Fr. George Rutler: Civil War Then vs. Now

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By Fr. George Rutler, Church Militant, June 13, 2020

A lesson in racial justice from 1863

Father George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in the archdiocese of New York. His Sunday homilies can be heard here. Father Rutler is author of multiple books, including Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom in Anxious Times, and his latest book, Grace and Truth. You can donate to his parish.


Robert Gould Shaw was born into an abolitionist Unitarian family in Boston in 1837. When he was 10, they settled on Staten Island. An uncle who became a Catholic priest paid for his tuition at what is now the Fordham Preparatory School. As a somewhat distracted student, he never completed his studies (who does?) but he was tutored in Italy and Germany and studied at Harvard.

Movie honoring the 54th Regiment 

During the Civil War he was eventually promoted to colonel and, following the Emancipation Proclamation, he led New England’s first all-black military unit, the 54th Regiment. Shaw insisted on equal pay and opposed any form of discrimination. Two of his soldiers were sons of Frederick Douglas.

In 1863, storming Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Col. Shaw led his regiment, which suffered heavy losses while he died from several wounds defending the nation and racial justice. Saint-Gaudens sculpted a bronze relief of Shaw and his troops, which was dedicated across from the Massachusetts State House 123 years ago on May 31. …

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