Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial
Beacon and Park Streets
Responding to pressure from black and white abolitionists, President Lincoln admitted
black soldiers into the Union forces in 1863. The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer
Infantry was the first black regiment to be recruited in the North.
Robert Gould Shaw, a young white officer from a prominent Boston family, volunteered
for its command. The 54th Regiment trained in Readville (in the present day Hyde Park
neighborhood of Boston).
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Regiment became famous for leading an assault on Fort Wagner
as part of operations to capture the Confederate city of Charleston, South Carolina. In
the hard-fought battle Shaw and many members of the regiment were killed.
Sergeant William Carney of New Bedford was wounded three times in saving the American
flag from Confederate capture. Carney's bravery earned him the distinction of the first
African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. A photographic
reproduction of the 54th's saved national flag is on display across the street in the
State House's Hall of Flags.
For 18 months of service, the 54th Regiment refused to accept a salary lower than their
white counterparts. Ultimately, Congress relented and increased their pay retroactively.
This high-relief bronze memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment was erected through
a fund established by Joshua B. Smith in 1865. Smith, a fugitive slave from North
Carolina, was a caterer, former employee of the Shaw household, and a state representative
The sculpture is by August Saint-Gaudens, and the architectural setting by McKim, Mead
and White. The monument was dedicated on May 31, 1897 in ceremonies that included Carney,
veterans of the 54th and 55th Regiments, the 5th Calvary,
and several speakers, including Booker T. Washington.
The inscription on the reverse side of the monument was written by Charles W. Eliot,
then president of Harvard University.
The 62 names listed on the lower portion of the monument are those soldiers who died
during the assault on Fort Wagner. They were added in 1982.
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