The Story Behind 'Glory'

George Junne

George Junne
Related: Photo gallery at the end of the story.

University of Northern Colorado Professor George Junne spent more than two decades researching the African-American regiment depicted in the award-winning movie Glory. The result is the most comprehensive book ever written about the famed Civil War unit.

Little did Junne know the project was about to start when he and three students screened Glory in 1990, shortly after the film's release. While crediting the movie for bringing widespread recognition to the 180,000 black soldiers who served during the Civil War, Junne came away perplexed that the notes he had prepared for a movie review in his local paper conflicted with what appeared on screen.

He decided then to tell the real story, which he's titled A History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Colored Infantry of the Civil War: The Real Story Behind the Movie Glory.

Today, on the doorstep of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which "kicked open the door" the same year of the creation of the famed 54th regiment, Junne accomplished his mission. His 645-page book released this month covers the conditions leading up to the Civil War, the war itself, including how the 54th was formed, and the aftermath.

He chronicles skirmishes, such as the famous battle at Fort Wagner as the 54th infantry led the assault on the Morris Island (S.C.) stronghold.

There also are accounts of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and Col. Edward N. Hallowell, who was appointed to lead the 54th after Shaw was killed at Fort Wagner. The cover of Junne's book features a photograph of a bronze memorial to Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, created for a Boston park by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Junne also writes about Frederick Douglass, whose sons decided to enlist (one was in the 54th and the other in the 55th regiment) instead of emigrating to Africa; and Massachusetts Gov. John Andrew, who was credited with helping form the 54th and who also happened to be a former student of anti-slavery poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Interestingly, Junne was able to get a "portrait of the men" in the regiment by determining what happened to 1,100 of the 1,280 soldiers who served from 1863-65.

Junne points out that in battle the 54th saw the heaviest action among the African-American units that the regiment blazed a trail for. "They were never on the winning side, but they were the ones who held off the South when Northern troops retreated."

Also, an important historical distinction to make, according to Junne in the book's introduction, is that the people of African descent have "fought in every military campaign since the French and Indian War."

Junne, who teaches in UNC's Africana Studies program, said the book is written in a way to engage all audiences. Next spring, he plans on presenting at the Western Social Science Association conference. Leading up to that, he's planning to organize New Year's Eve readings of the Emancipation Proclamation to mark the 150th anniversary of its issuance by President Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.

For more information about the book, visit: http://mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=8635&pc=9

Junne to Receive National Award
George Junne's interests go beyond Africana studies and history. The Council of the Paleontological Society has named Junne as the winner of the 2012 Strimple Award for his contributions to the field.

The award recognizes outstanding achievement by someone who doesn't make a full-time living in paleontology. Since 1981, Junne has been involved in archaeological work, primarily in Wyoming's Bighorn Basin.

Among his discoveries are new species that have been named after him, including:

  • Macrocranion junnei — from a six-millimeter fossil of the carnivore's jawbone and set of teeth that Junne found in the basin.
  • Arfia junnei: A ground-dwelling carnivore. Junne found a microscopic fossil of the animal.
  • Calcardea junnei: A type of heron. Junne found a partial skeleton of the bird.

The council will present the award to Junne at its annual meeting Nov. 4 in Charlotte, N.C.

- UNC News Service