Robert Shaw Memorial, 1884–1897 AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS [1848–1907]
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1848. • The son of a shoemaker, Saint-Gaudens moved with his family to New York when he was an infant.
Growing up in New York City, he became interested in art, and after turning thirteen he left school to apprentice with a cameo cutter. • While an apprentice, Saint-Gaudens took classes at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.
When he was nineteen he moved to Europe, where he continued his studies in both Paris and Rome. • Studying classical art and architecture, Saint-Gaudens began to work as a professional sculptor.
Returning to America, Saint-Gaudens received his first major commission in New York City. • Still considered one of his important works, “Admiral Farragut” (1881) stands in New York’s Madison Square Park.
Combining the technical proficiency learned in Europe with a free and flowing hand, Saint-Gaudens created bronze statues that represented the complexity and grandeur of the American heroes he portrayed. • Saint-Gaudens was a master of the human form, perfectly representing the physical while bringing to life the personality of his subjects.
By the late 1880s and 1890s, Saint-Gaudens had produced some of his greatest work including a copper statue of Diana and the first of his bronze monuments to President Abraham Lincoln. • Throughout his career, he would continue to work closely with architects, creating most of his work specifically for specific sites.
Saint Gaudens’ work ranged from the smallest, exquisite cameos to magnificent outdoor memorials. • He did portraits in low relief, high relief and in the round, (the Robert Louis Stevenson relief is a well known example;) • He was commissioned by the rich, and did loving portraits of intimate friends. • He modeled in clay, cast in bronze, worked in plaster, carved in stone.
The Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment Memorial, • A monumental bronze relief sculpture standing at the edge of Boston Common, was begun twenty years after the end of the Civil War and not completed for another fourteen.
It was an unusually complex project, but the sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, came to regard it as a labor of love.
The memorial had been commissioned by a group of Bostonians to honor Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the privileged son of abolitionist parents, who had given his life fighting for the Union cause.
Robert Gould Shaw was just 25 years old when he was killed leading a regiment of black soldiers into battle during the American Civil War. • Shaw was born into a wealthy Boston family and attended Harvard University before enlisting in the U.S. Army early in the Civil War.
After distinguishing himself in battle, Shaw was picked to lead the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of black soldiers raised following Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
Orator Frederick Douglass was instrumental in helping to form the 54th Massachusetts, and his own sons Lewis and Charles joined the regiment. • Shaw was made a colonel at age 25 and given command of the 54th in February 1863. • Five months later he and many of his men were killed while storming Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina.
Robert Gould Shaw was not at first eager to head this regiment; • He declined the offer. • After pressure from his mother, an ardent abolitionist, and after some deep reflection, he accepted the commission.
Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned an equestrian statue—the traditional hero on horseback—but Shaw’s family objected to the format as pretentious.
The revised design presents the officer riding beside a company of foot soldiers marching toward their destiny.
Saint Gaudens deals with the conflict in war, and the ethics of a nation. • The Shaw Memorial commemorates the first black regiment of the Civil War, and their white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
Did you see the movie…? • The movie Glory is about this regiment and the ethical struggles between black and whites as well as North and South. • The movie also portrays the change in Shaw from superiority and aloofness toward his men, to tremendous feeling and bravery, as he led them into battle and where he died alongside many of them.
When the monument was at last unveiled in 1897, the philosopher William James observed that it was the first American “soldier’s monument” dedicated to a group of citizens united in the interests of their country, rather than to a single military hero.
It was the first regiment of African Americans recruited in the North for service in the Union Army.
Many of the volunteers had enlisted at the urging of the black orator Frederick Douglass, who believed (mistakenly, as it turned out) that former slaves and others of African descent would never be denied the full privileges of citizenship if they fought for those rights alongside white Americans.
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. • After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining renown for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. • He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. • He became a major speaker for the cause of abolition.
In addition to his oratory, Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his life as a slave, and his struggles to be free. • His first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published in 1845 and was his best-known work, influential in gaining support for abolition. • He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War.
After the Civil War, Douglass remained very active in America's struggle to reach its potential as a "land of the free". • Douglass actively supported women's suffrage. • Following the war, he worked on behalf of equal rights for freedmen, and held multiple public offices.
Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. • He was fond of saying, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
Arming black soldiers in defense of the Republic proved to be controversial and the Fifty-fourth bore the additional burden of having to prove its value. • Frederick Douglass two sons, Lewis and Charles were member of the Fifty-fourth.
When war came in 1861, Shaw seemed to find a purpose, and he immediately enlisted in the 7th New York Infantry, and served in the defense of Washington, DC for 30 days, after which the regiment was dissolved. In May of that year, Shaw joined the 2nd Massachusetts as a second lieutenant, serving for two years and attaining the rank of Captain.
Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, a strong abolitionist, recruited Shaw in March of 1863 to raise and command one of the first regiments of African American troops in the Union army, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Initially taking the command to appease his mother, Shaw eventually grew to respect his men and believed that they could fight as well as white soldiers. • He was eager to get his men into action to prove this. When he learned that black soldiers were to receive less pay than whites, Shaw led a boycott of all wages until the situation was changed.
On May 28, 1863, Shaw led the 54th in a triumphant parade through Boston to the docks, where the regiment departed for service in South Carolina. • Shaw had married Annie Kneeland Haggerty just 26 days before.
Initially assigned to manual labor details, the 54th did not see real action until a skirmish with Confederate troops at James Island on July 16.
In the summer of 1863, Shaw’s regiment led an audacious assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. • That fortress on Morris Island guarded Charleston Harbor, the principal port of the Confederacy, and was built on earthen parapets that rose thirty feet above the beach.