A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

The Most Important Corps


Both of these letters, written during the Civil War, connect a man named Francis Shaw to key government officials at the state and federal levels. His son is the family member who fights in the war. The story of the regiment featured in the movie Glory comes full circle here -- from its formation to the aftermath of its heroic actions.


Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: Letter from Governor John A. Andrew to Francis Shaw, 20 January 1863.

Selection from the Library of Congress: Letter from Francis Shaw to Abraham Lincoln, 31 July 1863.

Questions to Consider


  1. Why does Governor Andrew say he has chosen the younger Shaw for the honor of leading this regiment? What qualities does he have or need to have to be suitable for this job? What makes this regiment different from the others in the Civil War?
  2. What is the elder Shaw asking Lincoln to do?


  1. Look at the date of the letter. What events make possible the establishment of this regiment? What challenges prevent it from being formed before 1863? Why is it so important that this regiment be successful?
  2. What happens to the Mass 54th at Fort Wagner? It was common for high-ranking colonels and officers on either side of the war to be shipped back to their families for a proper burial. Why do you think Col. Shaw is not allowed that honor?


  1. Why is one letter written to Robert Gould Shaw's father with an enclosed letter to Robert Gould Shaw, not just directly to Robert Gould Shaw? Governor Andrew asks that if the offer is refused that it be kept quiet. Why?
  2. Why is the other letter written to the President? What does this letter tell you about its author, Francis Shaw? What does it tell you about Abraham Lincoln? What does Lincoln decide to do about the issue raised by Francis Shaw and others?


  1. Imagine that you are Robert Gould Shaw considering this offer. List the pros and cons of accepting the leadership of this new regiment.
  2. What is the tone of the letter from Francis Shaw to the President? Why does Shaw feel that he has the right to his request?


  1. In each case, describe the role that the father plays and why he plays that role.
  2. If you were to research the letters of Robert Gould Shaw in the Houghton Library at Harvard College, what questions would frame your investigation?