- Directors: Edward Zwick
- Producers: Freddie Fields
- Writers: Kevin Jarre
- Genres: Drama, History, War
- Actors: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher
Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) leads his company of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in an attack on Confederates posted along the Hagerstown Pike at the Battle of Antietam, on September 17, 1862. The regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel (Dwight Wilder) is killed immediately in front of him, and the attack is beaten back with heavy losses. Shaw is wounded slightly in the neck, falls between two dead soldiers, and passes out. He is awakened by a black gravedigger named John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). Later, while on leave in Boston, Shaw (whose father was a wealthy and socially prominent abolitionist) is offered command of the first all black regiment authorized to be raised as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 54th Massachusetts. After some hesitation, he agrees, and asks his childhood friend, Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), to be his second in command. Their first volunteer is another one of Shaw’s friends, an educated, free black man named Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher).
They soon have hundreds of men joining the regiment, including John Rawlins the gravedigger, a proud escaped slave named Trip (Denzel Washington), and a shy, stuttering, free black man named Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy). While traveling to the camp, Sharts asks Thomas to teach him how to read. Once at camp, Thomas, Rawlins, Trip, and Sharts all share one tent along with a mute drummer boy. Immediately, Thomas’s and Trip’s relationship gets off to a bad start as they disagree over sleeping space in the tent. Trip ridicules Thomas’s educated and refined manner and, subsequently, Thomas mistakenly patronizes Trip, setting off a pattern of animosity between the two.
The final credits roll against the background of Saint-Gaudens’s memorial to Shaw and his men that stands today on Boston Common.