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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Shaw Memorial - Boston

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Colored Infantry Unit marched past here, past the Massachusetts State House, on their way to fight in the Civil War, the first Union black regiment.

Their gallantry and courage at the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina was depicted in the 1989 film Glory.  Their story was first depicted here in sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens' remarkable bas relief known as the Shaw Memorial.  Many feel that this bronze  sculpture was the finest piece that the noted 19th century artist ever produced.

It is a stirring and powerful piece of art that has depth and texture, and emotion.   Saint Gaudens used African American models for the solders marching to war and strove for realism in every detail.  When it was dedicated in 1897, among the many military units marching in review past the monument were 65 remaining members of the old 54th Mass.  Mr. Saint Gaudens wrote of the emotions of that day:

"Many of them were bent and crippled, many with white heads, some with bouquets... The impression of those old soldiers, passing the very spot where they left for the war so many years before, thrills me even as I write these words. They faced and saluted the relief, with the music playing 'John Brown's Body'…. They seemed as if returning from the war, the troops of bronze marching in the opposite direction, the direction in which they had left for the front, and the young men there represented now showing these veterans the vigor and hope of youth. It was a consecration."

Here, a proud member of the Mass. 54th Reenactors Regiment stands honor guard at the Shaw Memorial. Perhaps soldier ghosts salute and smile.

A special exhibit from July 18th running through October 31st in the picture gallery at the visitors center will celebrate the "CONSECRATION & MONUMENT: Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

For more on the Shaw Memorial, have a look at this National Parks website.

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