Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Soldiers Who
Fell at Fort Wagner, SC

July 18, 1963

 

Saint Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial

Boston

The full and real story of the men of the 54th regiment, and of their profound and lasting impact on our nation, has never been told. With the publication of Now or Never! Massachusetts 54th War to End Slavery, it will be told for the most important audience: America’s young people. Here are some highlights of the book about Col. Robert G. Shaw and the men who fought and died with him:

·      Fort Wagner was a “grand opportunity” to prove they were the equal of any white regiment, in training and in devotion to country, and not soldiers who would “skedaddle,” as many in the North and South predicted.

·      The generals knew the men of the 54th were exhausted from their skirmish on James Island two days before and a twenty-four-hour march to reach Wagner, but they agreed to  “put those d—d negroes from Massachusetts in the advance; we may as well get rid of them, one time or another.”

·      Sergeant George E. Stephens, one of the subjects of Now or Never!, wrote after first seeing Fort Wagner: “[N]othing but hard fighting, with great sacrifice of life, could result in a successful storming of it.”

·      Corporal James Henry Gooding, the other subject of my dual biography, told his New Bedford readers: “When the men saw their gallant leader fall, they made a desperate effort to get him out, but they were either shot down, or reeled in the ditch below.”

·      In addition to Shaw, 77 other members of the 54th fell at Wagner. Their names did not appear on the Saint-Gaudens memorial until 1981, 84 years later, when the monument was restored with the inscription over their carved name: “THE MEMORY OF THE JUST IS BLESSED”.