During the American Civil War, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a white northern officer, is given the unpopular job of leading the first all-black unit: the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts.
The company, which includes Emerson scholar Searles (Andre Braugher), gravedigger Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) and runaway slave Trip (Denzel Washington), are treated as inferiors by the white enlistees and other officers. When the unit is offered less than standard pay, Shaw supports them in their refusal to accept on principal. The 54th go on to prove themselves in the field of battle, making a suicidal attempt to penetrate Fort Wagner in South Carolina.
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Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, John Finn, Alan North, Jane Alexander, Cliff DeYoung, Ethan Phillips, Raymond St Jacques