Baptists and the American Civil War: September 20, 1863

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Today’s edition of the Port Royal-published New South Newspaper, the Union-produced publication of federally-occupied coastal South Carolina, notes an upcoming fund raiser to be held at the First African Baptist Church of Hilton Head.

A special effort to raise money for the erection of a monument to the memory of the late Col. Shaw, of 54th Mass. Regt., will be made in the colored Baptist church of this place, on next Sabbath, 20th inst., at 11 o’clock, A. M. A discourse will be delivered by Rev. James Lynch of Baltimore, Missionary to Freed-men. Subject :-The colored man’s hope and responsibility.

Lynch, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, is currently serving as the Missionary and Government Superintendent of Beaufort District, South Carolina, taking a lead role in a joint project by the U.S. government and religious groups to help freedmen prepare for a post-war future.

The Massachusetts 54th African American Regiment, organized in January, holds a special place in the heart of African Baptists. Many of the soldiers and officers are (or were, before their deaths in the summer assault on Fort Wagner on Morris Island) Baptists. Shaw, the son of a wealthy abolitionist family, had put his name and career on the line in accepting the offer to be the commanding officer of the unit. Unfazed by the tremendous odds facing the 54th as they charged Fort Wagner on July 18, Shaw gave his life leading his men, becoming a hero to African Americans.

The fund raiser at the Baptist church is among the earliest attempts to secure funding for a monument to Shaw. The plan is to erect the monument on Morris Island, near where Shaw fell. Yet due to the hostility of local whites and the island’s unstable ground, the monument is never erected. Money raised for the purpose is instead sent to help start the first free school for African American children in Charleston, which opens its doors in 1865 and is named after Shaw. The school operates until 1938.

Not until 1897 is a monument to Shaw finally erected in the deceased officer’s hometown of Boston.

Sources: “Col. Shaw’s Monument,” New South Newspaper, September 19, 1863 (link); James D. Lynch (link); “The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial,” National Park Service (link)