Civil War Robert Gould Shaw's Biographer Term Paper

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Civil War

Robert Gould Shaw's biographer describes him as "an ordinary soldier" but "an extraordinary leader," the best that America could be. He led the colored 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which launched a deathly attack on Fort Wagner, a Confederate base. This Regiment was an experimental unit intended to test the capabilities of Black officers and enlisted soldiers. Shaw proved his courage not only in the face of death but also to ridicule by his peers. He may not be as prominent as founding fathers or major thinkers but he has his concrete place in American history. Monuments for him stand at Cambridge's Mt. Auburn Cemetery and the Boston Public Library. His name is listed in Harvard's Memorial Hall. Still another grand monument on the Boston Common stands just across the Massachusetts State House.

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Robert Shaw is in a way considered one of the greatest abolitionist heroes of the Civil War more than he himself may have realized. He was raised in pomp, erudition and European travel in high society in Boston. His parents, Francis and Sarah, were vigorous opponents of slavery. They were editorialized as among the "original abolitionists." They were wealthy merchants during the Revolutionary period who supported the doctrine of noblesse oblige. This doctrine obliged the rich to do good works for the less fortunate and disadvantaged. Francis Shaw viewed his fortune mainly as a trust to help correct the inequities of American society prevailing at the time. One of Francis' top priorities was to defeat slave power. He and his wife linked up for this cause with intellectuals and reformers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Their acquaintanceships indoctrinated their son Robert to the cause and they wanted him to get enlisted in the Union for it. In the beginning, Robert admitted getting tired of his parents' involvement and calls for abolition. He was still young then and did not entirely understand the deeper meaning of the cause. He only wanted slavery to end for the dishonor it cast on the Union and he had wanted this removed.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Civil War Robert Gould Shaw's Biographer Describes Assignment

Abolitionists knew that Black citizens could never achieve genuine equality unless they defended the Union. Governor John Andrew was elected for his promise of abolition. He promised to form a State Regiment of Black soldiers to fight in the civil war. Eventually, President Lincoln acquiesced, provided that the troops would be led by experienced white officers. Governor Andrew believed that the fate of his initiative depended on the honor and capacity of Black men to prove that they stood equal to white soldiers. Hence, he recruited "young men of military experience," possessing firm anti-slavery beliefs, ambitious and respectable gentlemen. He established a committee to raise funds for a unit to be organized from affluent abolitionists. He then called on Black leaders to assume the cause of recruiting these soldiers.

Rich white abolitionists and Black civic leaders alike shared a common goal. They would exert effort, expend wealth and sacrifice their children. Frederick Douglass called black men to rise in arms and also sent his sons Charles and Lewis. And Francis Shaw had to raise funds, call for that equality and carry the message of Governor Andrew himself to his son to respond to that call.

Robert was born on October 10, 1837 and the only son to Francis and Sarah Sturgis. His grandfather was a successful merchant. Francis was wealthy enough not to need to work to support his family, so he turned his resources and energy to help the people. When Robert was five years old, Francis brought him to see Brook Farm, the setting of an experimental Utopian society. Residents of the Farm had wanted a better way of life. Francis contributed to the upkeep of that Farm, which was adjacent to large West Roxbury real estate he had purchased. Robert attended primary school while they lived there. Then they transferred to Staten Island so Sarah could live close to her personal physician. Robert attended St. John's College Roman Catholic School at Fordham. Robert ran away from school but his father quickly brought him back. His mother tried to restrain his rebelliousness by asking him to write her every week, but he refused to do so because it would be troublesome. He read novels and plays in English and French and played the violin. Then at 16, he left the family for Hanover, Germany to study. At Harvard College in August 1856, he became a member of the fighting class of 1860. After his junior year, he worked as a clerk in the mercantile business of his uncle, Henry P. Sturgis, in New York. He liked the New York atmosphere but not his job. It was in that year that he got really interested in politics.

With Abraham Lincoln's election as president, South Carolina seceded and hostilities between the North and the South seethed. Robert joined the 7th Regiment of the New York State military force. With the explosion of April 12, war began. Lincoln called 75,000 men to defend the nation's Capitol. The 7th Regiment was among the first to respond, with Robert in it. His parents were abroad at the time. Robert's unit marched through New York City to the New Jersey train depot and to Philadelphia. It was supposed to proceed to Baltimore. But an attack on the 6th Massachusetts changed the plans. Robert's 7th Regiment would go to Annapolis on board steamers. From there they were brought to Washington. Some of the groups in Robert's unit were sheltered at Willard's, Brown's and the National Hotel. Robert's group was settled at the House of Representatives.

The unit served only for 30 days and Robert moved to Second Massachusetts Infantry as First Lieutenant. He trained at Camp Andrew in West Roxbury. In July, the Regiment was sent to Martinsburg, Virginia and then merged with Major General Nathaniel banks' corp. Robert served in Western Maryland and Virginia. His Regiment joined attempts to stop Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's troops in the Shenandoah Valley. Robert narrowly escaped a bullet, which hit his pocket watch during the Battle of Winchester. Shortly, he was offered to join Brigadier General George H. Gordon's troop, which he accepted. Following his performance at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, he was promoted to captain. While serving in this capacity, Governor John Andrew offered him a new assignment. The offer came through a letter, which his father Frances hand-carried to his son in a camp in Virginia. It was for the post of Colonel of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. It was to be the first Negro regiment of free States of the Northeast. Norwood Penrose Hallowell of Philadelphia, a Quaker was already appointed as Lieutenant-Colonel. He would impulsively refuse the offer. But his fellow officers, his sweetheart, Annie and his mother moved him to a change of mind. Three days after, he sent a wire to his father to destroy his letter of regrets and instead told him that he was accepting the offer. He was to gather, raise and command the first regiment of free Black troops under a Northern State. All the earlier 11 "colored" regiments were derived from freed slaves in occupied regions.

He began recruiting his men on his arrival in Boston on February 15. He sent the first group to Camp Meigs at Readville on the 22nd. There the new recruits were trained by Edward Hallowell, brother of the new Lieutenant-Colonel. Robert was promoted to major on March 31st and Colonel on April 17. On May 2, he married Anna Kneeland Haggerty at the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue and 10th street in New York City. They decided to get married before Robert left for Boston. They spent a short honeymoon at the Haggerty Farm in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was then that he received a telegram about the Governor's plan to send his unit off in less than three weeks. And on May 17th, the Regiment was completely constituted and received its regimental flags from Governor Andrew.

The Regiment began service on June 3 under Major General David Hunter's Department of the South. A week later, it participated in the attack on Darien, Georgia. Robert was enraged when Montgomery ordered the looting and burning of the town. His troop refused to participate and simply watched at the unfolding events. He reported the event to Governor Andres and the adjutant general of the department. He also learned on June 10 that his troops were to be paid less than white soldiers. He moved his men to boycott their pay until the issue was resolved. It would be only after his death. In response to his report, Hunter was relived and replaced by Major General Quincy Gillmore. Gillmore then initiated operations against Morris Island but excluded the 54th Regiment from these operations. This again angered Robert. On June 10, while the 54th Regiment was still in the streamers, General Gillmore ordered an assault on Morris Island, then held by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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