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The glory of their times: the exhibition "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment" speaks to the valor of African-Americans during the Civil War and how these brave soldiers helped preserve the Union.

ONE OF THE FIRST regiments of African-Americans formed during the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts fought in the Battle of Ft. Wagner (S.C.) on July 18, 1863, an event that has been documented and retold in many forms, including the Academy Award-winning movie "Glory." Now, the battle will be high lighted in the exhibition "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial," which is on view through Jan. 20, 2014, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., before going on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Feb. 23, 2014-May 26, 2014.

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"Then, as today, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment captured the imagination: they were common men propelled by deep moral principles, willing to sacrifice everything for a nation that had taken much from them but now promised liberty," notes Earl A. Powell In, director of the National Gallery. "This exhibition celebrates the brave members of the 54th, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial commemorating their heroism, and the works of art they and the monument continue to inspire."

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The magisterial Shaw Memorial by Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), on long-term loan to the Gallery from the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of 19th-century American sculpture. This monument commemorates the July 18, 1863, storming of Ft. Wagner by Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, a troop of African-American soldiers led by white officers that was formed immediately after Pres. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although one-third of the regiment was killed or wounded in the assault, including Shaw himself, the fierce battle was considered by many to be a turning point in the war: it proved that African-Americans could be exemplary soldiers, with a bravery and dedication to country that equaled the nation's most celebrated heroes.

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Part of the exhibition's title, "Tell It With Pride," is taken from an anonymous letter written to the Shaw family announcing the colonel's death. The letter is included in the exhibition.

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When Saint-Gaudens created the figures in the memorial, he based his depiction of Shaw on photographs, but he hired African-American models, not members of the 54th Massachusetts, to pose for the other soldiers. This exhibition seeks to make real the anonymous African-American soldiers of the 54th, giving them names and faces where possible.

The first section of the exhibition shows vintage photographic portraits of the soldiers, the people who recruited them--including the noted abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Lenox Remond, and Sojourner Truth--and the women who nursed, taught, and guided them, such as Clara Barton, Charlotte Forten, and Harriet Tubman.

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In addition, "Pride" presents a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation; a recruiting poster; a letter written by a soldier, Corp. James Henry Gooding, to Pres. Lincoln arguing for equal pay; and the Medal of Honor awarded to the first African-American to earn this distinction, Sgt. William H. Carney; as well as other documents related to both the 54th Massachusetts and the Battle of Ft. Wagner. Together, these works of art and documents detail critical events in American history and highlight the sacrifices and the valor of the individual soldiers.

The second half of the exhibition looks at the continuing legacy of the 54th Massachuseas, the Battle of Ft. Wagner, and the Shaw Memorial. By presenting some of the plaster heads Saint-Gaudens made in preparation for his work, the exhibit discusses its development from 1883, when Saint-Gaudens' concept began to take shape, through the installation of the bronze monument on Boston Common in 1897, to the artist's final reworking in the late 1890s of the original plaster now on view.

The exhibition concludes by showing how the Shaw Memorial remains a deeply compelling work that continues to inspire artists as diverse as Lewis Hine, Richard Benson, Carrie Mae Weems, and William Earle Williams, who have reflected on these people, the event, and the monument itself in their own art.

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Title Annotation:USA Yesterday
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:708
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