||A Sampler of Civil
Portrait of the Late Colonel Shaw
August 15, 1863, page 525 (3-4)
We publish on page 525 a portrait of
the late Colonel Shaw, who was killed at the head of his regiment, the Fifty-fourth
Massachusetts Volunteers (colored), in the recent attack on Fort Wagner.
Robert G. Shaw was a son of Francis G. Shaw, of Staten
Island, and was twenty-seven years of age at the time of his death. At the outbreak of the
war he enlisted as a private in the Seventh Regiment. On their return home he obtained a
commission in the Massachusetts Second, and took part in all the battles in which that
fighting regiment was engaged. Twiceat Cedar Mountain, and again at Antietamhe
narrowly escaped a severe wound. On the formation of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts
Colored Regiment the Colonelcy was tendered to Captain Shaw by Governor Andrew; and the
universal report is that no finer regiment ever left the Bay State than the thousand men
whom he led to the war. Colonel Shaw took part in the first attack on Morris Island, which
secured us command of most of the Island. His subsequent performance is so well described
in the following letter from Mr. Edward L. Pearce to Governor Andrew that we give it
When the troops left St. Helena they
were separated, the Fifty-fourth going to James Island. While it was there, General S.
received a letter from Colonel Shaw, in which the desire was expressed for the transfer of
the Fifty-fourth to General S.s brigade. So when the troops were brought away from
James Island General S. took this regiment into his command. It left James Island on
Thursday, July 16, at 9 a. m., and marched to Coles Island, which they reached at 4
oclock on Friday morning, marching all night, most of the way in single file, over
swampy and muddy ground. There they remained during the day, with hard tack and coffee for
their fare, and this only what was left in their haversacks, not a regular ration.
From 11 oclock of Friday evening until 4
oclock of Saturday they were being put on the transport, the General Hunter,
in a boat, which took about fifty at a time. There they breakfasted on the same fare, and
had no other food before entering into the assault on Fort Wagner in the evening.
The General Hunter left Coles Island for
Folly Island at 6 a.m., and the troops landed at Pawnee Landing about 9 ˝ a.m., and
thence marched to the point opposite Morris Island, reaching there about 2 oclock in
the afternoon. They were transported in a steamer across the inlet, and at 4 p.m. began
their march for Fort Wagner. They reached Brigadier-General Strongs quarters, about
midway on the island, about 6 or 6 ˝ oclock, where they halted for five minutes. I
saw them there, and they looked worn and weary.
General Strong expressed a great desire to give them food
and stimulants, but it was too late, as they were to lead the charge. They had been
without tents during the pelting rains of Thursday and Friday nights. General Strong had
been impressed with the high character of the regiment and its officers, and he wished to
assign them the post where the most severe work was to be done and the highest honor was
to be won. I had been his guest for some days, and knew how he regarded them. The march
across Folly and Morris islands was over a very sandy road, and was very wearisome. The
regiment went through the centre of the island, and not along the beach, where the
marching was easier.
When they had come within 600 yards of Fort Wagner they
formed in line of battle, the Colonel heading the first and the Major the second
battalion. This was within musket-shot of the enemy. There was little firing from the
enemy, a solid shot falling between the battalions, and another falling to the right, but
no musketry. At this point the regiment, together with the next supporting regiments, the
Sixth Connecticut, Ninth Maine, and others remained half an hour. The regiment was
addressed by General Strong and Colonel Shaw. Then at half past seven oclock the
order for the charge was given. The regiment advanced at quick time, changed to
double-quick when at some distance on.
The intervening distance between the place where the line
was formed and the fort was run over in a few minutes. When within one or two hundred
yards of the fort a terrific fire of grape and musketry was poured upon them along the
entire line, and with deadly results. It tore the ranks to pieces and disconcerted some.
They rallied again, went through the ditch, in which was some three feet of water, and
then up the parapet. They raised the flag on the parapet, where it remained a few minutes.
Here they melted away before the enemys fire, their bodies falling down the slope
and into the ditch. Others will give a more detailed and accurate account of what occurred
during the rest of the conflict.
Colonel Shaw reached the parapet, leading his men, and was
probably killed. Adjutant Jones saw him fall. Private Thomas Burgess, of Company I, told
me that he was close to Colonel Shaw; that he waved his sword and cried out, "Onward,
boys!" and, as he did so, fell. Burgess fell, wounded, at the same time. In a minute
or two, as he rose to crawl away, he tried to pull Colonel Shaw along, taking hold of his
feet, which were near his own head, but there appeared to be no life in him. There is a
report, however, that Colonel Shaw is wounded and a prisoner, and that it was so stated to
the officers who bore a flag of truce from us; but I can not find it well authenticated.
It is most likely that this noble youth has given his life to his country and to mankind.
Brigadier-General Strong (himself a kindred spirit) said of him to-day in a message to his
parents: "I had but little opportunity to be with him, but I already loved him. No
man ever went more gallantly into battle. None knew him but to love him."
I parted with Colonel Shaw between six and seven on
Saturday evening, as he rode forward to his regiment, and he gave me the private letters
and papers he had with him to be delivered to his father.
I asked General Strong if he had any testimony in relation
to the regiment to be communicated to you. These are his precise words, and I give them to
you as I noted them at the time:
"The Fifty-fourth did well and nobly, only the fall
of Colonel Shaw prevented them from entering the fort. They moved up as gallantly as any
troops could, and with their enthusiasm they deserved a better fate."
One who knew him well wrote of him,
It was that rare quality that
commands at once the love and obedience of men that peculiarly fitted Colonel Shaw for a
commander. Of a most genial and kindly nature, of manners as gentle as a womans, of
a native refinement that brooked nothing coarse, of a clear moral insight that no evil
association could tarnish, of a strength of purpose aiming always at noble ends, of a
courage quiet but cheerful and unwavering, he was one of those characters which attracts,
and at the same time moulds all others brought under their influence. Even this was
observed of him when only a second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts; how much more
has it been shown in the Fifty-fourth! This country has lost in him one if its best
soldiers, and one of its most promising men.
Colonel Shaw was only about twenty-seven years of age, and
was married a few weeks before he joined the army of the South.
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