Robert Gould Shaw was a Union Army officer in command of the war's first all-black infantry regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. He died July 18, 1863 in combat leading his unit in an assault on fortifications at Fort Wagner, which defended the port of Charleston, South Carolina.

A large bronze memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was unveiled May 31, 1897 on Boston Common. Currently the monument is off-site for restoration following damage by Black Lives Matter (George Floyd) protestors on May 31, 2020.


Interlude

I love Ann Coulter; she makes me laugh out loud. From her 6/17/20 column "YALE HAS TO GO!" https://anncoulter.com/2020/06/17/yale-has-to-go/:

"Southerners could take justifiable pride in what everyone agrees was a better class of general and soldier."

"My ancestors were abolitionists who fought for the Union, but you don't have to be a Southerner to care about Confederate monuments."

"Not that long ago, nearly all Americans had pre-Civil War ancestors. Not any more! Recent immigrants, by which I mean people who arrived after 1865, think the country started with them. They find it hilarious to destroy anything that happened before they got here."


Meditation

What's sticking in my craw is the desecration this month of the Robert Gould Shaw statue in Boston. Shaw trained up and then led into combat the first all-Negro unit in the Union Army. He also died with most of them in action in South Carolina, unceremoniously tossed into a graves pit along with the remains of his command.

One has to do a little digging to understand who Shaw was to the citizens of Boston; suffice to say stringing words such as "hero" and "paragon" together doesn't come near to doing the job. He was the shining golden boy of one of Boston's oldest, and wealthiest families. Privately schooled in Europe and then Harvard he volunteered at the onset of the war, and was quickly identified as the perfect choice for the first commanding officer of Massachusett's first all-black infantry regiment.

He was hands down a complete representative of all the absolute best that Boston had to offer in a young man of mark.

What is the worth of a man? Do we have a calculus that can express such a value? I ponder the topic of reparations, and I say, let's just mark that bill PAID IN FULL.

Lincoln's surveying work left him a numerate fellow. He could read between the lines of the lists of casualty figures that streamed into the War Department's telegraph office all day and night. Unlike many of his generals, he knew what he was reading. He did not find a general who also understood it until Grant came into his service.

Modern historians calculate the costs of military carnage in terms of the number of fighters in one army who must be sacrificed in combat to effect the expiration of one his opposite numbers in, of course, the opposing army. Clausewitz taught that winning a war was not a matter of gaining control of territory, but of destroying armies. The first to eradicate the other's army is the victor. See Norman Davies' No Simple Victory (2006) for more about this aspect of our history. If I could find my copy I would tell you how many US Army soldiers were required to kill one member of the German Wehrmacht (they were an expensive bunch to eradicate).

Lincoln could see this in those casualty figures he sat with. He knew that as pricey as Confederate soldiers were in terms of the number of Union troops needed to send any one of them to their final reward, that the North had a large stock of young white men from which to conscript whatever size army he would have to offer up to the killing on the battlefield in order to wipe out the Confederate forces. What he could not do was find a general willing to fight war under such conditions, that is, until he found Grant, who also understood the numbers and the logic of attrition.

But lets unfold what we are actually saying here. We are saying that Civil War generals knew every time they ordered a troop advance they were without fail sending hundreds and then thousands of men to their death, and that slaughter was itself the actual mechanism of wrenching victory out of the thing. Then I think, well if this knowledge of the certain death they were ordering their men into was plain to the generals (well, some of them, anyway) then surely it would have been plain to many of the men of the line. Imagine: hundreds and thousands of young white men marching with complete knowledge aforethought that they were passing through their last day on this planet, yet still obeying the order to advance when it came. How does a price get attached to such actions?

I need to check back in my sources but if I recall correctly Robert Gould Shaw not only gave such orders (at Fort Wagner) to move forward, but died advancing next to the men he so ordered.

What price?

PAID IN FULL

nb. Col. Robert Gould Shaw fell in battle at age twenty five (25).