[Trip and Searles are about to fight when Rawlins steps in]
Rawlins: Look, goddamn it! The whole world gotta stomp on your face?
Trip: Nigger, you better get your hands off me!
Rawlins: Ain't no niggers around here! Understand?
Trip: Oh, I see, so the white man give you a couple a stripes, and suddenly you start hollerin' and orderin' everybody around, like you the massa himself! Nigger, you ain't nothin' but the white man's dog!
[He starts to walk away, Rawlins stops him and slaps him]
Rawlins: And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you've been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain't dying. And dying's been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now! Dying by the thousands! Dying for *you*, fool! I know, 'cause I dug the graves. And all this time I keep askin' myself, when, O Lord, when it's gonna be our time? Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN! You watch who you call a nigger! If there's any niggers around here, it's YOU. Just a smart-mouthed, stupid-ass, swamp-runnin' nigger! And if you not careful, that's all you ever gonna be!
John Rawlins: Where about you from?
Trip: I'm from around Tennessee. I ran away when I was 12 years old and I ain't never looked back.
Sharts: What ya doin' since then?
Trip: I run for President.
Trip: I didn't win though.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: If you men will take no pay, then none of us will.
Trip: I ain't fightin' this war for you, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I see.
Trip: I mean, what's the point? Ain't nobody gonna win. It's just gonna go on and on.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Can't go on forever.
Trip: Yeah, but ain't nobody gonna win, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Somebody's gonna win.
Trip: Who? I mean, you get to go on back to Boston, big house and all that. What about us? What do we get?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Well, you won't get anything if we lose.
Trip: [addressing the 54th the night before battle] I ain't much about no prayin', now. I ain't never had no family, and... killed off my mama. Well, I just... Y'all's the onliest family I got. I love the 54th. Ain't even much a matter what happens tomorrow, 'cause we men, ain't we?
Major Forbes: [as Col. Shaw is writing, Maj. Forbes approaches him with a letter from President Lincoln] They've done it.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: [Shaw reads the letter] Assemble the men.
[54th is in formation in the pouring rain in the Camp Readville common area]
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: In accordance with President Lincoln's wishes, you men are advised that the Confederate Congress has issued a proclamation. It reads: 'Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.' Full discharges will be granted in the morning to all those who apply. Dismissed.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: [turning to Forbes after dismissal of troops] If you're not here in the morning, I'll understand.
Trip: [turns to Sharts] Still want that blue suit, nigger?
Trip: See the way I figure, I figure this war would be over a whole lot sooner if you boys just turned right on around and headed back on down that way, and you let us head on up there where the real fighting is.
10th Connecticut soldier: We got men dyin' up that road.
Trip: And there wouldn't be nothing but rebs dyin if they'd let the fifty-fourth in it.
[watching Searles practice with his bayonet]
Sgt. Mulcahy: Oh, what do we have here? Bonnie Prince Charley and his toy bayonet! You're not reading your books now. Stab me.
Cpl. Thomas Searles: What?
Sgt. Mulcahy: Stab-me.
[Searles comes at him gingerly and Mulcahy slaps it away]
Sgt. Mulcahy: I said STAB, not TICKLE! Come on, you prissy little schoolgirl! You're the worst soldier in this whole company, now HIT ME!
[Searles comes at him again, Mulcahy disarms him and slams the rifle butt into his stomach, then his face. Searles falls to the ground, writing in pain and sobbing]
Sgt. Mulcahy: No shame, son, get up... I SAID GET UP!
Trip: Nigger forgot to duck, that's all!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Sergeant, deal with that man!
Sgt. Mulcahy: You are ugly Mexican-African fuckin' whores!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: So what do you want to do?
Trip: Don't know, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: It stinks, I suppose.
Trip: Yeah, It stinks bad. And we all covered up in it too. Ain't nobody clean. Be nice to get clean, though.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: How do we do that?
Trip: We ante up and kick in, sir. But I still don't want to carry your flag.
Jupiter Sharts: [praying aloud] Tommorrow we goes into battle, so Lordy, let me fight with the rifle in one hand, and the Good Book in the other. So that if I may die at the muzzle of the rifle... die on water, or on land, I may know that you blessed Jesus almighty are with me... and I have no fear.
[Soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts marching through Union soldiers, they will soon attack Fort Wagner]
10th Connecticut soldier: Give 'em Hell, 54!
All: Give 'em Hell, 54!
Trip: Let me tell you something, boy. You can march like the white man, you can talk like him. You can sing his songs, you can even wear his suits. But, you ain't NEVER gonna be nothing to him, than an ugly ass chimp... in a blue suit.
Major Forbes: Why do you treat the men this way, Robert?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: How should I treat them?
Major Forbes: ...Like men?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: [points at the flag-bearer] If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry on?
[Thomas steps forward]
Cpl. Thomas Searles: I will.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I'll see you in the fort, Thomas.
Sgt. Mulcahy: Company, halt!
Sgt. Mulcahy: For God's sake, man! Do you not know your right from your left?
Sharts: N-n-no, sah.
Sgt. Mulcahy: How many here do not know right from left?
[Half a dozen hands are raised]
Sgt. Mulcahy: [mutters] Jesus have pity.
[smacks Sharts in the chest]
Sgt. Mulcahy: This is your *front*!
[slaps his back]
Sgt. Mulcahy: This is your *rear*!
[stomps on his right foot]
Sgt. Mulcahy: This is your *right*!
[goes to stomp on his left foot]
Sgt. Mulcahy: And this...!
[Sharts lifts his foot out of the way]
Sgt. Mulcahy: Now you're learnin', boy-o!
John Rawlins: [has been appointed Sergeant Major] I ain't sure I'm wantin' this, Colonel.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I know exactly how you feel.
John Rawlins: [part of the prayer group] Lord, we stand before you this evening, to say thank you! And we thank you, father, for your grace, and your many blessings! Now I run off, leaving all my young'uns and my kinfolk, in bondage. So I'm standing here this evening, Heavenly Father, to ask your blessings on all of us. So that if tomorrow is the great getting-up morning, if that tomorrow we have to meet the Judgement Day, O Heavenly Father, we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want 'em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want 'em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom! We ask these blessings in Jesus' name. Amen!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Never, question my authority in front of others
Major Forbes: Well I is sorry, mas'sa. You be the boss-man now and all us chill'ins must learn your ways.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: [writing to his mother, telling her that he's seen his first negroes amongst those fleeing the south] We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: There's more to fighting than rest, sir. There's character, there's strength of heart. You should have seen us in action two days ago. We were a sight to see! We'll be ready, sir. When do you want us?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Sgt. Mulcahy!
Sgt. Mulcahy: Sir!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I have no doubt you a fair man, Mulcahy. I wonder if you are treating the men a little hard.
[Sgt. Mulcahy pauses]
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: You may speak freely.
Sgt. Mulcahy: The boy is a friend of yours, is he?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Yes, we grew up together
Sgt. Mulcahy: Let him grow up some more.
[Col. Shaw approaches Rawlins after having Trip horse-whipped for deserting]
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Mr. Rawlins... this morning, I... it would be a great help to me if I could talk to you from time to time about the men. That's all.
[turns to leave]
John Rawlins: Shoes, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: [Shaw turns around]
John Rawlins: The men need shoes, Colonel.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Yes, I've been after the quartermaster for some time.
John Rawlins: No, sir. Now. That boy ran off to find him some shoes, Colonel. He wants to fight. Same as the rest of us. More, even.
John Rawlins: That's right, Hines. Ain't no dream. We runaway slaves but we come back fightin' men. Go tell your folks how kingdom come in the year of jubilee!
[the 54th learns they will be paid less than an all-white regiment. Trip gets mad, and refuses his pay]
Trip: Tear it up! Tear it up! TEAR IT UP!
[all the men begin tearing up their checks]
[the 54th has just been attached to Col. Montgomery's regiment in the hope of seeing combat. The troops are marching through the regiment's camp]
Cpl. Thomas Searles: Who are these ragamuffins?
John Rawlins: Contraband soldiers, straight from the field.
Short contraband: Hey, we slaves in the field when the Yankee man come. Say we soldiers.
Short contraband: Hey, where from?
Cpl. Thomas Searles: Massachusetts.
Tall contraband: You walk like the bukra soldier, even talk like him!
Cpl. Thomas Searles: [to Rawlins] What'd he say?
John Rawlins: He says we march like white soldiers. How you like the Army, contraband?
Tall contraband: Oh, we love it! We thank the Lord every day for da good vittles and these beautiful clothes! Every day like kismis!
Cpl. Thomas Searles: [to Rawlins] What?
John Rawlins: Like Christmas.
Cpl. Thomas Searles: Oh.
Title Card: Robert Gould Shaw, the son of wealthy Boston abolitionists, was 23 years old when he enlisted to fight in the War Between the States. He wrote home regularly, telling his parents of life in the gathering Army of the Potomac. / These letters are collected in the Houghton Library of Harvard University.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Dear Mother, I hope you are keeping well and not worrying much about me. You mustn't think that any of us are going to be killed. They are collecting such a force here, that an attack would be insane. The Massachusetts men passed though here this morning; how grand it is to meet the men from all the States, east and west, ready to fight for their country, as the old fellows did in the Revolution. But this time we must make it a whole country for all who live here, so that all can speak.
Title Card: The 54th Massachusetts Brigade lost over half its number in the assault on Fort Wagner. The supporting white brigades also suffered heavily before withdrawing... The fort was never taken... As word of their bravery spread, Congress at last authorized the raising of black troops throughout the Union. Over 180 thousand volunteered... President Lincoln credited these men of color with helping turn the tide of the war.
Trip: Hey, yo, nigger, that's my spot, see.
Cpl. Thomas Searles: If you don't mind, there's more sufficient reading light here.
Trip: Oooh, I like it when niggers talk good as white folks!
Cpl. Thomas Searles: I'd be happy to teach you. It would be my pleasure
Trip: Now, listen here, snowflake. I ain't got nothin' to learn from no house nigger, you hear?
Cpl. Thomas Searles: I am a free man! As was my father before me.
Trip: Oh, really? You free? Then why don't you move your free black ass out my spot, see!
Rawlins: The town is clean sir. Ain't no rebs here, just some women.
Col. Montgomery: You hear that! Let's clear er out!
[His men begin looting the town]
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: What are you doing?
Col. Montgomery: Liberating this town in the name of the Republic.
Trip: Nigger, is you an old man or is you an old woman? I forget.
[Shaw enters the quartermaster's office while some of his soldiers guard the door]
Kendric, quatermaster: Morning, Colonel. Change your mind about that bottle?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I want 600 pairs of shoes and 1200 pairs of socks... and anything else you've been holding out on us, you piece of rat filth!
Kendric, quatermaster: I don't have any.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Not for niggers you don't!
Kendric, quatermaster: Not for anybody.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I see. I'll just look around to see if you haven't misplaced them!
[He begins to smash up the place]
Kendric, quatermaster: HEY!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: You son of a bitch!
[smashes the place even more]
Kendric, quatermaster: Goddamn it, you can't...!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Can't I? I'm a colonel, you nasty little cuss! You think you can keep 700 Union soldiers without proper shoes because you think it's *funny*? Now, where would that power come from?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Good morning gentlemen, I am Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. I am your commanding officer. It is a great pleasure to see you all here today. It is my hope that the same courage, spirit, and honor, which has brought us together, will one day restore this Union. May God bless us all.
Sharts: I wonder when they gonna give us the blue suits.
Trip: [laughs] Where you from, boy?
Sharts: South Carolina.
Trip: South Carolina? Well, then you ought to know better than that, boy.
Sgt. Mulcahy: [mocking Searles' manner of walking] Oh, look at this, Bonnie Prince Charlie! Are you a gentleman? Are you a member of Congress or something? Or are you the bloody Prince of Africa?
[Searles looks at the sergeant indignantly]
Sgt. Mulcahy: Don't look at me, look straight ahead! I'll eat your ass up, boyo!
Major Forbes: [observing the drill with Shaw] You know, the Irish are not noted for their fondness for the colored.
Col. Montgomery: [ordering the burning of Darien, Georgia] Prepare your men to light torches!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I will not!
Col. Montgomery: That is an order!
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: An immoral order, and by the Articles of War, I am not bound to follow it!
Col. Montgomery: Then, you can explain that at your court-martial... after your men are placed under my command!
Union Soldier: For God's sake, come on!
[Head is blown off by cannon]
[Rawlins interposes himself between Trip and the 10th Connecticut soldiers]
10th Connecticut soldier: Stripes on a nigger... that's like tits on a bull!
[the Connecticut soldiers laugh]
John Rawlins: You're looking at a higher rank, Corporal. Now you'll obey, and you'll like it!
10th Connecticut soldier: [sneers] Make me.
Col. Montgomery: That wouldn't have been necessary if that sesesh woman hadn't started it. They never learn. You see sesesh has to be cleared away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. Now I will have to burn this town.
[Handing the journalist his letters home]
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Got some letters here, personal things. Also, if I should fall, remember what you see here.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Dear Mother, They learn, learn quickly, faster than white troops it seems to me. They are almost grave and sedate under instruction and they restrain themselves. But the moment they are dismissed from drill every tongue is relaxed and every ivory tooth is visible and you would not know from the sound of it that this is an army camp. They must have learned this from long hours of meaningless, inhuman work oo set them free so quickly. It gives them great energy. And there is no doubt we will leave this state as fine a regiment as any that as marched. As ever, your son, Robert.
Cpl. Thomas Searles: It's not true, is it? I mean about not being allowed to fight. The men are living for that day. I know I am.
Sgt. Mulcahy: [berating Private Trip] You half-wit black bastard! Did they truly cut your balls off at birth? I'm gonna work on you, you bastard, until I get you broken.
Jupiter Sharts: [seeing that Thomas is reading] Good book, brother?
Cpl. Thomas Searles: Yes it is, actually. The name's Searles, Thomas Searles.
Jupiter Sharts: Jupiter Sharts, sir. What it 'bout, that book?
Cpl. Thomas Searles: It's a collection of essays, actually... Fourier, Emerson... all the transcendentalists.
Jupiter Sharts: [nods smiling] It got pictures?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Before this war began, many of my regiment had never seen a Negro. Now the roads are choked with the dispossessed. We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.