ROBERT GOULD SHAW Biography - Military related figures


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Name: Robert Gould Shaw                                                                 
Born: 10 October 1837 Boston, Massachusetts                                             
Died: 18 July 1863 Morris Island, South Carolina                                       
Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 - July 18, 1863) was the colonel in command         
of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which entered the               
American Civil War in 1863. He is the subject of the 1989 film Glory.                   
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, Susanna and Ellen. He was a religious liberal and 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, but he withdrew before graduating. He           
then went to the esteemed Kenyon College in Gambier, OH and also went to work at       
his uncle's business. At Harvard, he was a member of the Porcellian Club.               
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. He           
served there for over two years, seeing action at the Battle of Antietam, and           
was promoted to captain.                                                               
He was then recruited by Governor John A. Andrew to raise and command one of the       
first regiments of black troops for the Union. Although he was initially               
unenthusiastic about his assignment, the dedication of his men deeply impressed         
him and he grew to respect them as fine soldiers. Upon learning that black             
soldiers would receive less pay than white ones, he inspired his unit to conduct       
a boycott until this inequality was rectified.                                         
Shaw was promoted to major on March 31, 1863, and to colonel on April 17, so he         
was in charge of the 54th when they were ordered to loot and then burn the city         
of Darien, Georgia, on June 11, much to Shaw's dismay. The destruction of the           
undefended city of little strategic importance had been ordered by Colonel James       
On May 2, 1863, Shaw married Anna Kneeland Haggerty (d. 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,             
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. Some may also be found in the book Blue-Eyed Child of           
Fortune, which includes most of his letters and a brief biography of Shaw. They         
are also quoted liberally by Ken Burns in his documentary miniseries The Civil         
The 54th 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!" He mounted a parapet and urged his         
men forward, but was shot through the heart and his body fell into the fort.           
When the Confederate soldiers buried the dead, they stripped him of his uniform         
and buried him with his black soldiers, intending it as an insult. However, Shaw's     
abolitionist father proclaimed that he was proud that his son was buried               
alongside the African-American men with whom he had served and that Robert would       
have approved.