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Robert Gould Shaw

From Academic Kids

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Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837July 18, 1863), was the white colonel in command of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which entered the American Civil War in 1863.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a prominent abolitionist family, Shaw was a religious liberal and a Unitarian. He served as a captain in the 2nd Massachusetts until he was recruited by Governor John Andrew to raise and command the first regiment of black troops of the Union. Although he was initially unenthusiastic about his assignment, the dedication of his men deeply impressed him and he grew to respect them as fine soldiers. Upon learning that black soldiers would receive less pay than white ones, he inspired his unit to boycott this inequality until it was rectified.

The 54th was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to take part in the operations against the Confederates stationed there. On July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate Battery Wagner. Shaw led his unit into battle and was killed during the assault while he stood up and yelled, "Onward, Fifty-Fourth!". When the Confederate soldiers buried the dead, they stripped his body and buried him with his men, intending it as an insult. However, Shaw's father proclaimed that he was proud that his son was buried in that manner and that Robert would have approved.

Robert Shaw is well-known for the over 200 letters he wrote to his family and friends during the Civil War. They are currently located at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Some may also be found in the Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, which includes most of his letters and a brief biography of Shaw.

Memorials

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Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

In 1864, sculptor Edmonia Lewis created a bust of Shaw.

The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial was built in his memory on Beacon and Park Streets in Boston in 1897.

The story of Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts was dramatized in the 1989 movie, Glory, with Shaw portrayed by Matthew Broderick.

There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for man. There on horseback among them, in is very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune, upon whose happy youth every divinity had smiled. — Oration by William James at the exercises in the Boston Music Hall, May 31, 1897, upon the unveiling of the Shaw Monument.

Further reading

  • Benson, Richard, Lay This Laurel : An album on the Saint-Gaudens memorial on Boston Common, honoring black and white men together, who served the Union cause with Robert Gould Shaw and died with him July 18, 1863, Eakins Press, 1973, ISBN 0871300362.
  • Duncan, Russell, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, University of Georgia Press, 1992, ISBN 0820314595.
  • Duncan, Russell, Where Death and Glory Meet : Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, University of Georgia Press, 1999, ISBN 0820321354
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