Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Boston MA 02108

Boston Black Heritage Trail/Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
Museum of African American History
Written By Museum of African American History

The Museum of African American History inspires all generations to embrace and interpret the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent, and those who found common cause with them, in their quest for freedom and justice. Through its historic buildings, collections, and programs, the Museum expands cultural understanding and promotes dignity and respect for all.

Union forces admit black soldiers

Responding to pressure from black and white abolitionists, President Lincoln admitted black soldiers into the Union forces in 1863. The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment to be recruited in the North.

Volunteer commander for volunteer infantry

Robert Gould Shaw, a young white officer from a prominent Boston family, volunteered for its command. The 54th Regiment trained in Readville (in the present day Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston). On July 18, 1863, the 54th Regiment became famous for leading an assault on Fort Wagner as part of operations to capture the Confederate city of Charleston, South Carolina. In the hard-fought battle Shaw and many members of the regiment were killed.

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Heroic flag rescue

Sergeant William Carney of New Bedford was wounded three times in saving the American flag from Confederate capture. Carney's bravery earned him the distinction of the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. A photographic reproduction of the 54th's saved national flag is on display across the street in the State House's Hall of Flags.

Remembering the man and the regiment

For 18 months of service, the 54th Regiment refused to accept a salary lower than their white counterparts. Ultimately, Congress relented and increased their pay retroactively. This high-relief bronze memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment was erected through a fund established by Joshua B. Smith in 1865. Smith, a fugitive slave from North Carolina, was a caterer, former employee of the Shaw household, and a state representative from Cambridge. The sculpture is by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the architectural setting by McKim, Mead and White. The monument was dedicated on May 31, 1897 in ceremonies that included Carney, veterans of the 54th and 55th Regiments, the 5th Calvary, and several speakers, including Booker T. Washington. The inscription on the reverse side of the monument was written by Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard University.

The 62 names listed on the lower portion of the monument are those soldiers who died during the assault on Fort Wagner. They were added in 1982.

{Cover Photo from Paulo JC Nogueira via Wikimedia Commons}

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