Robert Gould Shaw
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|Robert Gould Shaw|
Shaw in May 1863
October 10, 1837|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||July 18, 1863
Morris Island, South Carolina
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||U.S. Army (Union Army)|
|Years of service||1861–1863|
|Unit||7th New York Militia
2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
|Commands held||54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment|
Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was an American soldier in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. Born into a prominent abolitionist family, he accepted command of the first all-black regiment (54th Massachusetts) in the Northeast and encouraged the men to refuse their pay until it was equal to the white troops’ wage. At the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, a beachhead near Charleston, South Carolina, Shaw was killed while leading his men to the parapet of the enemy fort. Although they were overwhelmed and driven back, Shaw’s leadership passed into legend with a unit that inspired tens of thousands more African-Americans to enlist for the Union and contribute to its ultimate victory. Shaw's story is dramatized in the 1989 film Glory, starring Matthew Broderick.
Early life and education
Shaw was born in Boston to abolitionists Francis George and Sarah Blake (Sturgis) Shaw, who were also well-known Unitarian philanthropists and intellectuals. The Shaws had the benefit of a large inheritance left by Shaw's merchant grandfather and namesake Robert Gould Shaw (1775–1853), and Shaw himself would have been a member by primogeniture of the Society of the Cincinnati had he survived his father. Shaw had four sisters— Anna, Josephine, Susannah and Ellen.
When Shaw was five years old, the family moved to a large estate in West Roxbury, adjacent to Brook Farm. During his teens he traveled and studied for some years in Europe. In 1847, the family moved to Staten Island, New York, settling among a community of literati and abolitionists, while Shaw attended the lower division of St. John's College (comparable to a modern high school).
American Civil War
Early in the American Civil War, Shaw joined the 7th New York Militia as a private and on April 19, 1861, marched down Broadway in lower Manhattan with it to the defense of Washington, D.C. On May 28, 1861, Shaw was formally commissioned as a second lieutenant into Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, with which he fought in the first Battle of Winchester, the battles of Cedar Mountain, and Antietam.
Shaw was approached by his father while in camp in late 1862 to take command of a new all-black regiment. At first, he declined the offer, but after careful thought, he accepted the position. Shaw's letters clearly state that he was dubious about a free black unit succeeding, but the dedication of his men deeply impressed him, and he grew to respect them as fine soldiers. On learning that black soldiers would receive less pay than white ones, he joined in with his unit on their boycott until this inequality was rectified. The enlisted men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (and its sister unit, the 55th Massachusetts) refused pay until Congress granted them full back pay at the white pay rate in August 1863.
On June 11, 1863, Shaw wrote about war crimes committed against the citizens of Darien, Georgia, when the civilian population of women and children were fired upon, forced from their homes, their possessions looted, and the town burned. Shaw noted in a letter, "On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be." Shaw was initially ordered by Colonel James Montgomery to perform the burning but he refused. Shaw noted in a letter, "The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it." He goes on to say, "We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare; but that makes it nonetheless revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless."
Ironically, the original Scottish founders of Darien had signed the first Petition against the Introduction of Slavery in the colony of Georgia.
Death at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner
The 54th Regiment 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. As the unit hesitated in the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting, "Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!" He mounted a parapet and urged his men forward, but was shot through the chest three times and died almost instantly. According to the Colors Sergeant of the 54th, he was shot and killed while trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.
The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult. Following the battle, commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the other Union officers who had died, but left Shaw's where it was. Hagood informed a captured Union surgeon that
"Had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the niggers that fell with him."
Although the gesture was intended as an insult by the Confederates, it came to be seen as an honor by Shaw's friends and family that he was buried with his soldiers.
Efforts had been made to recover Shaw's body (which had been stripped and robbed prior to burial). However, his father publicly proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son was interred with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for emancipation. In a letter to the regimental surgeon, Lincoln Stone, Frank Shaw wrote:
We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers....We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!
After the war, the Union Army disinterred and reburied all the remains—including, presumably, those of Col. Shaw—at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where their gravestones were marked as "unknown".
On May 2, 1863, Shaw married Anna Kneeland "Annie" Haggerty (1835–1907) in New York City. They decided to marry before the unit left Boston despite their parents' misgivings. They spent their brief honeymoon at the Haggerty place, Ventfort, in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Annie became a widow at the age of 28. She never remarried. She lived with her family in New York, in Lenox, Massachusetts, and abroad, a revered figure and in later years an invalid. She died in 1907 and is buried at the cemetery of Church-on-the Hill in Lenox.
Shaw is well known for the over 200 letters he wrote to his family and friends during the Civil War. They are currently located in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Digital facsimiles of this collection are publicly available. The book, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, includes most of his letters and a brief biography of Shaw. Peter Burchard also used these letters as the basis for his book One Gallant Rush.
- A cenotaph at the Mount Auburn Cemetery
- In 1864, sculptor Edmonia Lewis created a bust of Shaw.
- The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White, was built in his memory on Beacon and Park streets in Boston in 1897. It was used in the ending credits scene of the 1989 film, Glory.
"There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for man. There on horseback among them, in his 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.
- Some drawings and plaster mock-ups also exist. A patinated plaster cast of a slightly different design for the Shaw Memorial is now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. The inscription running along the bottom of the plaster cast incorrectly states that the assault on Fort Wagner and Shaw's death in 1863 occurred "JULY TWENTY THIRD," five days later than the actual events.
- A monument to Shaw's memory was erected by his family in the plot at Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island, New York. An annual commemoration is held there on his birthday.
- Although he did not graduate, Shaw's name is listed on the tablets of honor in Harvard University's Memorial Transept.
- In 1928, the William McKinley Manual Training School in Washington, DC was renamed the Robert Gould Shaw Junior High School in Shaw's honor. The school moved locations twice and was closed in 2013.
- The story of Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts is dramatized in the 1989 film Glory, with Shaw portrayed by Matthew Broderick.
- Shaw, the 54th regiment, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' memorial are one of the subjects of Charles Ives's composition for orchestra, Three Places in New England.
- The New England poet Robert Lowell referenced both Shaw and the Shaw Memorial in the poem "For the Union Dead" which Lowell published in his 1964 book of the same name.
- African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a poem entitled "Robert Gould Shaw", in which he states: "Since thou and those who with thee died for right/Have died, the Present teaches, but in vain!"
- African-American poet Benjamin Griffith Brawley wrote a memorial poem entitled "My Hero" in praise of Robert Gould Shaw.
- The neighborhood of Shaw, Washington, D.C., which grew out of freed slave encampments, bears his name.
- G.A.R. Post #146, established on December 4, 1871, was named The R. G. Shaw Post in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and was one of the first all colored (African American) Grand Army of the Republic posts, made up of patriotic comrades of the 54th Massachusetts. Due to lack of funds, the Shaw Post dissolved in 1881.
- Boston City Council (1897). Exercises at the dedication of the monument to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth regiment of the Massachusetts infantry (May 31, 1897). Boston: Municipal Printing Office.
- Burchard, Peter, "One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and his Brave Black Regiment," St. Martin's Press, 1965. ISBN 0-312-04643-X pp. 29-31
- Shaw, Robert Gould. "Written in Glory:Letters from the Soldiers and Officers of the 54th Massachusetts". Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- Lodge, Henry Cabot. Hero Tales from American History. p. 109.
- Foote 2003, p. 119
- Buescher, John. "Robert Gould Shaw." Teachinghistory.org. Accessed 12 July 2011.
- Foote 2003, p. 120
- Hawthorne's Lenox, Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters, Hawthorne's Lenox. The History Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59629-406-6 pp.71–76
- Gilder, Cornelia Brooke; Olshansky, Joan R. (2002). "A History of Ventfort Hall". Lenox: Ventfort Hall Association. pp. 6–7.
- Duncan, Russell (1992). Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0820314595.
- National Gallery of Art (2011). "Augustus Saint-Gaudens". Artist. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
- Saint-Gaudens, Augustusartist. "Shaw Memorial, 1900". The Collection. National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
- Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "Robert Gould Shaw". Poems.
- Brawley, Benjamin Griffith (1922). "My Hero". In James Weldon Johnson. The Book of American Negro Poetry, With an Essay on the Negro’s Creative Genius. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
- Dhalle, Kathy, A Biography of Robert Gould Shaw
- Foote, Lorien (2003). Seeking the One Great Remedy: Francis George Shaw and Nineteenth-century Reform. Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8214-1499-2.
- Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry history
- Simpson, Brooks (2013), The Civil War: The Third Year. The Library of America (2013)
- Duncan, Russell (1992), Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Robert Gould Shaw. University of Georgia Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8203-1459-5
- 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 0-87130-036-2
- Cox, Clinton, Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, New York: Scholastic, 1991.
- Duncan, Russell, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, University of Georgia Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8203-1459-5
- Duncan, Russell, Where Death and Glory Meet : Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, University of Georgia Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8203-2135-4
- Egerton, Douglas, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America, New York: Basic Books, 2016. ISBN 9780465096640
- Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead, Collected Poems, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2003, ISBN 0-374-12617-8
- Burchard, Peter One Gallant Rush—Robert Gould Shaw & His Brave Black Regiment, St. Martin's Press, 1965. ISBN 0-312-03903-4
- Emilio, Luis F., A Brave Black Regiment: The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863–1865, Da Capo Press, 1894. ISBN 0-306-80623-1
- The Master by Colm Toibin relates Wilkie James's (younger brother of Henry and William James) participation as an officer in the regiment.