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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

Soldiers of "Glory"

My choice for a movie about leadership is the 1989 film "Glory." This film, nominated for six Oscars and won three, told the little-known story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry -- the first all-black unit in the America Civil War. The cinematic portrayal of this regiment of "Coloured" soldiers provides a study of various aspects of leadership.

The traditional treatment is to follow the development of Robert Gould Shaw who was offered and reluctantly accepted command of the regiment. After being wounded as a captain and then appointed as colonel, Shaw was charged with raising the unit, training it for war, and leading it in combat. Throughout the movie, we see the growth of Shaw as a leader who learns to empathize with and then love the black soldiers of the regiment.

We also see a group of people -- not fully members of American society -- join a dangerous enterprise for many reasons but who stay together with a sense of purpose for themselves, a calling to service for a greater good, and for each other. We see the emergence of leadership from the unexpected -- a gravedigger who becomes the regimental Sergeant Major and the runaway slave as the informal leader who finds his identity with the unit.

The closing scenes in the movie showed the leader, Colonel Shaw, insisting on the opportunity for his men to engage in combat against a formidable force. The men of 54th-its white officers and black enlisted soldiers-knew the odds as they headed into battle side by side.

In that act, they were just Soldiers committed to the mission and who led themselves to Glory.

The story of 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is presented in Dudley Taylor Cornish's book, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. The legacy of service and emergence of latent leadership continued in World War II within the Black fighter pilot units, in particular, the 332nd Fighter Group "Red-Tailed Angels," known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  February 17, 2009; 11:57 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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