Glory (1989)


Glory is a 1989 American war film directed by Edward Zwick about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s second African-American regiment in the American Civil War.

It stars Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s commanding officer, and Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, and Morgan Freeman as fictional members of the 54th.

The screenplay by Kevin Jarre was based on the books Lay This Laurel (1973) by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush (1965) by Peter Burchard, and the personal letters of Shaw.

The film depicts the soldiers of the 54th from the formation of their regiment to their heroic actions at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner.


During the American Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw, injured at Antietam, is sent home to Boston on medical leave. Shaw accepts a promotion to colonel commanding the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first all-black regiments in the Union Army. He asks his friend Cabot Forbes to serve as his second in command, with the rank of major. Their first volunteer is another friend, Thomas Searles, a bookish, free African-American. Other recruits include John Rawlins, Jupiter Sharts, Silas Trip, and a mute teenage drummer boy.

The men learn that, in response to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy has issued an order that all black soldiers will be returned to slavery. Black soldiers found in a Union uniform will be executed as well as their white officers. They are offered but turn down a chance to take an honourable discharge. They undergo rigorous training from Sergeant-Major Mulcahy, who is particularly hard on Searles. Despite Mulcahy’s treatment of his friend, Shaw reluctantly realises the tough discipline is needed to prepare them for the coming challenges the regiment must face.

Trip goes AWOL and is caught; Shaw orders him flogged in front of the regiment. He then learns that Trip left to find shoes because his men are being denied these supplies. Shaw confronts the base’s racist quartermaster on their behalf. Shaw also supports his men in a pay dispute; the Federal government decrees that black soldiers will only be paid $10, not the $13 per month all white soldiers receive. When the men, led by Trip, begin tearing up their pay vouchers in protest of this unequal treatment, Shaw tears up his own voucher in support of his men. In recognition of his regimental leadership, Rawlins is promoted by Shaw to the rank of Sergeant-Major.

Once the 54th completes its training, they are transferred under the command of General Charles Harker. On the way to South Carolina they are ordered by Colonel James Montgomery to sack and burn Darien, Georgia. Shaw initially refuses to obey an unlawful order but reluctantly agrees under threat of having his command taken away. He continues to lobby his superiors to allow his regiment to join the fight, as their duties to date have involved mostly manual labour. Shaw finally gets the 54th a combat assignment after he blackmails Harker by threatening to report the illegal activities he has discovered. In their first battle at James Island, South Carolina, the 54th successfully defeats a Confederate attack that had routed other units. During the battle, Searles is wounded but saves Trip. Shaw offers Trip the honour of bearing the regimental flag in battle. He declines, not sure that the war will result in a better life for ex-slaves like himself.

General George Strong informs Shaw of a major campaign to secure a foothold at Charleston Harbour. This involves assaulting Morris Island and capturing Fort Wagner, whose only landward approach is a strip of open beach; a charge is certain to result in heavy casualties. Shaw volunteers the 54th to lead the attack. The night before the battle, the black soldiers conduct a religious service. Several make emotional speeches to inspire others, including Trip, who finally embraces his fellow soldiers. On their way to the battlefield, the 54th is cheered by the same Union troops who had scorned them earlier.

The 54th leads the charge on the fort, suffering serious losses. As night falls, the regiment is pinned down against the walls of the fort. Attempting to encourage his men forward, Shaw is killed by numerous gunshots. Trip, despite his previous assertion that he would not do it, lifts the flag to rally the soldiers to continue, but he too is soon shot dead. Forbes and Rawlins take charge, and the soldiers break through the fort’s defences. Seemingly on the brink of victory, Forbes, Rawlins, Searles, Sharts, and the two Colour Sergeants are fired upon by Confederate artillery. The morning after the battle, the beach is littered with the bodies of black and white Union soldiers; the Confederate flag is raised over the fort. The dead Union soldiers are buried in a mass communal grave, with Shaw and Trip’s bodies next to each other.

Closing text reveals (incorrectly) that Fort Wagner never fell to the Union Army. However, the courage demonstrated by the 54th resulted in the United States accepting thousands of black men for combat, and President Abraham Lincoln credited them with helping to turn the tide of the war.


  • Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
  • Denzel Washington as Private Silas Trip.
  • Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes.
  • Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins.
  • Andre Braugher as Corporal Thomas Searles.
  • Jihmi Kennedy as Private Jupiter Sharts.
  • Cliff De Young as Colonel James Montgomery.
  • Alan North as Governor John Albion Andrew.
  • John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy.
  • RonReaco Lee as Mute Drummer Boy.
  • Donovan Leitch as Captain Charles Fessenden Morse.
  • Bob Gunton as General Charles Garrison Harker.
  • Jay O. Sanders as General George Crockett Strong.
  • Raymond St. Jacques as Frederick Douglass.
  • Richard Riehle as Quartermaster.
  • JD Cullum as Henry Sturgis Russell.
  • Christian Baskous as Edward L. Pierce.
  • Peter Michael Goetz as Francis Shaw.
  • Jane Alexander as Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (uncredited).


  • Kevin Jarre’s inspiration for writing the film came from viewing the monument to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in Boston Common.
    • The 54th was the first formal unit of the Union Army to be made up entirely of African-American enlisted men; all of the officers were white men.
    • His screenplay was based on two books, Lincoln Kirstein’s Lay This Laurel (1973) and Peter Burchard’s One Gallant Rush (1965), and the personal letters of Robert Gould Shaw.
  • Exterior filming took place primarily in Massachusetts and Georgia.
    • Opening passages, meant to portray the Battle of Antietam, show volunteer military re-enactors filmed at a major engagement at the Gettysburg battlefield.
  • Glory was the first major motion picture to tell the story of black US soldiers fighting for their freedom from slavery during the Civil War.
    • The 1965 James Stewart film Shenandoah also depicted black soldiers fighting for the Union, but the script suggested the Union army at that time was integrated.
  • Morgan Freeman used his experience in the Air Force to inform how relationships would be formed in the unit.
    • Freeman claimed that no one becomes fast friends during training, but partnerships are made according to strengths.
  • Very early in the movie, Union soldiers play baseball. Considerable dispute remains about exactly when, where, and how the sport was invented, but the Civil War itself had a significant role in the sport’s rapid growth.
    • It became a popular pastime for soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, who spread it around the country.
  • Glory was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three, including Best Supporting Actor for Washington.
  • It won many other awards from, among others, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Golden Globe Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, the Political Film Society, and the NAACP Image Awards.
  • It made $27 million on an $18 million budget.
  • The soundtrack, composed by James Horner and performed in part by Boys Choir of Harlem, was released on 23 January 1990.
  • On 02 June 2009, a widescreen Blu-ray version, featuring the director’s commentary and deleted scenes, was released.


Glory contains the following inaccuracies:

  • The film implies that most of the soldiers in the 54th regiment were former slaves, when in fact a majority had been born free men in the North.
  • The regiment was not formed until early 1863, so they were not in camp for Christmas of 1862, and on the day the recruits arrived at Readville, they were given uniforms and new boots so soldiers were never reduced to marching barefoot in cold mud, as the film depicts.
  • While Glory shows Shaw volunteering his unit immediately after hearing General George Strong describe Fort Wagner’s defences, the regimental commanders had previously conferred among themselves before going back to Gen. Strong and telling him that the 54th was to make the assault. Before the attack, it was, in fact, General Strong who asked who would pick up the flag and carry on if the colour bearer was killed; it was Col. Shaw who responded that he would. Strong was shot in the attack and later died of his wounds.
  • The 54th are shown attacking Fort Wagner from north to south with the ocean on their left. The actual attack occurred from the opposite direction, with the ocean on their right, parallel to the regiment.
  • Despite the film’s closing statement that the Confederate fort was never taken by Union forces, it was finally occupied by the Union in September 1863 after the fort was abandoned. The Confederate forces feared they could not hold the fort if the Union were to attack.
  • The film depicts the soldier played by actor Denzel Washington being flogged as a punishment for running from camp. Flogging had been abolished by the U.S. Army in 1861, almost two years before the 54th Massachusetts Infantry was formed.
  • The historical Charles Garrison Harker never served around Charleston and never reached the rank of Major General. His war service was on the Western Theatre, and he was younger than portrayed in the movie.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Edward Zwick.
  • Producer(s): Freddie Fields.
  • Writer(s): Kevin Jarre.
  • Music: James Horner.
  • Cinematography: Freddie Francis.
  • Editor(s): Steven Rosenblum.
  • Production: Freddie Fields Productions.
  • Distributor(s): TriStar Pictures.
  • Release Date: 14 December 1989 (US limited release) and 16 February 1990 (US general release).
  • Running time: 122 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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