Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) was the white colonel in charge of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first all-black units to fight for the Union during the Civil War. He was killed while storming a Confederate battery at Fort Wagner in Charleston on July 18, 1863 and is remembered for his leadership of African-American troops as well as the over two hundred letters he wrote to his family from the front. One has to wonder if maybe his trigger finger would have been more reliable on the day of his death if he hadn't developed such severe carpal tunnel from all that letter-writing.
Over 200,000 black soldiers fought for the Union, but white officers like Shaw always commanded them. Even those hollering about equality felt they should draw the line somewhere. Sigh. Rome wasn't built in a day. It actually took like five and a half days. They couldn't find anyone to work over Thanksgiving weekend.
Shaw was initially less than thrilled with his assignment, but he warmed up to his troops, who showed bravery and determination when confronting both Confederate bullets and the prevailing prejudice of the day. He himself only had to deal with the bullets part and way less of the racism part. The bullets are what eventually did him in, though.
After Shaw's death at Fort Wagner, he was buried with his troops in a common grave, which the Confederates perceived as an insult. His death and burial, however, were championed by his family, who understood the heartfelt respect Shaw had for his men and for the Union cause. As Michael Jackson said, "It don't matter if you're black or white." Okay, so Mike didn't have the best grammar. His point still stands.
The exploits of the colonel and his unit were dramatized in the 1989 movie, Glory, featuring none other than Denzel, y'all. Washington D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood, a center of black cultural expression during the first half of the twentieth century, is even named after him. Legacy? Check.