Robert Gould Shaw


In his early years, Robert Gould Shaw lived within the privileges of a wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born in 1837. As he entered his early adult years, life took him to New York, where he went to work after dropping out of Harvard. But then the U.S. Civil War began and Robert joined the Union Army.

In the army, Robert took part in numerous battles, including one in 1862, where Robert’s pocket watch deflected a bullet that could have seriously wounded him. Then in 1863, the Governor of Massachusetts selected Robert to command the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first all-black Union Army regiment.

Vintage sepia-toned photograph of Robert Gould Shaw. He stands with his arms crossed, wearing a double-breasted military uniform with visible buttons and a sash at the waist. His hair is parted on the side and he has a slight mustache. To his right, there is a draped curtain and an ornate chair partially visible. Shaw appears composed and formal in this portrait.
Robert Gould Shaw

Under his leadership, the 54th Massachusetts would play an important role in the Union Army’s assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. In this battle, Robert’s leadership and bravery inspired many. As the regiment came under heavy fire, Robert moved to the front, yelling, “Forward 54th!” He led his men until he was shot and killed during the battle. The Confederate Army buried Robert with his men in a mass grave, as was the practice for black soldiers at the time.

Antique sepia photograph of Robert Gould Shaw. He is shown in three-quarter profile looking to his left. Shaw wears a military uniform with a standing collar and a row of buttons down the front. His hair is styled neatly, and he sports a thin mustache. The photograph has Shaw's signature below his image and the year 1863 inscribed on the bottom right. The background is plain, focusing all attention on Shaw's figure.
Robert Gould Shaw, 1863

Robert’s legacy has endured beyond his death, however. He is remembered as a hero who believed in the equality of all people, regardless of race or background, with his story immortalized in literature and film, including the 1989 film “Glory,” which tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts and its role in the Civil War. Today, monuments and memorials to Robert and his regiment can be found throughout the United States, serving as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom and equality.


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Robert Gould Shaw Story Sources

Robt. G. Shaw / Whipple, 96 Washington Street, Boston. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>. / Lt. Robert G. Shaw, standing, facing front. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>. / “COL Robert Gould Shaw.” On Point, vol. 10, no. 1, 2004, pp. 15–15. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Mar. 2023.

To Cite

Robert Gould Shaw.” Published by Historical Snapshots.