Civil War Wiki
Robert Gould Shaw
[[Image:File:Rgshaw.jpg|center|200px|border]]Robert Gould Shaw
Personal Information
Born: October 10, 1837(1837-10-10)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: July 18, 1863 (aged 25)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: {{{branch}}}
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Colonel (USA)
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: 7th New York Infantry,
2nd Massachusetts Infantry
Commands: 54th Regiment
Battles: American Civil War
Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was the colonel in command of the all-black 54th Regiment, which entered the American Civil War in 1863. He is the principal subject of the 1989 film Glory. He was killed in a failed attempt to capture Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina.

Early life and career[]

Shaw was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a prominent abolitionist family. His parents (who lived off the inheritance left by Shaw's merchant grandfather) were Francis George and Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, and he had four sisters: Anna, Josephine, Susannah and Ellen. He was a Unitarian who 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]

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 thirty days. In May 1861, Shaw joined the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry as second lieutenant.

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 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.

Shaw was promoted to major on March 31, 1863, and to colonel on April 17.

Marriage to Anne Kneeland Haggerty[]

On May 2, 1863, Shaw married Annie Kneeland Haggerty (1835–1907) in New York City. They had decided to marry before the unit left Boston despite their parents' misgivings. They spent their brief honeymoon at the Haggerty farm in Lenox, Massachusetts.


Robert 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. The book, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, includes most of his letters and a brief biography of Shaw. They are quoted liberally by Ken Burns in his documentary miniseries The Civil War. Peter Burchard also used these letters as the basis for his book One Gallant Rush, upon which the movie Glory was based.

Death at Fort Wagner[]

File:The Storming of Ft Wagner-lithograph by Kurz and Allison 1890.jpg

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. This act was portrayed in the movie Glory.

The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult.[1] 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."[2] 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. 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![3]

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


  • 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.

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.

File:Robert Gould Shaw Mount Auburn.jpg

Shaw memorial at Mount Auburn Cemetery

  • Some drawings and plaster mock-ups also exist.[1] There is an additional casting of the Shaw Memorial at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.
  • A monument to Shaw's memory was erected by his family in the family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An annual commemoration is held there on his birthday.

Entry for Shaw in Harvard University's Memorial Hall

  • Shaw was also 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.
  • The story of Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts was dramatized in the 1989 movie 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.
  • 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!"
  • The African-American poet Benjamin Griffith Brawley wrote a memorial poem entitled "My Hero" [2] in praise of Robert Gould Shaw.
  • The neighborhood of Shaw in Washington, DC,which grew out of freed slave encampments, bears his name. It is widely considered the pre-Harlem center of African-American intellectual and cultural life.

See also[]

  • Ventfort Hall



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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