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What better way for Massachusetts to observe the anniversary of the Civil War than taking a hard look at “Glory,” a film which featured one of the first official black units in the United States — the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, headed by the son of an influential abolitionist, Col. Robert Gould Shaw played by baby-faced Matthew Broderick.
In the film, the unofficial leaders of the black soldiers are no-nonsense gravedigger John Rawlins, played by Morgan Freeman, and Trip, a fugitive slave played by Denzel Washington, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal.
The soldiers are given demeaning tasks, but still, when given a choice, none of them quits. The 54th valiantly fights at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, charging a fortification manned by some 1,000 Confederates.
On hand for the Fischer Institute sponsored viewing on September 6th was Dudley resident and Nichols MBA grad, Jim Dunne, a Civil War Reenactor who gave insight into what an honor it was to carry the flag, unarmed, into battle.
First-year students had lots to say after the viewing. Skye Oliver said: “Although at first, the 54th wasn’t taken seriously, paid the same wages or given a chance to fight, when they finally got to fight, they were courageous and brave and risked their lives for freedom.” Andrew Haas enjoyed the camaraderie of the soldiers at camp. Jonathan Zabierek thought the discussion was insightful. Kylie-blue Crawford said she “thought it was interesting how the soldiers were initially used for manual labor only.”
The 54th regiment was authorized by John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts, in March 1863 and trained at Camp Meigs in Readville, Mass. By the end of the Civil War, the men of the 175 regiments of the United States Colored Troops constituted approximately one-tenth of the Union Army.
The 54th regiment was disbanded after the Civil War. However, a monument to its men was constructed in 1898 and stands today on the Boston Commons, much to the dismay of Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s father, who wanted no monument except the ditch were his son’s body was thrown in a mass burial with the slain soldiers of the 54th, saying: “We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.”