After students have learned the basic facts surrounding this conflict which divided our country, we will read about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a group of African American soldiers, led by their white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. We will use
Now Is Our Time
, by Walter Dean Myers, p.154 - 180. I will read this material to them. This text contains an excellent account of these events and some of the individual soldiers involved. They are most famous for their march against the Rebel stronghold of Fort Wagner, which helped to guard Charleston, but to the class they also will be remembered for their bravery and willingness to fight for an army that did little to make them feel wanted, much less appreciated. The text also is memorable for revealing the bond that developed between the troops and their white commander, as depicted in the journal of John Appleton, another white officer serving with the group. Though the 54th was repelled and most lost their lives or were captured, they had proven themselves in battle. When Fort Wagner was finally defeated, remaining members of the 54th were among the first to enter.
The film Glory, which I have used with third graders, in spite of the film's occasional rough language, presents a moving portrayal of these events, very close to their written counterpart. The film dramatically illustrates the presence and bravery of African American soldiers, despite the blatant discrimination, which surrounded them during the Civil War. I will use this film both to emphasize the positive roles played by African Americans in the struggle and to motivate students to write related poetry. Dudley Randall's "Memorial Wreath," in which he pays tribute to these soldiers, will be presented as an example. The poem was written "for the more than 200,000 Negroes who served in the Union Army during the Civil War."
Love and remembrance blossom in our hearts
For you who bore the extreme sharp pang for us,
The Poetry of the Negro
, p. 305.)