Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the all-black 54th Regiment during the American Civil War, died at Fort Wagner, he was stripped and buried with his men as an insult. His father, however, proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son rests with his brave and devoted soldiers.
The 54th Regiment was sent to Charleston, South Carolina to take part in the operations against the Confederates stationed there. On July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate Battery Wagner. As the unit hesitated in the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting, “Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!” He mounted a parapet and urged his men forward, but was shot through the chest three times and died almost instantly. According to the Colors Sergeant of the 54th, he was shot and killed while trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.
The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult. Following the battle, commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the other Union officers who had died, but left Shaw’s where it was. Hagood informed a captured Union surgeon that “had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the niggers that fell with him.” Although the gesture was intended as an insult, it came to be seen as an honor by Shaw’s friends and family that he was buried with his soldiers.
Efforts were made to recover Shaw’s body (which had been stripped and robbed prior to burial), but his father publicly proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son was interred with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for emancipation. In a letter to the regimental surgeon, Lincoln Stone, Frank Shaw wrote:
“We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!”
Annie Haggerty Shaw, a widow at the age of 28, never remarried. She lived with her family in New York, Lenox, Massachusetts and abroad, a revered figure and in later years an invalid. She died in 1907 and is buried at the cemetery of Church-on-the Hill in Lenox.