Cover image for Where death and glory meet : Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry
Where death and glory meet : Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry
Duncan, Russell.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 179 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E513.5 54TH .D85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



On July 18, 1863, the African American soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry led a courageous but ill-fated charge on Fort Wagner, a key bastion guarding Charleston harbor. Confederate defenders killed, wounded, or made prisoners of half the regiment. Only hours later, the body of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment's white commander, was thrown into a mass grave with those of twenty of his men. The assault promoted the young colonel to the higher rank of martyr, ranking him alongside the legendary John Brown in the eyes of abolitionists.

In this biography of Shaw, Russell Duncan presents a poignant portrait of an average young soldier, just past the cusp of manhood and still struggling against his mother's indomitable will, thrust unexpectedly into the national limelight. Using information gleaned from Shaw's letters home before and during the war, Duncan tells the story of the rebellious son of wealthy Boston abolitionists who never fully reconciled his own racial prejudicesyet went on to head the North's first black regiment and give his life to the cause of freedom. This thorough biography looks at Shaw from historical and psychological viewpoints and examines the complex family relationships that so strongly influenced him.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Duncan edited the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, whose 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the subject of the movie Glory, and now has expanded his introduction to them into a biography of Shaw. It is inevitably short, for the 26-year-old colonel died in action at Fort Wagner, less than three months after his marriage. He was the privileged son of a wealthy New England merchant, and he knew virtually everybody who was anybody in the antislavery movement. Despite this, his initial motivations for serving seem to have been to get away from his family and to punish the South for starting the war. He appears not to have been the first choice for colonel of the 54th, and for some time, he was hardly an advocate of Negro equality or even an abolitionist. His character was such, however, that he couldn't be other than loyal to his men, and his burial among them was entirely appropriate. Duncan's thoroughly researched effort is a good attempt at ferreting out a rather elusive, previously somewhat oversimplified figure. --Roland Green

Library Journal Review

Much like Joshua Chamberlain, Robert Gould Shaw has attained near-legendary status in the pantheon of Civil War heroes, yet the striking monument to Shaw and his men on Boston Common portrays a resolution not always evident in the young colonel's correspondence. Duncan (Univ. of Copenhagen), whose previous publications include an excellent edition of Shaw's letters accompanied by a brief (and, as he immodestly reminds us, praised) sketch, now presents an expanded version of that essay, which enriches but does not materially alter current scholarly understandings. If anything, it may lengthen the shadow Shaw and his men already cast over other black regiments, further obscuring other accomplishments. Although matters of military history occasionally elude Duncan's grasp, he deftly manipulates Shaw's story in support of his insistence that emancipation is what makes the Civil War "worth studying and teaching"; fortunately, his discussion of Shaw and those around him offers a more complicated and compelling reality.ÄBrooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.