Glory is a 1989 American drama war film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the novel One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard (reissued in 1990 after the movie), and Lay This Laurel (1973), Lincoln Kirstein's compilation of photos of the monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on Boston Common.
The film is about the first formal unit of the US Army during the American Civil War to be made up entirely of African-American men, as told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw, its white commanding officer. They were the first unit of what became known as the United States Colored Troops and known for their heroic actions at Fort Wagner.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three, including Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Private Trip. It won many other awards, including from the British Academy, the Golden Globe Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Political Film Society, the NAACP, among others.
The film was co-produced by TriStar Pictures and Freddie Fields Productions, and distributed by Tri-Star Pictures in the United States. It premiered in limited release in the US on December 14, 1989, and in wide release on February 16, 1990, making $26,828,365. It was considered a moderate financial success, taking into account its $18 million budget. The soundtrack, composed by James Horner in conjunction with the Boys Choir of Harlem, was released on January 23, 1990. The home video was distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. On June 2, 2009, a widescreen Blu-ray version, featuring the director's commentary and deleted scenes, was released.
During the American Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw is injured in the Battle of Antietam and sent home to Boston on medical leave. He visits his family there, where he meets the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former slave. Shaw is offered a promotion to the rank of Colonel to command the first all-black regiment in the Union Army, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He accepts and asks his childhood friend, Major Cabot Forbes, to serve as his second in command. Their first volunteer is another friend, Thomas Searles, a bookish African American. Other recruits soon follow, including Rawlins, timid freeman Jupiter, and Trip , an escaped slave who does not trust Shaw. Trip instantly clashes with Searles and Rawlins must keep the peace.
The men learn that the Confederacy has issued an order that all black soldiers found in Union uniform will be summarily executed, as will their white officers, and are offered a chance to take a honorable discharge, but none do. The black soldiers undergo a severe training regimen. When Shaw confronts Mulcahy about this, he understands the Sergeant-Major is trying to prepare the men for the extreme challenges they'll face.
When Trip goes AWOL and is caught, Shaw orders him flogged in front of the troops. The scars from his beatings as a slave are exposed and this presents a real dilemma for the abolitionist Shaw. While talking to Rawlins, Shaw finds out that Trip had left to find shoes to replace his worn ones. Shaw learns that his men are being denied regular supplies and advocates on their behalf. He becomes involved in supporting them through a pay dispute, as the Federal government decided to pay black soldiers half that of white soldiers. Trip encourages the men to go without pay in protest, and Shaw and the officers join them. (It takes more than a year, but the Congress finally approves equal pay.)
Once the 54th completes its training, they are transferred under the command of General Charles Garrison Harker. On the way to joining the war in South Carolina, the 54th is ordered to sack a Georgia town and burn it by Harker's second-in-command, Colonel Montgomery . After first refusing, he obeys the order under threat of being relieved and his troops taken away, and the town is destroyed. Shaw continues to lobby his superiors to allow his men to join the fight. All their duties since being activated involved building and manual labor. Shaw invests Rawlins as a Sergeant Major and Rawlins begins the difficult task of earning respect from both the white and black soldiers.
Shaw finally gets the 54th into combat after he confronts Harker and threatens to report the smuggling, looting, and graft he has discovered unless Harker orders the 54th into action. In their first battle on James Island, South Carolina, early success is followed by a bloody confrontation with many casualties. However, the Confederates are beaten and retreat. During the battle, Thomas is wounded but saves Trip, finally earning the respect of the former slave. He subsequently refuses to go home to recover.
Sometime after, General George Strong informs Shaw and his superiors of a major campaign to secure a foothold in Charleston Harbor. This will involve assaulting the nearby Morris Island and capturing its impenetrable fortress, Battery Wagner.The fort's only landward approach is via a small strip of beach with little cover, and the first regiment to charge is sure to suffer extremely heavy casualties. Shaw volunteers to have the 54th lead the charge.The night before the battle; the black soldiers conduct a religious service where individual soldiers offer their prayers amid hymn signing. Rawlins and Trip make emotional speeches to inspire the troops and to ask for God's help.
The 54th leads the charge on the fort and heavy casualties ensue from artillery fire. As night falls, the bombardment continues, forestalling progress. Shaw is shot and killed. Trip lifts up the flag and rallies the soldiers to continue on. He is shot several times while doing so, but holds up the flag to his last breath. Forbes takes charge of the regiment, and they are able to break through the fort's outer defenses, but find themselves greatly outnumbered once they are inside. The morning after the battle, the beach is shown littered with bodies of Union soldiers and the Confederate flag is raised over the fort. The corpses are buried in a mass grave, with Shaw and Trip's bodies next to each other.
The closing narration reveals that Battery Wagner was never taken by Union forces. The sacrifice of the 54th, which lost nearly half its men in the battle, was not in vain; their bravery resulted in the Union recruiting more black men for combat and ultimately increasing their rights.
- Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
- Denzel Washington as Private Silas Trip
- Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins
- Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes
- Cliff De Young as Colonel James Montgomery
- Andre Braugher as Private Thomas Searles
- Jihmi Kennedy as Private Jupiter Sharts
- Alan North as Governor John Albion Andrew
- John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy
- 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
- Jane Alexander as Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (uncredited)