We are pleased to announce an exciting new partnership that is undertaking a multi-million dollar restoration of the Memorial and support compelling programs to deepen the dialogue about race, freedom, and justice.

UPCOMING EVENTS

JULY 10, 2019: Launch of the Shaw 54th Memorial Restoration Project – 10:30am, Shaw 54th Memorial, Boston Common

AUGUST 2019: Screening of Academy Award winning film “Glory” on Boston Common

PAST EVENTS

JANUARY 9, 2019: A Community Conversation: The Power of Public Monuments and Why They Matter. View information here.

STREAM NOW! Courtesy of 

JULY 17, 2018: Launch of the Shaw/MA 54th Regiment Memorial Restoration Project. View information here.

PARTNER EVENTS

   National Park Service Events             Museum of African American History Events

Download the full National Parks Service Shaw 54th Programming Schedule here!

ABOUT THE PROJECT 

Private funds built the Shaw 54thRegiment Memorial, which was given to the City of Boston on May 31, 1897. By the late 20thcentury, after decades of neglect, the Memorial was in extremely poor condition, a victim of corrosion and vandalism. In 1981, the Friends of the Public Garden convened the Committee to Save the Shaw/54thRegiment Memorial and led a campaign to raise over $200,000 for the monument’s restoration and to establish an endowment for its care. The Friends has been caring for it ever since.

In 2015, while working on the Memorial, stone conservators inform the Friends that the monument’s brick core has become deteriorated from water penetration over time, making it vulnerable to seismic events. An engineering study is conducted, leading to a $2.8 project to reconstruct and stabilize the Memorial. The National Park Service joins the Friends and City of Boston in the work, successfully securing 50% of the funding through the national Helium Fund and becomes the lead partner – a requirement for use of Helium Act funds. The City and the Friends provide the other 50%, supported by a generous grant from the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust.

The work will begin in the summer of 2019, and take 5-6 months. All of the bronze and stone will be removed from the plaza level up, taken offsite to a conservation studio, and new waterproofing will be installed under the plaza’s brick. A new concrete foundation will be built under the bronze, and everything replaced, pinning the bronze to the marble structure that surrounds it.

The plaza substructure will also be protected by installing a system called “cathodic protection” into the concrete under the plaza. This will protect the steel support beams from corrosion by introducing another metal known as sacrificial. Through the use of an electrical current, the corrosion is drawn to the sacrificial metal instead of the steel beams.

Some of the Common’s pathways will be blocked due to construction fencing but access around the perimeter of the construction site will be available. Directional signage will be located at key points along the fencing. There will also be interpretive signage posted along the fencing.

The Committee to Renew the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial

Co-Chairs

Charlie Baker
Governor, State of Massachusetts
Martin J. Walsh
Mayor, City of Boston
Robert Stanton
Former and first African American Director, National Park Service

Committee Members

Catherine Allgor
President, Massachusetts Historical Society
Martin Blatt
Civil War Historian; Professor, Northeastern University
David Blight
Professor of American History, Yale University, Director, Gilder Lehman Center
Andrea Campell
Boston City Council President, District 4
Colin “Topper” Carew
Director, Code Next; Visiting Scholar, MIT
Adelaide Cromwell
Historian; Co-Founder of the Department of African Studies, Boston University
Drew Faust
Civil War Historian and President Emerita, Harvard University
Bernie Fulp
President, GoBiz Solutions, Inc.
Carol Fulp
President & CEO, The Partnership, Inc.
Henry Louis Gates
Professor and Director, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
David Hencke
U.S. Army (Ret.), Executive Officer, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Professor of History and of African and African American Studies & Chair, Department of History, Harvard University
Karen Holmes Ward
Director of Public Affairs and Community Services, WCVB – TV
Paula Johnson
President, Wellesley College
Rick Kendall
Superintendant, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
Ted Landsmark
Professor and Director of Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, Northeastern University

Cheryl LaRoche
Department of American Studies, University of Maryland
Henry Lee
President Emeritus, Friends of the Public Garden
Brent Leggs
Director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, National Trust for Historic Places
David McCullough
Pulitzer Prize Recipient; Historian, Author, Narrator
Robert Minturn
Shaw descendant who donated Shaw’s sword to the Massachusetts Historical Society
Frank Moran
Representative and Chair, Massachusetts Black and Latino Political Caucus
Beverly Morgan-Welch
Associate Director for External Affairs, National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution
Lee Pelton
President, Emerson College
Colette Phillips
President & CEO, Colette Phillips Communications
Harold I. Pratt
Founder and Partner, Nichols and Pratt, LLP
Byron Rushing
Former Massachusetts State Representative
Sarah-Ann Shaw
Retired WBZ-TV Reporter
Frank Smith
Founding Director, African American Civil War Museum
John Stauffer
Professor of English and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University
Steve Tompkins
Suffolk County Sheriff
Liz Walker
Pastor, Roxbury Presbyterian Church
Edith Walker
Descendant of John J. Smith, famed abolitionist and Massachusetts State Representative
Benny White
President, 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Company A
Linda Whitlock
Founder and Principal, The Whitlock Group
Mary Minturn Wood
Shaw descendant who donated Shaw’s sword to the Massachusetts Historical Society
Steven Wright
Partner, Holland and Knight

 

Click here to view committee photos.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2018: “Revisiting and Reliving the History of the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial,WGBH
AUGUST 16, 2018: “Restoring the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial,The Bay State Banner
JULY 30, 2018: “Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial to undergo major restoration,” Curbed Boston
JULY 27, 2018: “Facelift for Civil War memorial on Common to spark talks on race,The Boston Globe
JULY 27, 2018: “Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial To Undergo Restoration,The ARTery, WBUR

HISTORY OF THE SHAW 54th REGIMENT MEMORIAL

The most acclaimed piece of sculpture on Boston Common is the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens; a memorial to that group of men who were among the first African Americans to fight in the Civil War. The monument portrays Shaw and his men marching down Beacon Street past the State House on May 28, 1863 as they left Boston on their way to South Carolina, Shaw erect on his horse, the men marching alongside.

Shaw and his men were among the units chosen to lead the assault on the Confederate Fort Wagner, part of the Charleston defenses. In the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting, “Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!”. In brutal hand-to-hand combat, Shaw was shot through the chest and died almost instantly; 281 members of his soldiers (almost half of the regiment) were killed, wounded or captured.

Soon after the tragic events at Fort Wagner, on July 18, 1863, the survivors of the first all volunteer black regiment in the Union Army raised funds for a memorial on Morris Island, South Carolina, but it was never built. In 1865 Joshua B. Smith, an African-American businessman and Massachusetts state senator, once an employee of the Shaw family, raisded funds with the black Beacon Hill community and led the first movement to erect a monument to Colonel Shaw in Boston. An executive committee was formed, intending “not only to mark the public gratitude to the fallen hero, who at a critical moment assumed a perilous responsibility, but also to commemorate the great event, wherein he was a leader, by which the title of colored men as citizen soldiers was fixed beyond recall.”

   See the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial featured in PBS: 10 Monuments That Changed America (at the 15:23 mark)


With the deaths of Governor Andrew and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the chief political supporters of the memorial effort, the project languished until the early 1880s. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose newly completed Farragut Monument in New York City had received great praise, was then introduced to the executive committee members by the well-established Boston architect H. H. Richardson. Saint-Gaudens was one of the premier artists of his day; he grew up in New York and Boston, and trained in Paris. The sculptor began work immediately on a design. By the end of 1883 he had produced numerous drawings and several small models of the proposed relief. The committee approved and a contract was signed on February 23, 1884, specifying a modest bronze relief to be completed in two years. Richardson was the original choice as architect for the project, but he died and was succeeded by Charles McKim, of the noted New York firm of McKim, Mead and White, who designed the frame and the terrace. The committee originally had proposed a free-standing equestrian statue, but Shaw’s family believed that type of monument should be reserved for heroes of a higher military rank than their young son. Saint-Gaudens, accordingly, “fell upon the plan of associating him directly with his troops in a bas-relief, and thereby reducing his importance.”

The commissioners became increasingly restless as Saint-Gaudens completed numerous other projects while the Shaw remained unfinished. The committee became very impatient, and threatened to fire Saint-Gaudens and hire sculptor Daniel Chester French. Saint-Gaudens
continued work on the memorial. He had African American men pose in his studio, and moldeled 40 different heads to use as studies. His concern for accuracy also extended to the clothing and accoutrements. This is the first time African American people were depicted as individuals, not stereoptypes, and the first piece of sculpture to memorialize black men. It shows the young Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, known to Saint-Gaudens through photographs, astride his horse with an absolutely erect posture with the men of the 54th marching alongside. It took Saint-Gaudens fourteen years to complete the memorial, but its greatness was recognized immedicately. What started as a conventional relief eventually grew into an artistically challenging project of immense psychological and physical proportions. The sculptor later explained, “In justice to myself I must say here that from the low-relief I proposed making when I undertook the Shaw commission, a relief that reasonably could be finished for the limited sum at the command of the committee, I, through my extreme interest in it and its opportunity, increased the conception until the rider grew almost to a statue in the round and the negroes assumed far more importance than I had originally intended…thus, the memorial continued to evolve for another twelve years.”

In the memorial’s background, Shaw’s father suggested using the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization formed after the Revolutionary War for officers and their descendants, and of which Robert Gould Shaw was a hereditary member. The motto, OMNIA
RELINQVIT SERVARE REMPVBLICAM (He forsook all to preserve the public weal), was used. Among other symbolic details are 34 stars along the top, representing the states of the Union in 1863. The 11 x 14 foot bronze bas-relief was cast by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, and placed in an architectural setting designed by Charles McKim.

The Shaw MA 54th Memorial remains one of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ most stirring and celebrated masterpieces and is considered by some to be America’s greatest public monument. Private funds built this monument, presented to the City of Boston on May 31, 1897 as a reminder to future generations of the “pride, courage and devotion” of the men it honors. The Friends of the Public Garden raised funds to restore and endow the monument in 1982 and memorialized the fallen soldiers by adding their names on the rear of the monument under Proverbs 10:7 “Memory of the Just is Blessed”, fulfilling an original request by the Shaw family.

54TH MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT

From the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln argued that Union forces were not fighting to end slavery but to prevent the disintegration of the United States. For abolitionists, however, ending slavery was the reason for the war, and they argued that African Americans should be able to join the fight for their freedom. On January 1, 1863, amidst the tumult of the war, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, providing freedom for persons enslaved in the states in rebellion and the impetus for black men to serve in the military.

The presidential order came at a time when state governors were responsible for raising regiments for federal service. Early in 1863, Abolitionist Governor John Albion Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for black soldiers and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed. While their formation was a matter of controversy, Andrew was committed and believed that black men were capable of leadership. Others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial. Robert Gould Shaw, a young white officer from a prominent Boston family, volunteered for the Regiment’s command.

By the time the 54th Infantry headed off to training camp two weeks later, more than 1,000 men had volunteered. Many came from other states, such as New York, Indiana, and Ohio; some even came from Canada. One-quarter of the volunteers came from slave states and the Caribbean. Fathers and sons, some as young as 16, enlisted together. The most famous enlistees were Charles and Lewis Douglass, two sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Shaw and his commissioned officers were white and the enlisted men black; black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. They trained in Readville, now the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston.

On May 28, 1863, upon the presentation of the 54th’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, thousands lined the streets to see this experimental unit off, including anti-slavery advocates William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Douglass. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina. Colonel Shaw and his troops landed at Hilton Head on June 3 and were soon forced to execute a destructive raid in Georgia. The colonel wrote General George Strong and argued that his troops had come South to fight for freedom and justice, not to destroy undefended towns with no military significance. He asked if the 54th might lead the next Union charge on the battlefield.
While they fought to end slavery in the Confederacy, the 54th also were fighting another injustice. The U.S. Army paid black soldiers $10 a week; white soldiers got $3 more. In protest, the entire regiment — soldiers and officers alike — refused to accept their wages until black and white soldiers earned equal pay, which did not happen until the war was almost over.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts became famous for leading an assault on Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston. Shaw led 600 of his men over Wagner’s fortified walls. Unfortunately, Union generals had miscalculated and 1,700 Confederate soldiers were ready for battle. Outgunned and outnumbered, nearly 300 of the charging soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. Shaw himself was shot on his way over the wall and died instantly. 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 becoming the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 54th lost the battle at Fort Wagner, but they did a great deal of damage there. Confederate troops abandoned the fort soon afterward. For the next two years, the regiment participated in a series of successful siege operations in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, before returning to Boston in September 1865.

On Memorial Day 1897, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens unveiled a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts at the same spot on the Boston Common where the regiment had begun its march to war 34 years before. The high-relief bronze memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment was erected across from the Massachusetts State House through a fund established by Joshua B. Smith, a self-emancipated man from North Carolina. Smith was a caterer, former employee of the Shaw household, and a state representative from Cambridge. Among other tributes, a photographic reproduction of the 54th’s saved national flag is on display in the State House’s Hall of Flags and the 1989 film “Glory,” which won three Academy Awards, brought the story of the Assault on Fort Wagner to viewers worldwide.

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