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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remembering the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment - 150 years later

On this day 150 years ago, May 28, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American regiments to serve in the Civil War, were presented their regimental colors by Massachusetts governor John Andrew during a parade through the streets of Boston as they prepared for their departure from the city. Immediately after the parade the 54th Massachusetts boarded the transport vessel De Molay bound for Civil War service in South Carolina.1 The 54th Massachusetts was commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, son of Francis and Sarah Shaw, fervent Boston abolitionists.2

On July 18, 1863, Colonel Shaw was killed as he bravely led the charge on Fort Wagner in South Carolina The men of the 54th Massachusetts continued the charge into the fort and suffered heavy casualties. Colonel Shaw was buried in a mass grave with his soldiers. Although the charge at Fort Wagner was a military defeat it was regarded as a moral victory, as it proved the bravery of the 54th Massachusetts and the worth of the African-American soldier.3

Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts were immortalized by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in a spectacular 1897 bronze relief sculpture on the Boston Common directly across from the Massachusetts State House.

The 1989 movie Glory portrays the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and its commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The movie was based on the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the novels Lay This Laurel, by Lincoln Kirstein, and One Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard.4

1Massachusetts Historical Society, “54th Regiment!,” Massachusetts Historical Society: 54th Regiment (http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528: 28 May 2013). Civil War Trust, "Robert Gould Shaw," Civil War Trust:Robert Gould Shaw (http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/robert-gould-shaw.html: 28 May 2013).
2Celebrate Boston, “Colonel Robert Gould Shaw,” Celebrate Boston: Robert Gould Shaw Biography (http://www.celebrateboston.com/biography/robert-gould-shaw.htm: 28 May 2013).
3Civil War Trust, “Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts,” Civil War Trust: Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/batterywagner/battery-wagner-history-articles/fortwagnerpohanka.html: 28 May 2013).
4“Glory (1989 film),” Glory (1989 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glory_%281989_film%29: 28 May 2013).

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