On the edge of the Boston Common, facing the gold-domed State House, is a bronze frieze that commemorates the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Tourists gazing at the State House inevitably find themselves drawn to Augustus Saint-Gaudens's handsome bronze relief. The 54th Massachusetts was the first African American contingent of the US Army, led by Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw. We recently stood before the gorgeous memorial which, in fact, inspired screenwriter Kevin Jarre to research and write Glory, an enduring film that immortalizes this brave regiment.
The first shots of the civil war were fired at Fort Sumter 150 years ago last month, and the South's grand battle sites, such as Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Manassas, are experiencing record tourist traffic this spring. The need to review our history is, perhaps, even more powerful at a time when war continues to dominate the headlines. Californians can explore the Civil War's legacy as well. This weekend, Pierce College hosts its annual Civil War Heritage Days(Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15), where hundreds of volunteers stage cavalry charges, artillery barrages, infantry assaults, Victorian dancing and military drills, and demonstrate skills and crafts from the era -- all designed to bring history to life for a new generation. An afternoon of watching a battle reenactment will enable elementary school-aged kids to think about the basics of a soldier's life, and compare them to changes in weaponry, battle planning and medical assistance over the past 150 years.
The Movie: Glory (rated R) is a graphic tale of war and, therefore, not necessarily a match for your fifth grader studying the Civil War. That being said, it's a powerful tale about how a band of black soldiers came together under a white commanding officer in the days immediately preceding Lincoln's decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The 54th Massachusetts' final march to Fort Wagner is nearly a suicide mission, and the film portrays difficult battle scenes. Powerfully told and made with meticulous attention to historical detail, Glory is recommended viewing for tweens and teens, if you think they can handle the violence. Watching the film as a family can stimulate valuable discussions about racism and war. Starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, directed by Edward Zwick and featuring the music of James Horner,Glory garnered five Oscar nominations and took home three gold statues; Washington took home the Best Supporting Actor award. (1989, Rated R, 122 minutes).
Visit Fort Tejon: Fort Tejon (70 miles north of LA in the Grapevine) has a robust Civil War history program. This link, to Calfornia's Civil War Alliance, provides more information on Civil War reenactment in CA.
On screenwriter Kevin Jarre: Glory's screenwriter, Kevin Jarre, died this past spring.Click here for his obituary, which details how a love of history led him to research this story and bring it to the world.
Your Reading List: Click here for a blog about good Civil War literature for kids, including Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulson for fifth graders and up.
More from the New York Times: Here is a great article detailing trips to lesser known historical sites throughout the South and a slide show of stunning images from contemporary reenactments.
Kids Off The Couch
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