Heroes in Bronze

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s illustrated portrait from Harper’s 1894 “Pictorial History of the Civil War” (left) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ model for the 1897 Shaw Memorial, part of a free exhibit, through October 15, 2012.

As part of a multiyear observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is hosting a free public exhibit of heads of soldiers from the legendary Massachusetts 54th Regiment modeled in bronze by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907).

Leading his regiment in the assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was killed with more than 50 of his soldiers on July 18, 1863. Another 149 were wounded. Shaw was buried with his men on the battlefield. The 54th ultimately suffered 272 casualties, the highest total for a single engagement during the war.

In 1897, Boston erected the Shaw Memorial, a bronze relief sculpture on the Common, to commemorate the regiment. The work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Memorial depicts the 54th Regiment marching down Beacon Street to war on May 28, 1863.

Many men were recruited in New Bedford, including Sergeant William Carney who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at the Battle of Fort Wagner. The first African American unit to fight in the war, the 54th Regiment was memorialized in the 1989 Academy Award winning film, Glory.

The bronze heads on exhibit were models for the final monument and are on loan from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire. Curated by Melanie Correia, the exhibit also includes Civil War related items from the Whaling Museum’s collection. The exhibit closes October 15, 2012.

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