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.
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.
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.