Grade Level: 5–8
Using the history of the first African-American Regiment and the memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens as inspiration, students will understand and reflect upon the role of public commemorative sculpture in the United States. Then, they will research local monuments and draft designs for one in their hometown.
Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment, 1900
patinated plaster, 419.1 x 524.5 x 109.2 cm (165 x 206 1/2 x 43 in.)
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire
|1-B||Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.|
|2-C||Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.|
|3-A||Students integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in their artworks.|
|3-B||Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.|
|4-A||Students know and compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures.|
|4-B||Students describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts.|
|5-B||Students analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.|
|5-C||Students describe and compare a variety of individual responses to their own artworks and to artworks from various eras and cultures.|
|6-A||Students compare the characteristics of works in two or more art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context.|
|6-B||Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.|
What’s going on in this sculpture? What clues do their clothing and what they carry give you about who these men are?
The Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment was the first African-American troop organized in New England to fight in the Civil War. Recruitment began in February 1863, one month after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The recruits came from twenty-four states, one-quarter of them slave states. Among the new soldiers were barbers, boatmen, laborers, cabinetmakers, a dentist, and a druggist. Some were as young as sixteen. Some were fathers enlisting with sons. Members of the regiment included Frederick Douglass’ two sons, the grandson of abolitionist Sojourner Truth, and William H. Carney, the first African American to win the Medal of Honor. Robert Gould Shaw, the son of prominent Boston abolitionists, was appointed to command the regiment, as military policy did not allow blacks to serve as officers. However, as a white leader in command of African-American troops, Shaw would have been put to death if he was captured.
On May 28, the largest crowd in Boston’s history assembled to see the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment march off to fight in the Civil War. Two months later, Shaw and one-third of his men died during the Union’s seige at Fort Wagner, one of the forts protecting Charleston, South Carolina, a bastion of the Confederacy. The brave conduct of this regiment inspired widespread enlistment of black men into the Union forces.
After the battle of Fort Wagner, proposals were made by men of the Fifty-fourth to erect a memorial. Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens took almost a dozen years to create it. He began with the idea of creating an equestrian statue of the young Colonel Shaw. The plan evolved, however, into a procession of black soldiers and their leader, moving together toward the goal of emancipation. The monument is cast in very high relief. To make each soldier individualized, Saint-Gaudens created forty heads using live models of different ages. Seen in profile are the mounted Colonel Shaw and rows of soldiers carrying rifles, packs, and canteens, all led by young drummer boys. Above the procession floats an angel holding an olive branch, symbolizing peace, and poppies, symbolizing death.
Students will understand and reflect upon the role of public commemorative sculpture in the United States by creating their own memorial sculpture:
As a class, select an event (historical or contemporary) to commemorate with a public sculpture. Call your local planning office. If your town is in the process of planning a memorial, you might participate by choosing that subject or event. Submit class ideas.
Form small design groups. Draw designs for each group's ideas. Remind students to integrate subjects, themes, and symbols into their work to communicate the intended meaning behind the memorial. Select materials such as paper, paper mache, clay, or wood. Build one project, as a class, or build each group's idea.
Download an Art in the Classroom poster about the Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (PDF 685kb)
Learn more about the first African American infantry unit in this teaching packet
Borrow the teaching packet Art&
Learn more about the American Civil War
Visit the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
Search the Libray of Congress’s collection of Civil War photographs
View the National Archives records of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment
Research more heroes and heroines—artists, environmentalists, lifesavers, animals, peacemakers, poets, etc.—at the MY HERO Project