Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw
Robert Gould Shaw.jpg
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Volunteer Army of the United States in May, 1863
Born October 10, 1837(1837-10-10)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died July 18, 1863(1863-07-18) (aged 25)
Morris Island, South Carolina
Allegiance United States of America
Years of service 1861–1863
Rank Union army col rank insignia.jpg Colonel
Unit 7th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment
2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Commands held 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

American Civil War:

Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was an American officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. As colonel, he commanded the all-black 54th Regiment, which entered the war in 1863. He was killed in the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina.[citation needed]

He is the principal subject of the 1989 film Glory, where he is portrayed by Matthew Broderick.


Early life and career

Shaw was born in Boston to a prominent abolitionist family. His parents were Francis George and Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw. The family lived off an inheritance left by Shaw's merchant grandfather, also named Robert Gould Shaw (1776 – 1853). Shaw had four sisters: Anna, Josephine, Susannah and Ellen.[citation needed]

He moved with his family to a large estate in West Roxbury, adjacent to Brook Farm when he was five. In his teens, Shaw spent some years studying and traveling in Switzerland, Italy, Hanover, Norway, and Sweden. His family moved to Staten Island, New York, settling there among a community of literati and abolitionists, while Shaw attended the lower division of St. John's College, the equivalent of high school in the institution that became Fordham University. From 1856 until 1859, Shaw attended Harvard University, where he was a member of the Porcellian Club, but he withdrew before graduating.[citation needed] He was a member by primogeniture of the Society of the Cincinnati.[1]

Civil war

After Abraham Lincoln's election and the secession of several Southern states, Shaw joined the 7th New York Infantry Regiment and marched with it to the defense of Washington, D.C., in April 1861. The unit served only 30 days. In May 1861, Shaw joined the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry as second lieutenant. Shaw took part in the battles of Winchester, Cedar Mountain, and Antietam while with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.[citation needed]

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 inspired his unit to conduct a boycott until this inequality was rectified. The enlisted men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (and the sister 55th) refused pay until Congress granted them full back pay at the white pay rate in August 1864.[citation needed]

Shaw was promoted to major on March 31, 1863, and to colonel on April 17.[citation needed]


On May 2, 1863, Shaw married Annie Kneeland 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 farm in Lenox, Massachusetts.[citation needed]

But he later was noted to have a 'deep friendship' with Miss Charlotte Forten, an African American school teacher when his troops were stationed in South Carolina. Miss Forten speaks highly of the colonel in her diary, but Shaw did not mention her existence in any of his letters to Annie.[citation needed]


Robert Shaw is well-known for the over 200 letters he wrote to his family and friends during the Civil War.[citation needed] 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, which is one of the books upon which the film Glory was based.[citation needed]

Death at Battery Wagner

The Storming 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 heart and he died almost instantly. According to the color Sgt of the 54th Mass, he was shot and killed trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.[citation needed]

The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult.[2] 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 negroes that fell with him."[3] Although efforts were made to recover Shaw's body (which had been stripped and robbed prior to burial), Shaw's 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 social justice.[4] 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!"[5]

After Robert Shaw's death, his young wife, Annie, moved to Europe to live with her sister. She never remarried.[citation needed]


Memorial to Shaw and the 54th Regiment at the National Gallery of Art
Entry for Shaw in Harvard University's Memorial Hall
Shaw memorial at Mount Auburn Cemetery

"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.[6] There is an additional casting of the Shaw Memorial now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
  • 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.
  • Shaw was memorialized in the transept of Harvard University's Memorial Hall, which is dedicated to the students who perished in the American Civil War. Although he did not graduate, he is credited with the class of 1860.
  • Elizabeth Gaskell was inspired by the life of Robert Gould Shaw to compose a text and poem in his honor, "Robert Gould Shaw", which appeared in Macmillan's Magazine (1864) and is available on The Gaskell Web.
  • The story of Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts was dramatized in the 1989 film Glory, with Shaw portrayed by Matthew Broderick.
  • Shaw, the 54th regiment, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' memorial are the subject of Charles Ives's piece 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".
  • 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!"[7]
  • African-American poet Benjamin Griffith Brawley wrote a memorial poem entitled "My Hero"[8] in praise of Robert Gould Shaw.
  • The neighborhood of Shaw, Washington, DC, which grew out of freed slave encampments, bears his name.


See also


  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. ^ Henry Cabot Lodge. Hero Tales from American History. p. 109. 
  3. ^ Foote 2003, p. 119
  4. ^ Buescher, John. "Robert Gould Shaw." Accessed 12 July 2011.
  5. ^ Foote 2003, p. 120
  6. ^ National Gallery of Art (2011). "Augustus Saint-Gaudens". Artist. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art. 
  7. ^ Paul Laurence Dunbar. "Robert Gould Shaw". Poems. 
  8. ^ Benjamin Griffith Brawley (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. 


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
  • 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
  • Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead, Collected Poems, Farrar, Strauss, 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.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Robert Gould Shaw — Naissance 10 octobre 1837 Boston, Massachusetts Décès 18 juillet 1863 (à 25 ans) Char …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Robert Gould Shaw — (* 10. Oktober 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts; † 18. Juli 1863 bei Fort Wagner, South Carolina) war ein Offizier der Unionsarmee im Amerikanischen Bürgerkrieg …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Robert Gould Shaw III — (1898 ndash; 1970) was the only son of Nancy Langhorne (later Nancy Astor) and her first husband Robert Gould Shaw II, who was a cousin of Robert Gould Shaw of Fort Wagner fame.Shaw s birth father had a limited role in his life at best. Shaw III… …   Wikipedia

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  • Gould (name) — Gould (pronounced [gu:ld] ) is used as a surname and a family name.Gould as family nameActing* Alexander Gould * Elliott Gould, actor * Harold Gould * Kelly Gould * Jason Gould * Sandra Gould, American actress and comedienneBusiness* Andrew Gould …   Wikipedia

  • Shaw, Washington, D.C. — Shaw is a neighborhood in Northwest, Washington, D.C. It is roughly bounded by N Street NW to the south; New Jersey Avenue NW to the east; Florida Avenue NW to the north; and 11th Street NW to the west although there is a westward panhandle that… …   Wikipedia

  • Robert Bowne Minturn, Jr. — Robert B. Minturn, Jr. (born New York, 21 February 1836, died 15 December 1889), was an American shipping magnate of the mid to late 19th century.Robert was the son of Robert Bowne Minturn (Sr.) and Anna Mary Wendell, in New York City. He… …   Wikipedia

  • Shaw — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Ce patronyme est très porté dans les pays anglosaxons. C est aussi la transcription d un nom chinois : 邵: Patronyme Æneas Shaw, homme politique… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gould — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Patronyme Gould est un nom de famille notamment porté par : Alexander Gould (1994 ), acteur américain ; Andrew Gould (1946 ), président de… …   Wikipédia en Français

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