Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), 1900. Patinated plaster. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire, on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Art.
On July 18, 1863, one of the first Union Army units of African-American soldiers stormed Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment suffered horrendous losses including its leader and nearly half of its members. In accordance with the Shaw family’s wishes to honor the bravery and sacrifice of their son and the entire unit, the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created a bronze monument depicting Colonel Shaw on horseback with his men marching alongside him, just as they left Boston for South Carolina.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Wagner, the National Gallery of Art has mounted an exhibition and published a catalogue centered on the magisterial Shaw Memorial, which is on long term loan to the gallery. The exhibition features daguerreotype, tintype, and carte-de-visite portraits of both the soldiers and those who recruited them, including Frederick Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond, and Sojourner Truth, as well as the women who nursed, taught, and guided them, such as Clara Barton, Charlotte Forten, and Harriet Tubman. A recruiting poster, letters, and the Medal of Honor awarded to Sergeant William H. Carney, the first African American recipient, are also displayed along with works by artists such as Lewis Hine, Richard Benson, Carrie Mae Weems, and William Earle Williams. These artists were inspired by the importance of the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth and the Fort Wagner battle, as well as the Shaw Memorial.
Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial · National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. · September 15 to January 20, 2014 · nga.gov