Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw

Son of a prominent Boston abolitionist family, Robert Shaw was serving as a captain in the 2nd Massachusetts when he was tapped by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew for a special assignment. Shaw was to raise and command the first regiment of black troops organized in a Northern state.

All the previous 11 colored" regiments had been raised principally from freed slaves in occupied areas. Shaw went about the organization of his command, recruiting free blacks from all over New England and some from beyond. The regiment was mustered into service on May 13, 1863, with Shaw as its colonel, and was sent to the South Carolina coast to take part in the operations against the cradle of secession, Charleston. After leading the regiment in smaller actions on James Island, at Legaresville on July 13, and Secessionville on July 16, Shaw moved the regiment over to Morris Island.

On July 18, 1863, he led the 54th, in conjunction with two brigades of white troops, in an assault on Confederate Battery Wagner. In the unsuccessful charge, the black troops proved themselves to be fully capable of standing up to enemy fire but lost about one quarter of their men, including Colonel Shaw. The rebels in the battery were so outraged by the Union commanders arming blacks that they decided to insult the white officer by burying him in a common grave with his black enlisted men. But Shaw's parents, when they heard of it, were pleased and believed that was the way their son woum have wanted it. (Burchard, Peter, One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment)

Source: "Who Was Who In The Civil War" by Stewart Sifakis

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