Update on the Shaw sword . . . and more questions

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Close-up of Shaw’s sword hilt on the Saint-Gaudens’ memorial (left), and the one newly discovered by the Massachusetts Historical Society (right)

Today the Boston Globe followed up their story of yesterday about Robert Gould Shaw’s sword by posting a time-line and some of the sources that were used to authenticate the relic.

It turns out that the sword Shaw had during the famous Boston parade was not the same one he carried into the Fort Wagner fight. This newly discovered sword was ordered when Shaw took command of the 54th, but did not arrive until the regiment was already in South Carolina—Too late to have been in the parade.

On July 4th, 1863, Shaw wrote to his father that he was sending home his “old sword” now that the new one had arrived. This old sword must have been the one he held during the parade depicted in the memorial standing today on Beacon Hill.

So this opens up new questions!

The Globe story today includes the line: “a replica of [the sword] can be seen on a bronze monument of Shaw and his infantry.” If that is true and not just an inaccurate statement by the paper, the creator of the monument, famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, would have had to have been working with the new sword, not the “old sword” that Shaw actually carried in the parade. Yet just a quick comparison (in the photos above) seems to dispel that.

So what happened to the parade sword? Might it be tucked away in some other family member’s attic?

Further, the Globe story says that in the summer of 1865,  the sword was “reportedly” in the hands of a certain Rebel officer. African American US troops were sent to his home to get the sword, and apparently ransacked the place and found it (the former reb officer wasn’t there). But who was this officer? How did he obtain it? Was he at Fort Wagner and took possession of it immediately off Shaw’s body, or did the thing get passed around?

And then there is the mystery of why the family let it get lost up in an attic. The time-line has a gap of over 150 years when its whereabout are unknown, although it might have hung on a family wall at some point. Who was the family member that relegated it to an attic only to be uncovered in 2017?

Perhaps we will never know the answers.

I’m saddened that this is not the sword Shaw carried in the parade and kissed while seeing his family and new bride for the last time. Now I really want to know where that one is!

Yet this does not detract from the fact that it appears certain this newly discovered sword is the one he used during the Battle of Fort Wagner.

Isn’t this a cool story!??



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