In stature they reached the average of white volunteers. Compared with the material of contraband regiments, they were lighter, taller, of more regular features (Emilio 21).
The men in the film are drilled relentlessly by an Irish officer. A report from the time states that "the regiment showed great interest in drilling" (Emilio 21). The weather in the film matches that of the historical record:
Owing to heavy and frequent rains in March and the early days of April, the mud was often very deep between the barracks and the officers' quarters. . . In stormy weather squad and company drills went on in vacant barracks (Emilio 22).
The words of Colonel Shaw in the film are very like those of Surgeon-General Dale written in 1863 about the demeanor of these troops:
In camp, these soldiers presented a buoyant cheerfulness and hilarity, which impressed me with the idea that the monotony of their ordinary duties would not dampen their feeling of contentment, if they were well cared for. . . it is my dispassionate and honest conviction that no regiments were ever more amenable to good discipline, or were more decorous and proper in their behavior than the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers (Emilio 21-22).