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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
As part of a module I am doing at university on the American Civil War and reconstruction, we had to watch this film (nice work if you can get it - Queen's has its own small cinema called QFT, they did not even charge us). Basically, the movie is about the 54th brigade which was composed of black men who fought for the Union army in the war between the states.

The film starts by showing the Union defeat at Anteinem in which Captain Robert Shaw (the son of a Boston abolitionist) is slightly wounded. Captain Shaw returns to Boston briefly on leave where he meets with the famous free-black man Frederick Douglas. However, on this visit home he is offered the opportunity to become the commanding officer of the 54th Brigade, which was to be made up of black volunteers. Accepting this charge, he is promoted to the rank of Colonel and makes his best friend his supporting Major. Meanwhile, his free black friend Thomas, whom he grew up with, enlists as his first recruit and is soon followed by a number of free blacks.

Of course, those of you who do not have a romantic view of the civil war will know that it was not all plain sailing for the blacks in relation to their treatment by the Federal Army. The 54th Brigade faced several problems which Colonel Shaw had to deal with. Among these were inadequate clothing, footwear (one soldier was flogged for desertion when he escaped in search of decent shoes), resentment of white soldiers (especially towards the charcter played by Morgan Freidman who was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major), lower pay for blacks than whites and so on. However, the biggest problem Colonel Shaw had was convincing his superiors to allow the black regiment into battle; eventually he prevailed and the 54th performed admirably at the Union Army's attempted storming of Fort Wagner. However, this particular battle was to be the final stand for Colonel Shaw as he was shot dead when leading an attack. In doing this, he inspired many of his men, who also lost their lives as the Confederate forces defended the Fort successfully. Poignantly, Colonel Shaw perished alongside the black soldier whom he had flogged, and the two are pictured being buried side-by-side.

Even as a CSA man myself, I found this an interesting film. The bravery of men who fought on both sides is to be admired, not to mention the way that a cultivated man like Thomas was able to overcome the difficult training and fight valiantly for the cause. Moreover, the way Colonel Shaw acted as a leader - judging impartial by not showing favour to his friend Thomas when experiencing difficulties in training - and supporting his men in their desire for adequate clothing and fair pay was useful. Furthermore, it was interesting that the producers did not edit out the abuses carried out by Union soldiers in Georgia (looting, burning villages) or the racism of the white Federal soldiers.

In summary, this is certainly worth watching for those interested in the American Civil War.
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