Col. Robert Shaw’s Sword Found

A British-made sword inscribed with initials “RGS” was found in the basement of a Shaw descendent. A Confederate officer had returned the sword to the family after the War. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Col. Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the all-African American 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, carried a British-made sword into battle during an ill-fated attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in 1863. Shaw, along with other fallen members of his regiment, were stripped of their weapons and personal items before being buried in a mass grave.

At the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, a beachhead near Charleston, South Carolina, Shaw was killed while leading his men to the parapet of the enemy fort in 1863.

When the war ended two years later, a Confederate officer returned the sword to Shaw’s parents back in Massachusetts. The sword eventually passed to Shaw’s sister, Susanna Minturn, as Shaw had no children. It is believed that Minturn gave it to one of her grandsons when he was a teenager. Late last year, of one of Minturn’s great-grandchildren found the sword in a basement of his mother’s home.

Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was into a prominent abolitionist family, he accepted command of the first all-black regiment (54th Massachusetts).

The sword is inscribed with the initials “RGS”. Staff at the Massachusetts Historical Society verified its authenticity by tracing the serial number to Henry Wilkinson, an English sword maker. Dennis Fiori, president of the society, said in a statement, “To have located ‘the holy grail of Civil War swords’ is a remarkable discovery.

The sword, along with other Shaw family memorabilia, will be on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society through September 2017.


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