Robert Gould Shaw

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Robert Gould Shaw
Robert Gould Shaw.jpg
Born(1837-10-10)October 10, 1837
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJuly 18, 1863(1863-07-18) (aged 25)
Morris Island, South Carolina
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchSeal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.png U.S. Army (Union Army)
Years of service1861–1863
RankUnion Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel
Unit7th New York Militia
2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Commands held54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War:

Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was an American soldier in the Union Army during the American 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 Confederate held 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.

Early life and education[edit]

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.[1] Shaw had four sisters— Anna, Josephine (Effie), Susanna, and Ellen (Nellie).[2]

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 Second Division of St. John's College at Fordham at the behest of his uncle Joseph Coolidge Shaw, who had been ordained as a priest in 1847 after becoming a Catholic during a trip to Rome in which he befriended several members of the Oxford Movement. Robert began his high school-level education at St. John's in 1850, the same year Joseph began studying there for entrance into the Jesuits.[3]

In 1851, while Shaw was still at St. John's, his uncle died from tuberculosis. 13 at the time, Shaw had a difficult time adjusting to his surroundings and wrote several despondent letters home to his mother. In one of his letters, he claimed to be so homesick that he often cried in front of his classmates.[3] While at St. John's, he studied Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish, and practiced playing the violin, which he had begun as a young boy. He left St. John's prematurely in late 1851 when the Shaw family departed for an extended tour of Europe. He then entered a boarding school in Neuchâtel, Switzerland where he stayed for two years. Afterwards, his father relocated him to a school with a less strict system of discipline in Hanover, Germany, hoping that it would better suit his restless temperament.[3] While in Hanover, he enjoyed the greater degree of personal freedom his new school afforded him, on one occasion writing home to his mother, "It's almost impossible not to drink a good deal, because there is so much good wine here."[3]

While Robert was in Europe, Shaw family friend Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin. Shaw read the book multiple times and was moved by its plot and anti-slavery attitude. Around the same time, Shaw wrote that his patriotism had been bolstered after encountering several instances of anti-Americanism among some Europeans. He expressed interest to his parents in attending West Point or joining the Navy. Because Robert had had a longstanding difficulty with taking orders or obeying authority figures, his parents did not view this ambition seriously.[3]

Shaw returned to the United States in 1856. From 1856 until 1859 he attended Harvard University, joining the Porcellian Club,[4] and the Hasty Pudding Club,[3] but he withdrew before graduating. He had been a member of the class of 1860. Shaw found Harvard no easier to adjust to than any of his previous schools and wrote home about his discontent.[3]

After leaving Harvard in 1859, Shaw returned to Staten Island to work with one of his uncles at the mercantile firm Henry P. Sturgis and Company but found life at the company office disagreeable.[3]

American Civil War[edit]

Letter from Robert Gould Shaw to his father from Camp Andrew, May 1861

With the outbreak of the American Civil War Shaw volunteered to serve with the 7th New York Militia, and on 19 April 1861 Private Shaw marched down Broadway in lower Manhattan as his unit traveled south to man the defense of Washington, D.C.[5] Lincoln's initial call up asked volunteers to make only a 90 day commitment, and after three months Shaw's new regiment was dissolved.[6] Following this Shaw joined a newly forming regiment from his home state, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.[7] On 28 May 1861 Shaw was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the regiment's Company H. Over the next year and a half he fought with his fellow Massachusetts countrymen in the first Battle of Winchester, the Battle of Cedar Mountain and at the bloody battle of Antietam.[8] Shaw served both as a line officer in the field and as a staff officer for General George H Gordon.[9] Twice wounded, by the fall of 1862 he had been promoted to the rank of captain.[7][10]

Since the start of the war the use of black soldiers to fight the Confederacy had been advocated by abolitionists such as Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew. Such an action had broad opposition. Many believed colored troops would lack discipline, be difficult to train, and in battle would break and run when danger was faced. The general attitude in the north was that colored troops would prove to be an embarrassment and hindrance to regular army units.[11]

Andrew traveled to Washington in early January 1863 to meet with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and repeat his argument for the use of colored troops in the Union army. Stanton was won to his side, and on 26 January 1863 Stanton issued an order to Andrew to raise further volunteer regiments to fight for the Union, adding the new recruits "may include persons of African descent, organized into special corps."[12] Andrew immediately set about doing so, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry began to be formed.

For the unit's officers, Andrew sought a certain type of gentleman, "...young men of military experience, of firm antislavery principles, ambitious, superior to a vulgar contempt for color, and having faith in the capacity of colored men for military service." Most importantly, he wanted men who understood the stakes, that the success or failure of the endeavor would elevate or depress the manner in which the character of colored persons were viewed throughout the world for many years to come.[13] Andrew wrote to many individuals prominent in the abolitionist movement, including Morris Hallowell of Philadelphia and Francis Shaw of Boston. To command the unit Andrew had Shaw's son in mind. Andrew expressed to Shaw the need of finding a leader who would accept the responsibility of the command "...with a full sense of its importance, with an earnest determination for its success."[14] Included in Andrew's letter was a commission for Robert Shaw to take command of the new regiment.[15]

Francis Shaw traveled to Virginia to speak with his son, carrying with him the commission.[16] Robert Shaw was hesitant to take the post.[10] He felt it unlikely the unit would see front line action and he did not want to leave his fellow statesman, but after some consideration he agreed to take the command.[17] On 6 February he telegraphed his father with his decision.[18] He was 24 years old at the time. The command came with a colonelcy, the rank commensurate with the position of regimental commander.

Andrew had some difficulty finding enough colored volunteers in Massachusetts to form the regiment. Assurances were given by Andrew that the men would receive the standard pay of 13 dollars a month, and that if they were captured the government of the United States would insist they be treated as any other soldier.[19] The Boston area provided enough recruits to form the regiment's "C" Company.[20] The remainder of the regiment was formed with black recruits from all across the north. Few had been slaves in the south.[21] Two sons of Frederick Douglass volunteered to serve with the 54th.[22]

Captain Shaw arrived in Boston on 15 February 1863 and immediately assumed the duties of his position.[23] Shaw was a strict disciplinarian.[10] On 25 March 1863 Shaw wrote to his father of his fledgling regiment: "Everything goes on prosperously. The intelligence of the men is a great surprise to me. They learn all the details of guard duty and camp service infinitely more readily than most of the Irish that I have had under my command. There is not the least doubt that we will leave the State with as good a regiment as any that has marched."[24] Shaw was promoted to major on 31 March 1863, and two weeks later on 17 April was made full colonel.[25][self-published source] On 30 April the regiment drew 950 Enfield rifled muskets and swords for the NCOs.[26] By 11 May more troops had arrived than were required to man the regiment, and the 55th Massachusetts was begun with the surplus.[27]

On 28 May Shaw led the men of the 54th through the streets of Boston to the docks, where the regiment boarded a transport steamer and sailed south. The regiment was to be used in a campaign against Charleston.[7] The 54th arrived at Port Royal Island on 4 June, and was placed under the overall command of Major General David Hunter.[28] Initially the regiment was used to provide manual labor at the loading docks, but Colonel Shaw applied for action and four days later the regiment boarded onto transport again and was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina.[29] From there they moved further south to St. Simons Island, Georgia, which served as their base of operations.

On 11 June 1863 the 54th was sent with the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers for a raid against the town of Darien, Georgia. Overall command of the force was with the senior officer, colonel James Montgomery of the 2nd South Carolina. Upon reaching the town Montgomery set his troops to looting it. The behavior of the "contraband" soldiers struck Shaw as grotesque. Shaw ordered his troops to limit their seizures to those items that would be useful for the camp, and only committed one company to the task. After the town had been emptied of all valuables and livestock Montgomery told Shaw "I shall burn this town." To Shaw the burning of the town appeared to serve no military purpose, and would be a great hardship upon the people living there. In a letter to his family he recalled "I told him I did not want to take the responsibility of it, and he was only too happy to take all of it on his own shoulders"[30] The town was burned to the ground.[31]

After the regiment's return to camp Shaw wrote to X Corps Assistant Adjutant General Lieutenant-Colonel Charles G. Halpine, seeking clarification of what was required of him. He asked if Montgomery was acting under orders from General Hunter, stating in part "I am perfectly willing to burn any place which resists, or gives some reason for such a proceeding; but it seems to me barbarous to turn women and children adrift in that way; and if I am only assisting Colonel Montgomery in a private enterprise of his own, it is very distasteful to me." It is not clear if Shaw ever received an answer from Halpine, but Montgomery was in fact carrying out a policy supported by Hunter.[32]

Second Battle of Fort Wagner[edit]

The Storming of Fort Wagner

Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment were placed under the command of General Quincy Gilmore and sent to Charleston, South Carolina to take part in the second attempt to defeat the Confederate garrison stationed there. The fort was well armed with an assortment of heavy guns and whose overall strength was underestimated by Union command.[33] At the battle, July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate batteries at Fort Wagner. As the unit hesitated in the face of overwhelming 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 Color Sergeant of the 54th, he was shot and killed early in the battle while trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.[34][35] Some Confederate reports claim his body was hit a total of seven times. The battle had continued to 10 p.m. which ended with heavy Union losses. Among the other fatalities was Gen. George Crockett Strong, mortally wounded; Col. Haldimand S. Putnam shot and killed instantly; Col. John Lyman Chatfield, mortally wounded.[36] Shaw's 54th Regiment suffered the heaviest losses.[37] The Confederates buried Shaw in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult.[38]

Two sons of Fredrick Douglass, Charles Douglass and his eldest son, Lewis Douglass, belonged to the 54th regiment. Lewis was wounded at the Battle of Fort Wagner shortly after Shaw fell, and barely managed to retreat to safety.[39]

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 ..." he would have returned Shaw's body, instead of burying it with the fallen black soldiers[40]

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.[41] 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![42]

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".[43] Shaw's sword was soon robbed from the gravesite but was recovered in 1865 and returned to his parents, where it eventually disappeared again. In June 2017 it was discovered in a family attic of Mary Minturn Wood and brother, descendants of Shaw's sister Susanna.[44]

Personal life[edit]

Shaw met Anna Kneeland Haggerty in New York at an opera party given by Shaw's sister Susanna in 1861 before the war began. The two became engaged just after Christmas in 1862.[45] Despite misgivings by both sets of parents they were married 2 May 1863, less than a month before Shaw's regiment moved out. The ceremony was in New York City. The pair spent a brief honeymoon at the Haggerty's home of Vent Fort, in Lenox, Massachusetts.[46]

Two and half years older than Shaw, "Annie" Shaw became a widow at the age of 28. She spent many years after the war living abroad in Europe, returning in later years when her health failed.[47] The Haggerty property had been sold to George and Sarah Morgan, who built a large mansion there. They kept the Haggerty home, and allowed Anna to live there when she returned from Europe. She spent the last two years of her life living at the old house of her parents, and died there in 1907. She never remarried. She is buried at the cemetery of Church-on-the Hill in Lenox.[48]

Shaw wrote over 200 letters to his family and friends during the Civil War.[49] These are kept 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 used the letters as the basis for his book One Gallant Rush.

Memorials[edit]

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.[1]
  • Some drawings and plaster mock-ups also exist.[50] 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..[51] 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 1921, the M Street Junior High School in Washington, D.C., was renamed the Robert Gould Shaw Junior High School in Shaw's honor. The school moved locations twice and was closed in 2013.[52]
Entry for Shaw in Harvard University's Memorial Hall
Bronze memorial to Shaw and the 54th regiment, by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Boston Common (1884–1897). This was used in the ending credits scene of the 1989 film, Glory.
Shaw memorial at the renown Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Massachusetts

Legacy[edit]

  • 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's 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!"[53]
  • African-American poet Benjamin Griffith Brawley wrote a memorial poem entitled "My Hero"[54] 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.
  • In 2017, the sword that Shaw was carrying when he was killed was discovered among the artifacts in the attic of a family home in Hamilton, Massachusetts. The owners, siblings Robert Shaw and Mary Minturn Wood, donated it to the Massachusetts Historical Society, where it went on public display on July 18, the anniversary of his death.[55]

Gallery[edit]

Original G.A.R. Uniform Hat Badge from Post No 146, aka 'RG Shaw Post', established by surviving members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in 1871. In the R Andre Stevens Civil War Collection.
Shaw in 1861

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ "Caroline Wells Healey Dall journal, 1862-1865, pages with entries for 6-8 August 1863". Massachusetts Historical Society. Massachusetts Historical Society. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Fordham Preparatory School: Col Robert Gould Shaw". www.fordhamprep.org. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  4. ^ Catalogue of the Porcellian Club of Harvard University. Boston: Harvard university. Porcellian club. 1877. p. 54. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ McPherson 1988, p. 274.
  7. ^ a b c "Robert Gould Shaw". American Battlefield Trust. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  8. ^ Hickman, 2017, Essay
  9. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.5
  10. ^ a b c Crocker, Matthew (February 2000). "Robert Gould Shaw". American National Biography. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  11. ^ Emilo, 1894, pp.6-10
  12. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.2
  13. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.3
  14. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.1
  15. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.3
  16. ^ Emilo, 1894, pp.3-4
  17. ^ Wise, 1994, p. 48
  18. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.5
  19. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.17
  20. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.10
  21. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.21
  22. ^ Emilo, 1894, pp.??
  23. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.6
  24. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.20
  25. ^ Miller, Connie (2008). Frederick Douglass American Hero: and International Icon of The Nineteenth Century. Xlibris Corporation. p. 238. ISBN 9781441576491. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  26. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.23
  27. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.24
  28. ^ Emilo, 1894, pp.31-37
  29. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.39
  30. ^ Charles River Editors 2014, p. 23.
  31. ^ ""Montgomery's Raids in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina", by William Lee Apthorp, Lt. Colonel, 34th United States Colored Infantry, June 1864".
  32. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.44
  33. ^ Emilo, 1887, p.12
  34. ^ Foote, 1986, pp. 697-698
  35. ^ Emilo, 1894, p.92
  36. ^ Emilo, 1894, pp.85-87
  37. ^ Emilo, 1887, p.16
  38. ^ Lodge, pp. 109-110
  39. ^ Kendrick, 2008, pp.138-140
  40. ^ Foote 2003, p. 119
  41. ^ Buescher, John. "Robert Gould Shaw." Teachinghistory.org. Accessed 12 July 2011.
  42. ^ Foote 2003, p. 120
  43. ^ "Remembering the Civil War Fallen at Beaufort, SC" (PDF). U.S. Dept of Veteran's Affairs. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  44. ^ "Civil War Col. Robert Gould Shaw's long-lost sword found in attic". CBS News. July 13, 2017. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  45. ^ Owens, Carole (20 July 2008). "The Shaws at Lenox's Ventfort Hall". The Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  46. ^ 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
  47. ^ Duckett, Richard (4 November 2011). ""The Color of War" at Worcester Historical Museum". Telegram. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  48. ^ Gilder and Olshansky 2002, pp. 6-7.
  49. ^ 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.
  50. ^ National Gallery of Art (2011). "Augustus Saint-Gaudens". Artist. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
  51. ^ Saint-Gaudens, Augustusartist. "Shaw Memorial, 1900". The Collection. National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on 2011-10-25. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  52. ^ "Names are given to three schools" (PDF). The Evening Star. 7 June 1921. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  53. ^ Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "Robert Gould Shaw". Poems.
  54. ^ Brawley, Benjamin Griffith (1922). "My Hero". In James Weldon Johnson (ed.). The Book of American Negro Poetry, With an Essay on the Negro's Creative Genius. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  55. ^ Puschmann, Sarah B. (July 25, 2017). "'Holy Grail of Civil War Swords' Found in Massachusetts Attic". Live Science. Purch Group. Retrieved 2017-08-02.

Sources[edit]

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 0-87130-036-2
  • Cox, Clinton, Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, New York: Scholastic, 1991.
  • 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
  • The Master by Colm Toibin relates Wilkie James's (younger brother of Henry and William James) participation as an officer in the regiment.

External links[edit]