By Paul Richard
The Washington Post, September 7, 1997
Augustus Saint-Gaudens's monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts
54th Regiment is a sort of sculpted hymn to sacrificial courage and interracial
decency . . .
Shaw, a right-minded aristocratic Bostonian, was only 25 when he took command
of the 54th, the first African American regiment to fight with the Union Army
during the Civil War. He fought with them, and he died with them. There were
281 casualties among the 600 soldiers of the 54th who stormed Fort Wagner
at the port of Charleston, S.C., in 1863. Their corpses, Shaw's among them,
were thrown into a common grave.
Saint-Gaudens's infantrymen aren't generalized soldiers or stereotyped black
Americans. Each is individualized. All were portrayed from life. They're not
victims, they're heroes. It isn't just the drum - or the marching rhythms
of their blanket rolls, their canteens and their rifles - that drives them
to their destiny. They know where they are going. The justice of their cause
leads them willingly to death.
The meditating figure - mournful, cowled, androgynous - which Saint-Gaudens
fashioned to sit beside the tomb of Henry Adams's wife in Rock Creek Cemetery
is one of the two best statues in Washington. Daniel Chester French's "Seated
Lincoln" in the Lincoln Memorial is the other. Saint-Gaudens's Shaw Memorial
is comparably distinguished. It will be shown in the West Building - with
plaster sketches and related studies - until Dec. 14, when the American galleries
there will close while their skylights are replaced. The memorial will go
on view again - permanently, one hopes - in fall 1998.