Disillusioned by the chaos and savagery at the Battle of Antietam, Robert Gould Shaw, a 25-year-old white Bostonian intellectual, returns home. However, in February, 1863, he’s offered command of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black fighting unit raised in the North during the Civil War.
Serving as volunteers in the 54th are both free Northern blacks and runaway slaves. Trip, an angry, embittered field slave is wild, rebellious, hateful toward whites, and resentful toward types like Searles, Shaw’s educated, prissy house Negro. Rawlins, a gravedigger Shaw met at Antietam, handles intra and inter race flare-ups with great wisdom and rises to the rank of sergeant major. Helping Trip to overcome his racism, one senses that perhaps Rawlins sees the bigger picture and has the greater things of God in mind.
Shaw reads to his men the proclamation from Confederate President Jefferson Davis: “Any Negro taken in arms against the Confederacy… in a Federal uniform will be summarily put to death.” To his surprise, the men are still there in the morning. He writes home with nothing but praise for the black enlistees, but admits he doesn’t understand their music or culture and is afraid they’ll discover his weaknesses.
Sobered by the horror at Antietam, Shaw scares the men into a state of readiness while company officers vigorously train the troops (with obscenities, unfortunately). They soon discover, however, that their first battle will not be with the Confederates, but with Northern whites who deem them unworthy of combat and resist giving them uniforms, proper boots, or access to weapons. When they’re also denied equal pay, Shaw joins their protest by tearing up his pay voucher, communicating to them a we’re-in-this-together camaraderie.
Finally, they see action. Traveling south from Massachusetts, Shaw requests the honor to lead the attack on Ft. Wagner, an impregnable Confederate fort standing in the way of the Union’s quest for the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The night before, the men gather to pray before the group, one by one. “Dear Lord, I prays to fight with a rifle in one hand, and ‘de Good Book in ‘de other. If I dies, I pray to know that Jesus is with me.” Praying likewise, Rawlins thanks God for the opportunity to die for freedom. They all seem to know that they will die, yet uncannily have no fear. It is extremely good drama.
On July 18, 1863, on a stretch of beach near Charleston, the 54th Regiment began its bloody assault on Ft. Wagner. Their character and strength of heart turn the hearts of the white support-troops toward their black brothers, as the men fight not just for victory, but for respect and freedom. The accompanying musical score is absolutely exhilarating, like a distant choir chanting in the heavenly realms. Their courageous actions helped throw open the gates of the Union Army to 180,000 blacks, who, by risking their lives in the War, laid claim to emancipation and citizenship for themselves and their children.
It must be emphasized that these men were courageous. The soldier who, in a sudden burst of energy, sprints across a battlefield because he’s overwhelmed by the fear of dying and drops a grenade into an enemy bunker may be brave, but he is not courageous. Courage is not a feeling of fearlessness, but a willingness of mind to act out of conviction. It takes courage to act honestly, and Shaw was not afraid to act out of his convictions.
However, courage without regard to moral law will sink a society. It is a principle of God that He will tread out the grapes of wrath where they are stored. As the United States approaches the 125th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, it’s sad to think how depraved this great country has become. As the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn has said, “Men have forgotten God. That is why all this has happened.”
With a really good 1860’s look, GLORY is a biblical moral lesson about overcoming racism through reconciliation, not rebellion or revenge, set in the context of history that we all need to see. GLORY is a great film for mature, discerning Christians.
(L, VVV) One profanity, some obscenities and crudities, war scenes of killing and carnage (including one intense scene of a soldier's head being blown away).
With a really good 1860's look, GLORY is a biblical moral lesson about overcoming racism through reconciliation, not rebellion or revenge, set in the context of history that we all need to see. GLORY is a great film for mature, discerning Christians.