Unique US Civil War-era sword discovered

A historic sword, belonging to Col. Robert Gould Shaw, leader of the first American Civil War unit in the North made up of African-American soldiers, was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society after resting for decades at attics of private owners.

Details of the sword (by Stuart C. Mowbray Photography)

Col. Shaw held the sword leading his 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment on July 18, 1863 during the assault on Fort Wagner. Sadly, he died due to a shot to the chest during the battle and the weapon was confiscated by the Confederate army. It then disappeared until the end of the war, two years later, when the Union Army Gen. Charles Jackson Paine collected the sword from a private owner, while stationing with his soldiers in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The sword was returned to the parents of Col. Shaw and was passed down through the generations from Shaw’s sister, travelling in boxes from attic to attic along with five other swords the family had from other generations of family members. The sword of Col. Shaw was identified by “RGS” initials on its surface. The family donated the historical weapon to the Massachusetts Historical Society in March this year.

The full view of the sword (by Stuart C. Mowbray Photography)

According to the researchers this sword stands as a symbol for the crucial role African-American soldiers played in helping the Union win the war. Even president Abraham Lincoln, although initially opposed to allowing African-American men to enlist, acknowledged after the Civil War that the Union’s victory hinged on the support of African-American soldiers, who were led by officers such as Col. Shaw.

(after Stuart C. Mowbray Photography & Live Science)

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