This year, the motion picture film, 'Glory' turns 30It was 1989 but seems only a few years ago, that the movie, Glory, released in theaters. It's the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army's second African American regiment in the American Civil War (the first, the Kansas Colored Troops).
The film is based on true events. During the war, more than 180,000 African American soldiers (and roughly 19,000 sailors) fought for the Union in a segregated branch of the military. Another 200,000 black civilians - men and women, dug trenches, hauled away the dead, cooked meals, and performed other gritty jobs. On July 18, 1863 Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (portrayed in the film by Matthew Broderick) led the charge of 600 men under intense fire perishing during the attack as well as 256 soldiers wounded,
African American men had repeatedly attempted to volunteer for the Union but had been rejected for a variety of reasons which included white northerners concerns that allowing blacks to enlist and serve might demoralize or enrage white soldiers. In keeping with existing stereotypes about blacks' perceived inferiority, white northerners also questioned black men's ability to be good and reliable soldiers, to withstand the terrifying pressures of battle, to demonstrate courage.
The determination of Shaw and his men raised the consciousness of both white and black northerners to the possibility that soldiers could be trained, would fight hard and bravely. Over time many whites considered the men of the USCT (United States Colored Troops) soldiers, even comrades. Several white northerners welcomed blacks risking their lives to defeat the Confederates.
Confederates refused to acknowledge the black troops as soldiers. They threatened to re-enslave captured former slaves, enslave free blacks, and execute their white leaders.
Historians have documented cases of extreme brutality by Confederates who refused to allow black soldiers to surrender or take black troops and their white leaders as prisoners. They murdered them instead. In most cases they were incarcerated.
More broadly, the successful recruitment, mobilization, and military service of black soldiers proved that blacks could fight, fight well, were committed to freeing their fellow blacks still enslaved in the Confederacy, and were committed to help restore the Union.