We see that many leaders in various fields of society as having certain unmatched traits that made them stand out from their peers. But in the mid-19th century, when the United States came to a breaking point over the issue of the enslavement of African-Americans, a young Union officer named Robert Gould Shaw would lead his men through the battlefield of war as well as social inequality. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was the embodiment of a leader as he personified the competencies and attributes of the ideal Non-Commissioned Officer, even as a Commissioned Officer, and expanded his sphere of influence further than he realized. In early 1863, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew did not offer then 25-year-old Captain Robert Gould Shaw an easy task by any means. He presented him a position to lead the first African-American troops in a country torn apart by their mistreatment due to slavery.
While the Union states held an anti-slavery stance, there were still sentiments of segregation and racism that existed in the north, which made the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment not completely popular. Of course, the southern states were no fan; Confederate Congress proclaimed it would return any black service men to slavery if captured and would execute any white officers who lead them. Though he wrestled with his own values, he ultimately accepted the position which included promotion to Colonel. Intellect & Develops. Colonel Shaw did not follow the status quo when beginning to stand up the regiment. He was meticulous while displaying innovation and sound judgment. Though most would select leaders with a proven track record, he wanted Officers with antislavery views.
He also recruited the most educated and physically fit men possible, with the help of prominent abolitionist and well-known black leaders such as Frederick Douglass. His strict standards would essentially reject a third of the recruits at the training center Though the standards were strict, there were some who made the cut that could not read. Colonel Shaw believed in a well-rounded unit, but also developing well-rounded Soldiers. He enforced that any illiterate Soldier attend reading classes at night after their training. Leads. Many Officers of the time led from the rear, but not Colonel Shaw. While I can understand it’s more manageable for command and control, he led from the front, and not just on the battlefield. When the men of the 54th Massachusetts learned they would not receive the same pay as white Soldiers, Colonel Shaw not only encouraged his men to boycott receiving pay, but he himself refused to receive pay. He established trust in his men, something not easily earned by an authoritative figure by oppressed men, let alone an Officer. Character & Presence.
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In 1863, the Union Army began operations to seize the stronghold that controlled entry into the Charleston harbor. However, protecting the final approach was the formidable Fort Wagner: a massive earthwork stretching 630 feet from east to west, and 275 feet from north to south with walls 30 feet high. Every commander knew that the first unit to lead the attack on Fort Wagner would suffer catastrophic losses, but Colonel Shaw knew it was his duty to show how well his Soldiers could fight. Achieves. Though the Union Army did not capture Fort Wagner that day, Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts did their job in securing a foothold on the ramparts for the regiments to come. It happens to be that they would be securing another foothold in the annals of history. As Urwin stated, the bravery and self-sacrifice of the men of the 54th Massachusetts would justify the recruitment of black Soldiers and prove they could fight and die as well as white Soldiers.
Impact on the Army/Community. The perception from his peers and leaders was that Colonel Shaw was strict and did what he had to do accomplish the mission. Though they probably never realized it, he was such a disciplinary because he was taking care of the Soldiers for the long game. He knew society would criticize and ridicule them, as well as scrutinize their actions, because of the color of their skin. He wanted to make sure that what people saw was a smart, fit and capable fighting unit. His final actions with his unit would influence an influx of black men ready to fight in the Army. Not only was the 54th Massachusetts still fighting on in the deep south, but more and more black units would join the fight and reinforce the union ranks, until the end of the Civil War when the Confederate forces surrendered.
Contributed to my personal growth and development. My initial experience with Colonel Shaw was through Matthew Broderick’s portrayal in Glory, the 1989 film about the 54th Massachusetts based heavily on Shaw’s letters home. As a child, I never concerned myself with trying to be a leader. I would come to find out it was just a seed planted in my mind that would lay dormant until it began growing from my time in the Army. I wanted to reflect the care he showed into my own Soldiers, making them better than they are. My leadership philosophy. An old Soldier of mine approached me and invited me to his ceremony for promotion to Staff Sergeant, which I happily accepted. During his speech at the ceremony, he called me out for being an influential leader to this day.
I felt a real sense of pride which that his First Sergeant reinforced by approaching me, shaking my hand, and telling me, “Good job. He’s a good one.” Sometime later, I was speaking with my old Soldier. He told me that he and another Soldier used to talk about some of the leadership, which were my peers at the time, and that they came to the realization that there was one NCO who they really felt motivated them to work: me. I was surprised. Not because they were talking about me, but because what I did on a daily basis made such an impression on them. I go into work with the focus on accomplishing the tasks at hand, taking care of the Soldiers, and trying my best to make them smile, because I always attribute that to happiness.
My legacy I hope to leave. Seeing how that recently promoted Staff Sergeant felt it necessary to make sure I realized how I influenced him made me realize it’s something he’ll emulate in his own way to not only get the most out of his Soldiers, but making sure they have the desire to complete those tasks. If I’ve planted a seed that is now planting seeds, there is another breed of positive leaders that are growing in the ranks. When Governor Andrew offered Robert Shaw a promotion and the chance to be the face of a groundbreaking idea, he didn’t immediately accept it. He studied the facts and tried to make the determination if this was the best move for the men he would serve, the people they represented, and the nation for which he was fighting. Having made the tough choices, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw efforts would reshape the norm of his time and help usher in changes leading to civil rights movements almost 100 years later.
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