DIRECTED BY EDWARD ZWICK
PRODUCED BY FREEDIE FIELDS/ PIETER JAN BRUGGE
FREDDIE FIELDS PRODUCTIONS
Photo with the courtesy of Gorch
Information from IMDb
Shaw was an officer in the Federal Army during the American Civil War
who volunteered to lead the first company of black soldiers.
Shaw was forced to deal with the prejudices of both the enemy
(who had orders to kill commanding officers of blacks),
and of his own fellow officers.
Written by Murray Chapman
Matthew Broderick ... Col. Robert Gould Shaw
Denzel Washington ... Pvt. Trip
Cary Elwes ... Maj. Cabot Forbes
Morgan Freeman ... Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins
Jihmi Kennedy ... Pvt. Jupiter Sharts
Andre Braugher ... Cpl. Thomas Searles
John Finn ... Sgt. Maj. Mulcahy
Donovan Leitch ... Capt. Charles Fessenden Morse
JD Cullum ... Henry Sturgis Russell (as John David Cullum)
Alan North ... Gov. John Albion Andrew
Bob Gunton ... Gen. Charles Garrison Harker
Cliff De Young ... Col. James M. Montgomery (as Cliff DeYoung)
Christian Baskous ... Edward L. Pierce
RonReaco Lee ... Mute Drummer Boy
Jay O. Sanders ... Gen. George Crockett Strong
Richard Riehle ... Quartermaster
Daniel Jenkins ... 'A' Company Officer
Michael Smith Guess ... 'A' Company Soldier
Abdul Salaam El Razzac ... 'A' Company Soldier
Peter Michael Goetz ... Francis George Shaw
Pete Munro ... Surgeon
Benji Wilhoite ... Young Soldier
Ethan Phillips ... Hospital Steward
Mark A. Levy ... Bigoted Soldier
Randell Haynes ... Paymaster
Afemo Omilami ... Tall Contraband
Keith Noble ... Short Contraband
Dan Biggers ... Minister
Marc Gowan ... Dr. William B. Rogers
Raymond Godshall Jr. ... Dr. Charles G. Thorpe
Bob Minor ... Contraband Soldier
Joan Riordan ... White Woman
Saundra Dunson-Franks ... Black Woman (as Saundra Franks)
Mark A. Jones ... 54th Soldier
Peter Grandfield ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Mark Margolis ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Paul Desmond ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Tom Barrington ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Michael Fowler ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Richard Wright ... 10th Connecticut Soldier
Jane Alexander ... Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (uncredited)
Frank Blair ... Darian Farmer (uncredited)
Carla Brothers ... Charlotte Forten (uncredited)
Bill Chemerka ... Confederate Officer (uncredited)
Rachel Lea Grundfast ... Ellen Shaw (uncredited)
Kevin R. Hershberger ... Confederate Soldier (uncredited)
Kevin Jarre ... 10th Connecticut Soldier (uncredited)
Jay Lance ... Union Soldier (uncredited)
William Mathis ... Union Soldier (uncredited)
Bill Nunn ... (uncredited)
Larry Peterson ... Union Officer (uncredited)
Alejandro de Quesada ... Confederate / Union Soldier (uncredited)
Roger Ragland ... Cavalry Officer (uncredited)
Raymond St. Jacques ... Frederick Douglass (uncredited)
Michael Wayne Thomas ... Soldier (uncredited)
Rodger Williamson ... Union Cavalryman (uncredited)
Pieter Jan Brugge .... co-producer
Sarah Caplan .... associate producer
Freddie Fields .... producer
P.K. Fields .... associate producer (as P.K. Fields Zimmerman)
Ray Herbeck Jr. .... associate producer
Kevin Jarre (screenplay)
Lincoln Kirstein (book "Lay This Laurel")
Peter Burchard (book "One Gallant Rush")
Robert Gould Shaw (letters)
Matthew Broderick is believed to be a distant relative of Robert Gould Shaw, the character he plays.
Many scenes/subplots were cut out from both the theatrical version and the DVD. These include Shaw (Matthew Broderick) and Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes) attending school together, fencing one another, etc. Nearly all of the scenes of Jane Alexander were cut.
While Jane Alexander has a brief cameo, her part was probably meant to be larger, as evidenced by early poster and trailer credits highlighting her name.
With the exception of Shaw, none of the primary characters are based on real people in the 54th.
The relief sculpture in the credits is the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial in Boston Common, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Boston morning radio legend Lance Norris appears as a man in the crowd as the troops are marching through Boston.
The scenes for the party were filmed in Jim Williams' house in Savannah. This house and its owner were the basis for the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Many of the first shots of the movie were taken from the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1988, in which up to 15,000 participants took part. The scenes filmed at the Gettysburg Reenactment were fused into the depicted Battle of Antietam scene which was filmed in Mcdonough, Georgia. Viewers can distinguish the two separately filmed locations either by the massive amounts of reenactment troops that were at the Gettysburg event; or by the browner dry summer background of Pennsylvania in 1988, and the greener spring background of Georgia in 1989.
Very early in the movie there is a scene of Union soldiers playing baseball. While there remains considerable dispute about exactly when, where and how the sport was invented, there is no question that the Civil War itself had a significant role in the rapid growth of the sport, as it became a popular pastime for soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line who spread it around the country. Incidentally, Union general Abner Doubleday once was credited with inventing baseball but that theory has long been discredited.
In order to simulate realistic shell bursts, Edward Zwick and his effects crew used lycopodium powder, which, when puffed into a naked flame, instantly ignites producing a phosphorescent ball of light for a split second.
The majority of Cary Elwes' scenes were cut from the film.
Andre Braugher's movie debut.
The inaugural battle for the real 54th Massachusetts was at James Island, South Carolina, on 16 July 1863. The scene depicting this engagement was filmed during late February of 1989 at the Girl Scout Camp on Rose Dhu Island near Savannah, Georgia. It actually snowed during filming, and heaters had to be brought in to melt the snow. Later, in the Christmas at Camp Readville scene (filmed in March 1989 at the old Train Roundhouse in Savannah, Georgia), snow blowers were brought in to blow chipped ice onto the ground to give the appearance of a winter snow.
The film depicts the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry training through the Christmas holidays of presumably 1862 (after the September 1862 Battle of Antietam), but the real 54th Massachusetts did not organize until March 1863, and were engaged in their first battle on James Island, South Carolina on 16 July 1863, and then Battery Wagner (the final battle in the film) on 18 July 1863.
According to director Edward Zwick, Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes did not get along during filming.
The lines spoken by Colonel Montgomery to the outraged Colonel Shaw when he orders the burning of Darien - "Secesh has got to be swept away by the hand of God like the Jews of old" - are the actual words of Montgomery, quoted in a letter from the real Shaw to his family.
Several of the extracts from Colonel Shaw's supposed letters to his mother, as heard in voice-over narration throughout the film, were actually taken from "Army Life in a Black Regiment," an 1870 book by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who commanded the 1st South Carolina Regiment during the Civil War.
Although it's not depicted in the film, Robert Gould Shaw got married to the sister of noted newspaper editor George William Curtis a few days before the 54th was sent to South Carolina.
This film has one of the longest credit rolls in history. The credits following the movie ran a full ten minutes and were shipped to theaters on a separate reel. The films cast is displayed three times, each in a different layout.
Jane Alexander: Robert Gould Shaw's mother.
Kevin Jarre: the white soldier who shouts "Give 'em hell, 54!"
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to several historical sources, Shaw was shot through the heart and fell into Fort Wagner rather than falling outside of it. His men went in after him, and they were all killed.
In the attack to the Fort Wagner nearly half the regiment was killed, wounded or captured. For his bravery in the battle, Sergeant William H. Carney became the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. However, the award was given to him 37 years later.
In real life, it was Brigadier General George Crockett Strong (played by Jay O. Sanders in the film) who addressed the 54th Massachusetts on the beach before their assault on Fort Wagner. General Strong, the brigade commander, pointed to the 54th's flag bearer as asked, "If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry it on?" It was Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who replied, "I will!" General Strong was himself mortally wounded by shrapnel in the assault on Fort Wagner. He was taken to New York City, where he died of tetanus two weeks after the battle.
The film's epitaph that Fort Wagner was never taken is not quite accurate. Following the failure of the July 18, 1863 attack by the 54th Massachusetts and other regiments, Union Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore laid siege to the fort. For two months, Union regiments dug a series of zigzag trenches on Morris Island, bringing long-range artillery guns closer and closer to Fort Wagner. During the siege, the Confederates in the fort discovered that their water wells had been poisoned by the decomposing bodies of Union soldiers buried in nearby mass graves. After an intense two-day bombardment by Union artillery, the Confederate Army was forced to abandon Fort Wagner on the night of September 6, 1863. The following morning, Union soldiers entered the deserted fort. Today, a large part of what remains of Fort Wagner is under water, thanks to erosion from the sea.
When the 54th is first shown marching past a mansion in Georgia, there is a square concrete curb visible on the left side of the road (to the soldiers' right).
At one point Shaw tells Sergeant Major Mulcahy "at ease." During the Civil War this command did not exist. The command would have been "rest" or "in place rest."
In the scene where the 54th Massachusetts has just marched past the Southern plantation, a group of slave children run out to wave at them. After being greeted by Undertaker, they wave. One of the slave children has a digital watch on his hand.
The corrupt character of Gen. Charles Garrison Harker portrayed in the film by Bob Gunton was not present in South Carolina at the time the 54th Massachusetts was there. He was part of the Army of the Cumberland's Tullahoma Campaign in Tennessee at the time and was only 25 at the time, unlike Gunton who was 44 at the time of his portrayal.
After Col. Shaw is notified of his promotion, he and Maj. Forbes are outside talking. Maj. Forbes is drinking champagne from a Dom Pérignon bottle. This champagne (made by Moët & Chandon) was first made in 1921 and released for sale in 1936.
When Pvt. Trip is being brought before Cpt. Shaw for desertion, the beatings of the drum are off.
As the 54th Massachusetts is preparing for battle at James Island, Rawlins shouts to the solders "All right men, form a firing line! Over here!", but he is not speaking.
In the scene where Shaw finally loses patience with the Quartermaster, he marches in and demands 600 pairs of shoes and 1200 pairs of socks. After the initial interchange, Matthew (Shaw) says "Do you really think you can keep (pause) 700 Union soldiers..." Patently Matthew had forgotten just how many pairs he needed and the slight pause indicates he had momentarily forgotten his lines.
When Shaw and Cabot are talking to General Harter about their transferring their men to combat command, Cabot has his hands on his lap when the camera faces him, but as the camera faces General Harter, Cabot's face is leaning on one hand.
The Confederate soldier that Trip wrestles with gains a hat just before being clubbed.
Shadow on Shaw's face when he tells men he will tear up his cheque.
The position of the sun as Shaw inspects the beach before Fort Wagner.
When Major Forbes arrives on the scene when the 54th is starting a fight with the white Union soldiers, the corporal the Major calls out the rank changes from corporal to sergeant and back.
The sky changes from clear to overcast multiple times during the scene on the beach prior to the charge of Fort Wagner.
During the battle at James Island, within a second, and without orders to attach them, all of the 54th Regiment are shown with their bayonets mounted for the charge.
The length of Forbes facial hair when General Strong is giving his speech and then later the next day during battle.
When Shaw, is wounded at the battle of Antietam, he crawls up against a dead soldier. When Rawlins finds him, he is lying next to a completely different man, though neither is supposed to have moved.
At James Island, Thomas' bayonet sticks out of the confederate soldier's chest, with Thomas right behind him. In the next shot of the soldier's back, there is no wound, bayonet, rifle, or Thomas.
During the scene where they are first mustering in, the buckle on Colonel Shaw's kepi moves from the right side of the chin strap to the center, and back again several times.
During the first battle, somehow bayonets are fixed before they charge. When they first form the line in that scene, bayonets are obviously not fixed. There is never an order given to fix them.
When Trip is scuffling with the white soldier on the road. Sgt Major Rawlins walks up to break it up, his coat is unbuttoned with his undershirt clearly visible. When the scene cuts to his dialogue, his coat is buttoned all the way up.
Errors in geography
During the final battle scene with the 54th forming up for the attack on Ft. Wagner on the beach, the ocean is to their left. This would mean that they were headed south instead of north. Fort Wagner was actually attacked from the south, therefore, the Atlantic Ocean should be on the right, not the left.
During the final battle scene with the 54th forming up for the attack on Ft. Wagner on the beach, the ocean is to their left. This would mean that they were headed south instead of north as the actual location of the fort required the attack to come from the south (which would have placed the ocean to their right).
As Rawlins hands out the Enfield rifles, he calls out each one's serial number. Authentic Enfield rifles don't have serial numbers, but the reproductions do.
When Rawlins is promoted to Sergeant-Major on the boats, he is called to front and centre. As he does so, he salutes, with his palm facing forwards, to the officers. However, in the next shot, his palm is facing down to the ground. In the film, Shaw asks who will carry the colors if they should fall during the assault on Fort Wagner. In reality, it was General Strong who asked this question, and Shaw was the one who volunteered to carry them.
In the scene the night before the big attack on Fort Wagner, you can to see the men's breath, which is unlikely for South Carolina in July.
Robert Gould Shaw was the one responsible for inspiring his troops to refuse a lesser pay.
The film depicts the 54th Masachusetts Infantry Regiment training through the Christmas holidays of 1862 (after the September 1862 Battle of Antietam), but the real 54th Massachusetts did not organize until March 1863, just four months before attacking Fort Wagner in the climactic scene.
Shaw did not receive the request to be Colonel of the 54th while at a party in Boston, nor did he accept immediately. In fact, he refused the command at least twice, feeling himself unworthy. It was only after some convinving by his friend (and the man who would later marry Shaw's sister) Charles Russell Lowell, commander of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, he would accept the command. Lowell's own command was unique in that 5 companies of Californians (known as the California Battalion) served in it.
The film depicts the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry training through the Christmas holidays of 1862 (after the September 1862 Battle of Antietam). But the real 54th Massachusetts did not organize until March 1863, and it was engaged in its first battle on James Island, South Carolina, on July 16, 1863, and then Fort Wagner (the final battle in the film) on July 18, 1863. The 54th went on to fight at Olustee, Florida (February 20, 1864); Honey Hill, South Carolina (November 30, 1864); and Boykin's Mill, South Carolina (April 18, 1865).
Flogging was banned in the Union Army in 1861. Pvt. Trip would not have been whipped, at least not by someone as by-the-book as Colonel Shaw; however, there were harsh punishments, such as being "spread eagled" on the spare wheel of an artillery limber, which often broke the man's back.
The manner in which Colonel Shaw dies in the movie is based on fact. His final words were "Forward, Fifty-fourth!" before he was shot several times in the chest. The film depicts him falling on the parapet; in fact, he made it to the top, and his body fell into the fort.
In the movie, it is claimed that "over half" of the regiment was lost during the assault on Fort Wagner. However, official records state that the 54th sustained 272 casualties, which is closer to 40%. Of these casualties, only 116 were fatalities, just under one fifth of the men to storm the fort. If the 156 soldiers that were captured are included, it would bring the total to "over half". In formal military terms, though, "casualties" include captured soldiers. In any event, by most standards, including those of the Civil War, these are heavy casualties and the regiment was widely viewed as having performed bravely indeed.
In the movie, Shaw is surprised when the men refuse pay that was reduced because they are a "colored" regiment (though he eventually joins them in their refusal). In reality, the refusal was his idea, and he encouraged them to do it.
When Col. Shaw is in camp at Readville, his horse tack has yellow leather. This was Cavalry colors. Generally, all black or sometimes blue tack was used.
Gov. Andrew wanted the 54th to be an elite unit and so did not accept runaway slaves. In fact, among the soldiers of the 54th there was a private who was a medical doctor and all, or nearly all, of the men could read and write.
Incorrectly regarded as goofs
In the opening scenes, when Shaw is seen marching beside his soldiers towards the Antietam battle, the rank insignia on his epaulets change from that of a captain (two bars) to that of a second lieutenant (no insignia within the epaulet borders) because it's a flashback.
When the African-American children's choir sings right before the burning of the town, the choir sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee." The scene takes place in 1863; these lyrics date to 1831.
When the 54th returns from the Battle of James Island, the melody to "The Bonnie Blue Flag" can be heard in the background. While "The Bonnie Blue Flag" is a patriotic Southern song, actually closer to a Confederate National Anthem than "Dixie", the melody was not exclusive to that song and there were other songs with the same melody, including a humorous song titled "The Arms of Abraham" lamenting the experiences of a draftee in the Union Army, and the melody was popular on both sides of the war.
During the break following the first battle at which the Union's black soldiers prevailed, a flute and concertina were heard playing "Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that Bears a Single Star." This was a Confederate hymn which would not likely be heard being played by Union soldiers.
After Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins talks to a group of children standing by a white fence, he walks away and you can briefly see a digital wrist watch on a child on the right side of the screen as they wave goodbye.
During the assault on the fort, the bayonets are obviously rubber.
When Shaw is shot during the assault on Fort Wagner, a cable is clearly seen trailing from his leg as he falls to the sand. The director points this out in the UK DVD version of the movie.
The gun that Thomas hits a Confederate soldier with bends right before he is stabbed in the final attack.
During the charge on Fort Wagner, the 54th endures heavy mortar fire. The morning after, as the camera pans over the beach showing dead soldiers, there's not one mortar hole to be found.
When Shaw is being buried, he is shown being thrown into a mass grave still in his uniform minus his boots and socks. But, according to Confederate General Johnson Hagood, Shaw's body was stripped and robbed before being thrown into the grave.
African-American National Historic Site - 14 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Appleton Farm - Waldingfield Road, Ipswich, Massachusetts, USA
Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA
McDonough, Georgia, USA
Old Sturbridge Village - 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, USA
Savannah, Georgia, USA