A photograph of Ulysses S. Grant

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Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was the General of the Union Army during the Civil War and the 18th President of the United States. Two of his most famous victories were capturing Fort Donelson in Tennessee and the city of Vicksburg in Mississippi. He later led many military campaigns which would ultimately bring the war to a close. At April 9, 1865, General of the Confederate Army Robert Lee surrendered to Grant in Appomattox Court House in Virginia. That event officially ended the Civil War. After becoming a war hero, he was nominated by the Republicans as their presidential candidate. He won with 214 voting for him and 80 against, with 54% of the public votes supporting. He led the Reconstruction of the US, trying to unite the North and South while protecting the civil rights of the freed black slaves.


Different developments in the North and South

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After the Declaration of Independence and the end of the Revolutionary War, the South started to flourish in profit with their cotton plantation. Even at a point, the cotton economy in the US would be worth more than all other exports combined. However, this proved to be a problem, as it was the only remarkable production in the South, all other economies were almost stagnant. Most of the manual labourers used for work were black slaves brought from Africa, which is something that differs them from the North. The North had a “free market” and focused more on the commercial and manufacturing of resources. This also helped them gain an edge in the coming decades, becoming much better at producing weaponry and textiles. It is also believed to be one of the reasons why the Civil War broke out.

Abolitionist movement

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The Abolitionist movement was a political movement, which had a goal do free black slaves from their hard and gruelling labour-work. It also wished to end segregation among white and black people. The movement spread to both the North and South of the US but became more prominent in the North. The South would not risk in losing all of their workforces, so the abolitionists were not treated kindly. The entire spread of Abolitionism was boosted by the Second Great Awakening when preachers like Nathaniel Taylor and Lyman Beecher preached about God’s will saving them through revival meetings. The most well-known figure in the abolitionist movement was Frederick Douglass, who published his anti-slavery newspaper called The North Star and three autobiographies. Those aforementioned books became bestsellers.

Missouri Compromise

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This act was passed by the United States Congress in 1850. It demanded that all slaves if they were compliant or found by citizens, would return to their original master without any exceptions. It was nicknamed the “Bloodhound Law” by abolitionists because of the use of dogs to track down slaves. Due to hundreds of slaves escaping after a few years, states on the border became unstable. What separates this from the Slave Act of 1793, states did not need to offer help in finding runaway slaves. A penalty of six months in jail and 1,000 dollars in fines was given to the person who assisted in helping slaves or not giving the correct information on whereabouts of escapees to officials. A document states that 330 slaves were returned in 1860.

The Underground Railroad

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The name of this system was made up in 1831. The Underground Railroad was a network of routes used by black slaves to escape to free states and other neighbouring countries, such as Canada and Mexico. It was believed to have been used during the late 18th century to the beginning of the Civil War. The railroad was not literally underground but used more as a figurative term. Each route had a conductor who redirected and transported them to the North in search of freedom. Usually, the trip would be around 10-20 miles to reach the next station, all while travelling during the night. Because of the secrecy, southern newspapers had information about escaped slaves and sizable rewards for them, making bounty hunters known as slave-catchers look for them even as far as the US-Canadian border. The main destinations within the US territory were Florida and North Carolina, where slavery was abolished. By 1850, 100,000 slaves escaped from the slave states to look for shelter and freedom.

Dred Scott case

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This case was about the freedom of Dred Scott and his family in 1857. They exclaimed, that they had been living in Illinois, a free state, for two years. The Supreme Court ruled that a family of African descent was not eligible for US citizenship, and denied them their freedom. Dred Scott himself died one year later to tuberculosis, but he was freed 3 months earlier. This case itself became widespread news and sparked outrage among citizens. It was also a factor in the events leading up to the Civil War.

Formation of Confederacy

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The Confederate States of America was an unrecognized country within the US territory. It was formed after the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860. He was opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories. Lincoln also wanted the terms of being a president to change, having only one term and 6 years of presidency. This gave way to opposition against the northern states which later came known to be the Union. The Confederacy was originally composed of seven states: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas and South Carolina. Later on, other states joined with them, such as Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas. All of them were pro-slavery. They were heavily reliant on agriculture, so the President’s distaste for slavery was something they despised, giving them a reason to separate from the US.

Causes of the Civil War (1861-1865)

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The first recorded fighting for the choice of slavery was in Kansas in 1854. The state government gave the people a choice to vote for whether to allow having slaves or not. Many skirmishes broke out due to this event, with people even being killed for it. The state voted against slavery in 1861.  Later, this event was called Bleeding Kansas.

The expansion of new states became a battle between the North and South. Southern states believed their powers were dwindling and feared losing all of their rights.

After the Confederacy’s declaration of sovereignty, Abraham Lincoln deemed it as illegal and the government sent in troops to secure the South. A conflict began, which grew to become the Civil War.

Developments and outcome of the war

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Although the South did not get any foreign support for their cause, they tried to bring in France and Britain as mediators. During the war, the South had almost completely collapsed their economy, due to the low food supplies and foraging by the Union Army. There were at least 1 million casualties, that includes civilians as well. Technical developments, such as the use of telegraphs, The Union declared victory over the war in 1865 and grew to become rich with the West, leaving the southern countries in poverty for over a century. They did, however, become more centralized, helping them regain their economy. Slave-owners and rich Southerners lost their political power within the nation. A few days later, after the surrender of the commander of the Confederacy States Army Charles Edward Lee, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

Emancipation Proclamation

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The proclamation gave black slaves and free black people a chance to join the Union Army. Emancipation also helped the army recruit more troops into their ranks the further the soldiers advanced. A few high-ranking army members were opposed to this, but they later believed them to be crucial in reaching victory. This also helped the locals be more empathetic and caring towards black people. However, the proclamation gave them no chance to have any sort of support from France or Britain. Luckily, after the war was over, Lincoln proposed this emancipation as the Thirteenth Amendment to Congress, making it permanent and universal in all states.

Critical response

The movie “Glory” was made in 1989 and directed by Edward Zwick. It describes the Massachusetts 54th regiment’s tale during the American Civil War from the point of view of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick). All of the private soldiers were African-American, which was unique for its time.

I very much so liked the soldiers’ journey throughout the movie. It showed them from being mostly slaves who were new to war and had no discipline to men who could keep calm while the enemy is charging towards them. I loved the main cast, with Denzel Washington playing the role of the angry and pessimistic former slave Trip (he also won his first Oscar with that role), and Morgan Freeman being the sensible leader of the group, Rawlins. A reviewer by the name of Ian Nathan said: “Kevin Jarre’s script shapes its characters as defined archetypes — the angry black man (Washington), the noble black man (Morgan Freeman), the empathetic captain (Matthew Broderick) — rather than as real men with conflicting motivations.” (article link) I do not agree with this statement, as I believe their motivations were quite complex. Rawlins, after enlisting in the army, did not care much for the others in the army, but getting the promotion changed him into a man of honour. Trip was angry towards everyone for just being positive about the war’s outcome. After the midnight campfire meeting, he realized his mistakes and became much more supportive of his fellow privates. Colonel Shaw had a somewhat cold expression, believing it would train them more effectively. I understand that in this way, the black soldiers would get to feel how gruesome and unforgiving war is, but I feel as though he went a bit over the line. Later, after being told that his regiment cannot and will not participate in the conflicts, he felt insulted and used every method possible to get the men to deal with some real action. The Colonel was really becoming more empathetic after learning about how they were truly treated among other white men.

The only things I did not like were minuscule compared to how pleased I was with the movie. One of them was the singular point of view of the story. We only got to see things from the perspective of Colonel Shaw, which does not help paint a full picture of the views of others, mainly the black soldiers in the regiment. “Why did we see the black troops through his eyes – instead of seeing him through theirs?” asked a reviewer named Roger Ebert (article link). I would like to ask the same question about this movie. A possible explanation by Roger to this mystery is as follows: “Perhaps one answer is that the significance of the 54th was the way in which it changed white perceptions of black soldiers.” If that was the case then I could maybe let this one slide. The other thing I did not like was something a lot of people may not agree with. But then again, you could just say that this is sort of a nit-pick. The last battle scene at Fort Wagner was, for me, a tad bit too long. It felt dragged out to be longer than it should have.

In short, I liked this movie. It showed the struggles of how black people tried to fight for the country in which they lived while being ridiculed and not respected at all by white folk. The movie is praised for being near and true to its source material, often titled to be “the most historically accurate film”.

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