Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s Sword

Photo by Stuart C. Mowbray

The Massachusetts Historical Society recently announced it had received the “holy grail of Civil War swords,” the battle sword of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. It went on display at MHS on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, which was the 154th anniversary of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment’s assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. The youthful Shaw, only 25 years old, had waved this sword high as he led the charge of 600 free black men trained in Massachusetts (the only northern state that would allow African American soldiers) against 1,700 bunkered Confederates troops. He was killed as he crested the fort’s parapet, and his sword was stolen from the battleground that same night. 

The sword was actually tracked down and recovered at least once, but it disappeared again for more than a century. Then in March of 2017, it was discovered in the attic of a Shaw descendant. The owners donated it immediately to the MHS, to become part of its significant collection of artifacts from and about the famed “Glory” regiment. What makes Shaw’s sword significant today is not only that it was believed truly lost, but also that it is a visceral reminder of Abraham Lincoln’s haunting words about the Civil War: “if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the whip shall be paid by another drawn by the sword.”

Stuart C. Mowbray’s photo of the Robert Gould Shaw sword can be found at 

The MHS press release on the sword, “One of America’s Great Swords Found,” is at