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 Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw

Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 18 Jul 1863 (aged 25)
South Carolina, USA
Cenotaph New Dorp, Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, USA
Plot Section A
Memorial ID 4870 · View Source
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Civil War Union Army Officer. He was the Colonel and commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first officially authorized African-American regiment from the north. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, the only son Sarah Sturgis and Francis George Shaw, a wealthy merchant. He was educated in private academies in New York and Switzerland and by tutors in Europe. He returned to the US to attend Harvard, but did not take a degree, instead he left school to work in his uncle’s mercantile firm in New York. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the 7th New York as a private, the unit served thirty days in defense of Washington, DC. The following month he had joined the 2nd Massachusetts as a second lieutenant. He was offered a position on Brigadier General George Gordon's staff which he accepted. He saw action in the Battles of Cedar Creek and Antietam, where he was wounded. He was promoted to captain, and in February 1863, his father, and ardent abolitionist, delivered to him Governor John Andrew’s offer of command of the new Massachusetts 54th Regiment to be comprised of black troops. Shaw refused the command, unsure he was “equal to the responsibility of such a position.” Eventually, however, he was persuaded to change his mind and accepted, pleasing his parents. Promoted to colonel in April 1863, he oversaw the recruitment and training of the 54th at Camp Meigs. Though originally skeptical about the fighting abilities of the regiment, his men's efforts and dedication impressed him. He married Anna Haggerty on 2 May 1863, and on 28 May, the 54th marched south. They arrived in Hilton Head, South Carolina on 3 June and entered service in Major General David Hunter's Department of the South. The 54th took part the attack on Darien, Georgia, but Shaw ordered his men to stand down when the town was ordered looted and burned. Shaw wrote the governor and the adjutant general about his objections. Following his letters, Hunter was relieved and replaced with Major General Quincy Gillmore. On 30 June, Shaw learned that his troops were to be paid less than white soldiers of the same rank, displeased, he suggested his men boycott their pay until the situation was resolved. On 16 July, the 54th saw action on James Island when it distinguished itself in assiting to repulse a Confederate attack. General Gillmore's planned attack on Morris Island's Battery Wagner went ahead on 18 July 1863. The honor of the lead position in the assault was given to the 54th. Shaw signaled the advance, and they came under Confederate fire, and pushing forward, they took heavy losses. Shaw led his men through the moat and up the wall. He reached the top and urged, "Forward 54th!" before being shot multiple times and killed. After a fierce battle, the Confederates succeeded in driving the Union troops out of Fort Wagner, leaving 246 Union dead. The action had proved the worth of black soldiers, and had infuriated the Confederates who buried Shaw in a mass grave with his troops in a gesture of contempt. Shaw’s father however, discouraged later efforts to recover his son’s body, writing, “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave & devoted soldiers.” Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Army disinterred all the dead from Morris Island and reburied them at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where their grave were marked “unknown.” The Shaw family installed a bronze tablet in his memory on a cenotaph in their family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston. In 1897, the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, a bas-relief designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was placed on Boston Common. The story of Shaw and the 54th were depicted in the 1989 film, 'Glory' which was based upon the Peter Burchard book, 'One Gallant Rush.' Shaw's collected letters were published in 1992 in 'Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.'

Bio by: Iola

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 21 Mar 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4870
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Robert Gould Shaw (10 Oct 1837–18 Jul 1863), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4870, citing Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp, Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .