fled to join the invading Northern armies, Lincoln was convinced that abolition had become a sound military strategy, as well as the morally correct path. On September 22, soon after the Union victory at Antietam, he issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom.

Lincoln told portrait painter Francis B. Carpenter that the Emancipation Proclamation was “the central act of my administration, and the greatest event of the nineteenth century.” To Lincoln and to his countrymen it had become evident that the proclamation had dealt a deathblow to slavery in the United States, a fate that was officially sealed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865.

As an individual, Lincoln hated slavery. As a Republican, he wished to exclude it from the territories as the first step to putting the institution “in the course of ultimate extinction.” But as president of the United States, Lincoln was bound by a Constitution that protected slavery in any state where citizens wanted it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *