Important Civil War Monument Rededicated In Boston

If you saw the Civil War movie Glory, you will understand the historical importance of the monument to Robert Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment that occupies a spot across from the Massachusetts State House in Boston. This powerful, and some say most beautiful, monument gives proof to the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The centerpiece of this monument is a very moving bas relief sculpture in bronze by the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It depicts Robert Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment marching toward their destiny as an all-Black regiment made up of both escaped slaves and free Black men from the North. They would become the first to fight as a segregated Union fighting force.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Carptrash

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was formed, trained, and led, at first reluctantly, by a white officer by the name of Robert Shaw. The movie depicts some of the challenges and issues both he and the men of the 54th faced in those difficult days. But they would find their greatest hour and their glory before the walls of Fort Wagner in South Carolina, on July 18, 1863.

The 54th would be put in front of the Union attacking forces. Their assault was met with a furious defense by the Confederates. Some would reach the heights of the ramparts but would eventually be pushed back. They suffered greatly, but their courage, fight, skills, and determination never flagged. Their actions before the walls of Fort Wagner would inspire tens of thousands of Blacks to join and serve in the Union Army for the rest of the war.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Postdlf

During the charge, Sgt. William Harvey Carney grabbed the U.S. flag as the flag bearer, who was hit, fell and carried it right up to the ramparts. When the battle was over, wounded and exhausted, he returned it to his command, saying, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, albeit decades later.

The 54th would also lose its commanding officer that day. Robert Shaw was killed in action leading his men in the charge against Fort Wagner.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ingfbruno

The Robert Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Monument has been recently refurbished and restored. It was a $3 million project that shored up the monument’s brick and concrete foundation and added a stainless steel frame between the bronze relief and the marble structure that surrounds it.

This beautiful and historically important monument commemorates this uniquely American story concerning this country’s most challenging moment. It tells us that the terrible horror of slavery was ended not by one man but by many. By those who suffered its most dehumanizing effects and by those who finally could no longer live with the contradiction to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that slavery represented. The sacrifices those men made were made to serve two higher causes: the cause of freedom and the cause of the Republic.

This monument is a must-see if and when you visit Boston. Its subject matter and its beauty really are worth a thousand words.

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