Glory Movie Essay Questions



One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.
SUBJECTS — U.S./1860 - 1865 & Massachusetts;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Leadership; Courage in War;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Citizenship; Trustworthiness.
Age: 14+; MPAA Rating -- R for violence; Drama; 1989; 122 minutes; Color. Available from

Description: Glory tells the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment, the first regular U.S. army unit composed of black soldiers during the Civil War. Colonel Shaw, a white abolitionist, and hundreds of black volunteers in his regiment, gave their lives to prove that black men could fight as well as whites in the armies of the mid-19th century.

Rationale for Using the Movie: After an extensive review of the Colonel Shaw's letters, TWM estimates that the movie is 90% historically accurate. The film addresses a significant episode in U.S. history, the effort by abolitionists to make the Civil War into a war to end slavery, rather than just a war to preserve the Union. The fact that black men would take up arms and fight and die on the Union side was a major step in changing Northern attitudes toward slavery and the purpose of the war. The assault on Fort Wagner in which the Massachusetts 54th lost hundreds of men was "a turning point in recognition of blacks' capacity to serve in the army". Foner pp. 251 - 253.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will understand the struggle to make an end to slavery a goal of the Civil War. They will expand their knowledge of the participation of black soldiers in the Civil War as well as the commitment of white abolitionists to the cause of ending slavery. Research and writing assignments in pursuit of these topics can be of great benefit in the study of the conflict that cost more American lives than any other.

Possible Problems: Portions of the film graphically show the violence of the Civil War and the suffering of the soldiers. However, the violence is not gratuitous in its depiction of the horrors that the soldiers would experience in battle.


Introducing the Movie

Before showing the film, tell the class that most of the incidents portrayed in the film really happened.

Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet:

The self-sacrifice of the soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th was made in the context of the effort of abolitionists and free blacks to get Lincoln and the Federal government to make the Civil War a war to abolish slavery. When the war began it was only to preserve the Union, as important a goal as that was. For classes that have not already studied the topic, TWM suggests that students be required to read and respond to the questions in the following enrichment worksheet.
Enrichment Worksheets are a TWM innovation containing text and questions designed to get students thinking. Questions are focused on comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses, or evaluation. Questions can be answered in class or as homework, as quickwrites, journal entries, formal essays, or research papers. For a version of the Worksheet in word processing format, click here.

Changing Reasons for the North's Involvement in the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln was not elected President based on a promise to end slavery. In fact, it was just the opposite. He promised to leave slavery alone in the South. However, Lincoln wanted to prevent slavery from extending to any free state or any of the territories. It was this position that brought on secession.

Most Union soldiers fought so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." At the beginning of the war, abolitionists were a minority. Had the war been seen as a crusade to end slavery, most Union soldiers would not have fought. In addition, the Union desperately needed the border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. It was difficult to keep these states in the Union and would have been impossible if Lincoln had proposed ending slavery at the beginning of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, freed the slaves only in the areas of insurrection and did not affect slavery in the Border states.
Question #1: In the present day and age, is preserving the United States as one country and not letting states secede from the Union, worth fighting a bloody civil war?
During the War several things happened to seal the doom of slavery in the United States. Among these were the fact that the death toll for the war was incredibly high and even the goal of preserving one of the few broad-based democratic governments then existing in the world, did not justify all the bloodletting. By the end of the War, 360,000 Union soldiers had died from disease or wounds suffered in battle. Many more were injured. The death toll for the Confederate armies was about 258,000. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass had been telling President Lincoln that the war didn't make sense if slavery was allowed to exist when the conflict was over. Second, while most Confederate soldiers were not slave owners, the power structure in the Confederacy was based on the ownership of slaves. As the war ground on, the North realized that the elimination of slavery was an efficient way to destroy the power-base of the secessionists. A third reason was the increasingly important role that black soldiers came to play in the Union Army. Authorization to enlist black soldiers was granted by Congress in July of 1862. The Massachusetts 54th, the first all black regiment began to enroll black soldiers in March of 1863. Eventually, some 179,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army (about 10% of its total strength) and another 19,000 served in the Navy (a total of 198,000 men). About 37,000 black soldiers lost their lives in the struggle; that's about one in five of those who enlisted. As more black men took on the Union uniform, the possibility of retaining slavery after the war became more and more remote. After all, when a man had risked his life for his country, who could deny him citizenship? Who could look him in the eye and argue that members of his family or he himself must be enslaved?
Question #2: Should the U.S. allow legal or even illegal aliens who risk their lives in combat to become citizens?
Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, is one of the most moving speeches ever given by a political leader. It was delivered when the Union Armies were ascendant and when Lee's surrender, April 9, 1865, was just over a month away. The great bulk of Union casualties, both among white soldiers and black, had occurred by this time.

The President started the speech by reflecting on the time of his first inaugural address.

    . . . On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

    One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

    Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

    The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

    With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, just 40 days after his second inaugural address.
Question #3: Would you be willing to donate a kidney to allow another person to live? How is this the same or different than joining the army to fight in a war in which there were very high casualties?
[End of Handout]

Product Description

Glory – Movie Questions

Question worksheet for the 1989 film, Glory, the inspirational tale of the all-African-American 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. The movie stars Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. It is essential viewing for any Civil War unit. The worksheet includes 9 comprehension and critical thinking questions as well as 2 possible extension essay questions.

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Teaching Duration

2 hours

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