July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner

We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

Response of the parents of Colonel Robert Shaw as to whether they wished to have his body exhumed and brought back to Boston.

The 159th anniversary of the second assault on Fort Wagner, the Confederate fort on Morris Island, guarding entry into Charleston Harbor, made immortal by the film Glory (1989) depicting the attack of the 54th Massachusetts.  The 54th sustained the following casualties out of 600 men:  29 killed, including the commander of the regiment, 25 year old Colonel Robert Shaw, 15 captured, 52 missing in action and 149 wounded.  The white regiments that participated in the attack also sustained heavy losses.  A total of 1515 Union casualties against approximately 174 Confederate casualties.   Ironically, Fort Wagner would be abandoned by the Confederates in September, it being too difficult to keep the Fort supplied in the teeth of a continual Union bombardment, and the water supply in the Fort being contaminated by the number of corpses in the soil surrounding the fort from the two unsuccessful assaults.

The courage shown by the men of the 54th put the lie to the fairly common belief, completely at variance with history, that black men could not make good soldiers.  The 54th would go on to fight in several more battles during the course of the War.

Sergeant William Carney of the 54th earned a Medal of Honor in the assault.  Despite being wounded several times he placed the national flag on the parapet of Fort Wagner, and when the 54th retreated he brought back the flag in spite of being wounded twice more.  He told the men he gave the flag to:  “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” (more…)

Published in: on July 18, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner  
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Top Ten Civil War Movies For Memorial Day

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

It is fitting that Memorial Day arose out of our bloodiest war, our war without an enemy.   Films to watch over the weekend:

10.    Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-The showcase of this film biopic of Lincoln is the above depiction of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.   The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates,  is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.

Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans.  The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian.  If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.  His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.

Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian.  Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln.  Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II.  Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.

The film helps explain why the Civil War happened.  A nation like America could not endure forever denying freedom to millions of Americans on the basis of race.  That we did not free the slaves peacefully led to the most terrible war in our history.

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, “A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers, and Confederate prisoners, who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:

“Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’? You think our boys are asleep down here?   Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.” (more…)

Glory: Final Song

 

Something for the weekend.  The closing song from Glory (1989), the rousing tribute to the men of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first of the Negro Union regiments to see combat in the Civil War.

Bonus: the most moving scene in the film:

 

Published in: on January 18, 2020 at 3:25 am  Comments Off on Glory: Final Song  
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Glory Music

We bide our chance,
Unhappy, and make terms with Fate
A little more to let us wait;
He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell, Memoriae Positum

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Closing song from the movie Glory (1989), the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Union black regiments, forever remembered for their valiant assault against Fort Wagner on July 18,  1863.  A prime example of how historical movies should be made, Glory performs the epic feat of bringing to life again the days of the Civil War when the fate of the nation was decided.

Published in: on January 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Glory Music  
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Give ’em Hell 54th!

 

The negroes fought gallantly, and were headed by as brave a colonel as ever lived.” –

Confederate Lieutenant Iredell Jones, who observed the 54th’s fateful advance on Fort Wagner.

In a Civil War mood lately because of current events.  The above scene from the movie Glory (1989) never fails to move me.  Courage is a precious virtue and the just never fail to honor it, even when displayed by foes.

Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow,
Remember, reach and save
The soul that comes to-morrow
Before the God that gave!
Since each was born of woman,
For each at utter need —
True comrade and true foeman —
Madonna, intercede!

Rudyard Kipling

Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Give ’em Hell 54th!  
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Glory Music

We bide our chance,
Unhappy, and make terms with Fate
A little more to let us wait;
He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell, Memoriae Positum

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Selections from the score of the movie Glory (1989), the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Union black regiments, up to their valiant assault on Fort Wagner in 1863.  A prime example of historical movies should be made, Glory performs the epic feat of bringing to life again the days of the Civil War when the fate of the nation was decided.

 

Published in: on January 9, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Glory Music  
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Theme From Glory

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.

Frederick Douglass

Something for the weekend.  The theme from the movie Glory (1989) which tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments raised by the Union in the Civil War;  a superb historical film and a long overdue salute to the black Union troops who helped preserve this nation. (more…)

Published in: on January 14, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theme From Glory  
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A Call to Arms

Something for the weekend.  The song A Call to Arms, from the film Glory (1989), a magnicent and long overdue tribute to the black troops who fought for the Union in the Civil War. (more…)

Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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