This is a beautiful Monument that appears to have life like qualities. The Lincoln administration didn’t allow Black soldiers into the Union armed forces until 1863. Then, after pressure from white and black abolitionists, the first Black regiment in the north was recruited in Massachusetts. Robert Gould Shaw, a young white officer from a prominent Boston family, volunteered for its command. The regiment trained in Readville (in the present-day Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston). The regiment distinguished itself at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July, 1863. In the hard-fought battle, however, Shaw and many members of the company were killed. Sergeant William Carney of New Bedford saved the American flag from Confederate capture by wrapping it around his body. Carney’s bravery earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. That flag is on display across the street in the State House’s Hall of Flags.
For two full years of service, the members of the 54th Regiment refused to accept their pay because their salaries did not equal those of white frontline soldiers, but only those of common laborers. After some time, Congress patted the men and increased their salaries retroactively.
The memorial was erected from a fund initiated in 1865 by Joshua B. Smith. The Monument was dedicated on May 31, 1897, in ceremonies that included Carney, veterans of the 54th and 55th Regiments and the 5th Cavalry, and several speakers, including Booker T. Washington. The inscription on the reverse side of the monument was written by Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard. The Black Soldiers who fought in the 54th Regiment and those who lost their lives at Fort Wagner, their names were added to the reverse side of the Monument just recently.