The Glory of Their Times: The Exhibition "Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment" Speaks to the Valor of African-Americans during the Civil War and How These Brave Soldiers Helped Preserve the Union

USA TODAY, November 2013 | Go to article overview

The Glory of Their Times: The Exhibition "Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment" Speaks to the Valor of African-Americans during the Civil War and How These Brave Soldiers Helped Preserve the Union


ONE OF THE FIRST regiments of African-Americans formed during the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts fought in the Battle of Ft. Wagner (S.C.) on July 18, 1863, an event that has been documented and retold in many forms, including the Academy Award-winning movie "Glory." Now, the battle will be high lighted in the exhibition "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial," which is on view through Jan. 20, 2014, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., before going on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Feb. 23, 2014-May 26, 2014.

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"Then, as today, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment captured the imagination: they were common men propelled by deep moral principles, willing to sacrifice everything for a nation that had taken much from them but now promised liberty," notes Earl A. Powell In, director of the National Gallery. "This exhibition celebrates the brave members of the 54th, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial commemorating their heroism, and the works of art they and the monument continue to inspire."

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The magisterial Shaw Memorial by Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), on long-term loan to the Gallery from the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of 19th-century American sculpture. This monument commemorates the July 18, 1863, storming of Ft. Wagner by Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, a troop of African-American soldiers led by white officers that was formed immediately after Pres. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although one-third of the regiment was killed or wounded in the assault, including Shaw himself, the fierce battle was considered by many to be a turning point in the war: it proved that African-Americans could be exemplary soldiers, with a bravery and dedication to country that equaled the nation's most celebrated heroes.

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Part of the exhibition's title, "Tell It With Pride," is taken from an anonymous letter written to the Shaw family announcing the colonel's death. …

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