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Dedication of the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Boston, 31 May 1897

Dedication of the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Boston, 31 May 1897 Albumen print
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The dedication of the monumental bronze relief of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, as sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), took place on Decoration Day 1897, thirty-two years after a committee for the erection of a memorial had been appointed by Governor John A. Andrew.

The first attempt to commemorate the assault on Fort Wagner was made by the veterans of the 54th and the 1st South Carolina Infantry and the Black community of Beaufort, South Carolina. Poor ground conditions and the hostility of the local whites prevented the memorial from being erected on the site of the asault, and the money raised for the purpose was channeled into the first free school for Blacks in Charlestown, South Carolina, named for Shaw.

Soon after the close of the war, in the fall of 1865, Governor Andrew made another attempt by appointing a committee to procure an equestrian sculpture of Shaw and to raise the necessary funds. By 1876 the fund stood at $7000, and then Edward Atkinson, the treasurer of the project, appointed John Murray Forbes, Henry Lee, and Martin P. Kennedy as an executive committee with full authority over the project, with Atkinson continuing as treasurer and secretary.

In 1883, when the subscriptions reached $16,656, the committee set out to find a sculptor. The architect for the project, Henry H. Richardson, recommended a young sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens contracted in February of 1884 to complete the sculpture in two years for $15,000.

Saint-Gaudens, the son of French and Irish immigrants, studied and worked in France, Rome, and New York. He has become famous for his interpretations of Americans and, in particular, Civil War figures. Along with the Shaw Memorial, these works include sculptural portraits of Admiral David G. Farragut, Abraham Lincoln, and General William T. Sherman.

By 1891, with the Shaw Memorial work still not completed and the executive committee becoming very impatient, Edward Atkinson inquired of Saint-Gaudens as to its status; the sculptor replied that the modeling would be done in nine months. In 1893, the committee threatened to commission a new sculptor, Daniel Chester French, to do the work. Finally, in 1897, after a battle between John Murray Forbes and Henry Lee regarding the choice of inscription, the monument was completed and Saint-Gaudens was paid $22,000, almost all the money in the account to date.

At the unveiling and the dedication of the memorial, which stands between two elm trees on Boston Common facing the Massachusetts State House, Henry Lee presented the monument to the City of Boston on May 31, 1897. The dedication ceremony which took place at Boston's old Music Hall included addresses by Lee, Massachusetts Governor Roger Wolcott, Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, William James, and Booker T. Washington. At the head of the procession, shown in this photograph, were the remaining officers and soldiers of the Mass. 54th including, as flagbearer, Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th, who would be the first Black man to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor three years later.

The photograph was taken for use in the Boston Journal on the following day. In addition to printed accounts of the dedication ceremony, the Massachusetts Historical Society holds Henry Lee's records of the executive committee in the Lee family papers.


Further Readings

Whitfield, Stephen J. "'Sacred in History and in Art': The Shaw Memorial." New England Quarterly 60 (1987), pp. 3-27.

Riley, Stephen T. "A Monument to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 75 (1963), pp. 27-38.

Kaplan, Sidney. "The Sculptural World of Augustus Saint-Gaudens." Massachusetts Review 30 (1989), pp. 17-64.

Monument to Robert Gould Shaw: Its Inception, Completion, and Unveiling 1865-1897. Boston, 1897.