During the Civil War, the Massachusetts Infantry Regiment is involved in the Battle of Antietam. Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is wounded in battle. He had been found alive by a grave digger by the name of John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). Shaw goes home to Boston to recuperate. While back home he is given a promotion and a new command. He is now a Colonel and is in charge of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, it is an all black unit. He calls upon his childhood friend Major Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes) to become his second in command.
Now this being what it is during the Civil War means this is not going to an easy task. Shaw brings along the grave digger Rawlins who had found him, and makes him a Sargent. Other black men begin to volunteer like a man named Trip (Denzel Washington). Now Trip and others like him have a big chip on their shoulder and will give the group a hard time. They just don't trust whites.
The Confederacy has issued an order, any black man found fighting along with the Union will be shot on sight. This has the men a little unnerved but they stay with the command. Problems arise, when you are trying to bring a group of men together to fight but are not given the proper supplies it makes it hard. Trip needs some boots and goes AWOL. When captured he orders Trip to be whipped. When his shirt is taken of and you can see the lash marks from previous whippings this becomes a problem for the men. When Shaw finds out why Trip went AWOL he goes nuts.
He goes to the Quartermaster to find out why his troops are not receiving the equipment they need like shoes, socks, etc. and is told that they don't have any for them. Trip tears apart the building and finds everything he was supposed to have. The Quartermaster was going to sell the supplies rather than deliver them to Shaw's company.
Now once they have the supplies they need the job is to make them fighting soldiers. Sgt. Mulcahy (John Finn) has this task and it is one that his superiors are questioning. Some feel the Mulcahy is being too harsh on the men, some think not enough. Either way the job gets done and now they need a fight to make them soldiers. Unfortunately all they are being used for is labor.
Shaw finally has enough and goes to his superior and blackmails him. His men are given the task for battle and when the need arises for them to be soldiers they are out dam standing.
This movie shows a turning point in how black men were treated in the war. For you see some of these black troops were better fighters than their white counterparts. They were fighting for their freedom.
Director Edward Zwick brings this story home and makes a fine point. Black Men and Women are not meant to be slaves but are meant to be treated with the respect that all other human beings should be. This is one fine movie and you truly must take the time to view it for all it's efforts. They lived and died in glory.