Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Matthrew Broderick (Col. Robert Gould Shaw), Denzel Washington (Pvt. Trip), Cary Elwes (Maj. Cabot Forbes), Morgan Freeman (Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins), Jihmi Kennedy (Pvt. Jupiter Sharts), Andre Braugher (Cpl. Thomas Searles), John Finn (Sgt. Maj. Mulcahy), Donovan Leitch (Capt. Charles Fessenden Morse), John David Cullum (Henry Sturgis Russell), Alan North (Gov. John Albion Andrew), Bob Gunston (Gen. Charles Garrison Harker), Cliff De Young (Col. James M. Montgomery).
Oscars: Cinematography, Sound, and Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington)
Story of the first black army unit in the United States. The unit was the 54th Massachusetts and led by the white son (Matthew Brodrick) of a prominent Boston abolitionist.
The movie deals with the racism of the white army leadership, the difficulties of training the soldiers, and the divisions within the ranks of the back soldiers themselves. Denzel Washington plays the part of a very rebellious young soldier who runs afoul of his fellow blacks, especially the sergeant (Morgan Freeman).
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
ROBERT GOULD SHAW
Oct. 10, 1837 -- born in Boston.
Francis George Shaw (father)
Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (mother)
His grandfathers, Robert Gould Shaw and Nathaniel Russell Sturgis, made millions in the West India and China importing trades.
Robert played with the children of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (of the Liberator).
1841 -- his father retires early and moves family to West Roxbury, MA near the commune of Brook Farm. The family often went to services at the nearby church led by Theodore Parker.
1847 -- Brook Farm experiment ends.
Moves family to Staten Island to be near the nation's premier eye specialist because of his wife's failing eyesight.
1850 -- at age 13 sent to the preparatory school of Saint John's College in Fordham, NY. His Uncle Coolidge had forsaken material goods to join the Jesuits and felt a Catholic schooling would be good intellectual discipline for his nephew. Robert hated it , was very homesick and ran away twice.
January 1851 -- take Robert with them for a 5 year vacation in Europe.
1852 -- publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin which Shaw reads and rereads.
May 1856 -- returns to Staten Island.
Ends Harvard as a freshman (he had wanted to enter as a junior.) Doesn't like Harvard either.
1857 -- panic of this year hurts the family income.
March 1859 -- withdraws from Harvard becoming a clerk in his uncle's mercantile business.
December 20 1860 -- South Carolina secedes.
Robert enlists in the ultra-exclusive Seventh New York National Guard.
April 15, 1861 -- Lincoln calls for 75,000 men.
April 18 -- regiment to depart the following afternoon.
April 19 -- parade down Broadway.
First unit to reach the capital after Lincoln's call.
The 7th disbands and he becomes an officer in the Second Massachusetts Infantry. Trained at West Roxbury.
After a year of drilling, he finally sees service with General Nathaniel Banks in the Shenandoah Valley chasing after Stonewall Jackson.
May 1862 -- Morris Copeland takes Robert with him to ask permission of Sec. of War Stanton to raise a regiment of black soldiers. Plan rejected. Copeland persisted and Stanton kicks him out of the army for insubordination.
First taste of combat at the battles at Front Royal and Winchester.
August 9 -- Cedar Mountain.. The regiment was cut to pieces. 16 of 23 officers casualties.
Battle of Antietam -- receives his second wound.
1863 -- Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect.
February 11 -- returns to New York after agreeing to lead the black 54th Massachusetts. Shaw appointed colonel of the Fifty-fourth by Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew.
Feb 14 -- leaves for Boston to organize the new regiment.
Organize and drill at Camp Meigs outside Boston. The grandson of Sojourner Truth came from Battle Creek, Michigan. Sons of Fredrick Douglass, Lewis and Charles, arrive with 50 men from western New York. Stephen A. Swails quits his job as a canal boatman in Elmira, NY to join the army. (He would become the regiment's first black lieutenant in January 1865.)
April 7, 1863 -- Admiral Samuel du Pont led 9 ironclads into Charleston Harbor to try to destroy Fort Sumter.
May 2, 1863 -- Robet weds Annie Haggerty and is promoted to colonel. Married at the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue. Honeymooned in the Berkshires in Lenox.
May 6 -- gets telegraph saying he must report to camp to depart on the 20th. Hallowell to remain and organize a new black regiment, the 55th.
May 9 -- returns to Boston.
May 28, 1863 -- Shaw and his one thousand men stride through the streets of Boston. Frederick Douglass watched his eldest son, Lewis, march past.
Arrive in Beaufort, South Carolina. Meet the contraband regiment of Colonel James Montgomery, famous (or infamous) from the fights in Bloody Kansas. The Second South Carolina, with Harriet Tubman acting as scout, had just returned from its raid up the Combahee River.
Soon back to Hilton Head and then to Saint Simons Island, Georgia.
June 9 -- arrive.
On a raid with James Montgomery, who had learned his tactics in Kansas, head up the Altamaha River to Darien. Took lots of loot from the virtually deserted town. Montgomery said he would burn the town and Shaw thought it disgraceful. Shaw and the 54th got a lot of the blame for it and they had more pressure on them to prove themselves. He resented Montgomery for casting a shadow over his and the unit's honor.
Lincoln also upset and replaces Hunter and his scorched earth policy with another general, Quincy A. Gillmore, who had forced the surrender of Fort Pulaski.
Shaw came to like and respect Montgomery for his conscientiousness.
He visited with Charlotte Forten of Philadelphia the only black missionary teaching on Saint Helena. They became close friends.
July 6 -- complains to General George C. Strong at not being part of the Charleston campaign.
July 8 -- troops transported to James Island. Troops on James Island to divert attention from the real assault against Morris Island's Fort Wagner.
July 11 -- Gillmore's frontal assault on Fort Wagner repulsed. Same day Shaw puts down on James Island.
July 16 -- 900 man Confederate force slammed into the pickets; 250 men of the 54th rallied and held their ground. Forced to retreat, fought delaying action preventing the enemy from routing it and the white Tenth Connecticut. 14 killed, 18 wounded.
Then Gillmore orders Terry's division to Morris Island.
July 17 -- the regiment boarded the transport General Hunter. Put on Follys Island. Board again to go to Morris Island. Two hour march up the island. Gillmore ordered another infantry assault later that evening. Strong's brigade would lead. Strong asked Shaw if he wanted to lead. Yes.
600 men charge. 272 casualties or captured. Shaw killed and thrown with his troops into a mass grave by the Confederates.
On the parapet of the battery, Sgt. William H. Carney, Company C, risks his
life (and later receives the Medal of Honor). His citation reads in part:
"When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led
the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell
back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely
September 6, 1863 -- participated in the siege that led to the final downfall of Fort Wagner.
By year's end 60 black regiments being organized.
Hallowell promoted to colonel and took over the 54th.
January 1864 -- end their occupation of Fort Wagner.
February -- board transports for Florida. The regiment had 510
men all under the command of Edward N. Hallowell, a twenty-seven year old
merchant from Medford, Massachusetts.
In the next 18 months, they fought at the Battles of Olustee, James Island and Honey Hill.
Battle of Olustee -- Union troops, including a part of the 54th, march out from Fort Clinton at Fernandina (north of Jacksonville) to an area around Live Oak, Florida (west of Jacksonville). The Fifty-fourth was the best black regiment available to General Seymour, the Union commander. Along with the 35th United States Colored Troops, the 54th enters the fighting late in the day at Olustee, and helps save the Union army from complete disaster. The 54th, as well as the 35th United States Colored Troops, serve as the rearguard for the Union Army and possibly prevent its destruction. The regiment loses eighty-six men in the battle, the lowest number of the three black regiments present.
after Olustee -- the 54th fights in a number of actions, including the battles of of Honey Hill and Boykin's Mill before Charleston and Savannah.
August 20, 1865 -- mustered out of service.
September 2, 1865 -- parade in Boston upon their return home.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)