I’ve spent the better part of the past few weeks reading as much as I can about Robert Gould Shaw and taking extensive notes. In addition to books about the Civil War I have been thinking about how to go about writing and structuring a biography, which I have never written before. Historian and biographer T.J. Stiles recently shared some thoughts with me about the genre. I am a big fan of his books, particularly his biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Continue reading
Glory is still one of my favorite movies, but like all Hollywood productions, there are places where it falls short in explaining the history or providing the proper historical context. Few Hollywood movies have had more of an influence on how we remember the Civil War and, specifically, the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, along with its young colonel, Robert Gould Shaw. Continue reading
The news coming out of the Massachusetts Historical Society here in Boston could not be more exciting. Yesterday the MHS announced that they are in possession of the sword that was carried into battle at Battery Wagner by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Shaw was killed leading his men at Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. His body was buried with his men on Morris Island. Continue reading
This morning I sat in front of the rear of the Robert Gould Shaw and Fifty-Fourth Regiment Memorial before heading into the Boston Athenaeum for a day of writing. It is certainly not the first time I have read the inscription on the rear of the memorial, which most people miss when they visit. Continue reading
Update: I totally called it. The Confederate flag was intended to honor the men of the 54th Massachusetts and was not a pro-Confederate statement.
Late last night a Confederate flag was discovered displayed on the Shaw Memorial on Beacon Street across the street from the Massachusetts State House. The flag remained displayed for a couple of hours before police arrived. While it is unknown who placed the flag on the monument or for what purpose it does not appear to be a pro-Confederate flag message. The flag is clearly dangling from Colonel Shaw’s sword. It certainly does make for a powerful image.
Most people know the story of the 54th Massachusetts from the movie “Glory”. The movie’s narrative ends with the regiment’s failed assault at Battery Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina in July 1863. What often goes unnoticed, however, is the crucial role the regiment – along with its sister regiment, the 55th Mass. – played during the immediate postwar period. Both regiments were stationed in South Carolina from April through August 1865. Their responsibilities included managing relationships between former slaves and owners to ensure the arrival of a new crop and safeguarding government buildings and supplies. Most importantly, the two regiments played a vital role in protecting former slaves from their former masters who hoped to rebuild white supremacy on a new foundation. Continue reading
Tomorrow morning I will be spending some time online with a group of 7th and 8th graders, who are attending a Civil War institute that my friend and fellow teacher, Chris Lese, put together in Milwaukee. This guy is doing amazing things in the classroom and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Continue reading
Earlier today I shared some thoughts about the ongoing controversy surrounding the appointment of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the new president of the College of Charleston. As you already know, the controversy surrounding this choice has to do with his close identification with the Confederate flag and Confederate heritage generally. This past July McConnell was invited to speak at the 150th anniversary of the assault at Battery Wagner, which highlights the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. It’s well worth reading. Thanks to Brent Everitt of the National Park Service for passing this along. Continue reading