Eastman Johnson
Amazing 19th Century Portrait of Civil War Colonel Robert Shaw by Eastman Johnso

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Outstanding 19th Century Civil War Oil Painting attributed to Famed American Portraitist Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906) Oil on Canvas Painting is believed to be a portrait of famous Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who lead the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all-black Union regiment (Memorialized in the Movie "Glory" Housed in a gold decorative wooden frame Dimensions: Image only 30″ x 35″ Provenance: From the estate of a very well-known and well-respected lifetime Civil War collector in Upstate New York Condition: This painting has been restored, relined and well maintained, with mild craquelure, wear and age.

About Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863): Colonel Shaw was an American soldier in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. Born into a prominent abolitionist family, he accepted command of the first all-black regiment (54th Massachusetts) in the Northeast and encouraged the men to refuse their pay until it was equal to the white troops’ wage. At the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, a beachhead near Charleston, South Carolina, Shaw was killed while leading his men to the parapet of the enemy fort. Although they were overwhelmed and driven back, Shaw’s leadership passed into legend with a unit that inspired tens of thousands more African-Americans to enlist for the Union and contribute to its ultimate victory. Shaw’s story is dramatized in the 1989 film Glory, starring Matthew Broderick.

Early in the American Civil War, Shaw joined the 7th New York Militia as a private and on April 19, 1861, marched down Broadway in lower Manhattan with it to the defense of Washington, D.C. On May 28, 1861, Shaw was formally commissioned as a second lieutenant into Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, with which he fought in the first Battle of Winchester, and the battles of Cedar Mountain, and Antietam.

Shaw was approached by his father while in camp in late 1862 to take command of a new all-black regiment. At first, he declined the offer, but after careful thought, he accepted the position. Shaw’s letters clearly state that he was dubious about a free black unit succeeding, but the dedication of his men deeply impressed him, and he grew to respect them as fine soldiers. On learning that black soldiers would receive less pay than white ones, he joined in with his unit on their boycott until this inequality was rectified. The enlisted men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (and its sister unit, the 55th Massachusetts) refused pay until Congress granted them full back pay at the white pay rate in August 1863.

Shaw was promoted to major on March 31, 1863, and to colonel on April 17. On June 11, 1863, Shaw wrote about war crimes committed against the citizens of Darien, Georgia, when the civilian population of women and children were fired upon, forced from their homes, their possessions looted, and the town burned. Shaw noted in a letter, “On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be.” Shaw was initially ordered by Colonel James Montgomery to perform the burning but he refused. Shaw noted in a letter, “The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it.” He goes on to say, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare; but that makes it nonetheless revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenseless.”

The 54th Regiment was sent to Charleston, South Carolina to take part in the operations against the Confederates stationed there. On July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate Battery Wagner. As the unit hesitated in the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting, “Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!” He mounted a parapet and urged his men forward, but was shot through the chest three times and died almost instantly. According to the Colors Sergeant of the 54th, he was shot and killed while trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.

The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult. Following the battle, commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the other Union officers who had died, but left Shaw’s where it was. Hagood informed a captured Union surgeon that “Had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with [those] that fell with him.”

Although the gesture was intended as an insult by the Confederates, it came to be seen as an honor by Shaw’s friends and family that he was buried with his soldiers.

Efforts had been made to recover Shaw’s body (which had been stripped and robbed prior to burial). However, his father publicly proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son was interred with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for emancipation. In a letter to the regimental surgeon, Lincoln Stone, Frank Shaw wrote: “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!”

After the war, the Union Army disinterred and reburied all the remains—including, presumably, those of Col. Shaw—at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where their gravestones were marked as “unknown”.

About Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906): A native of Lovell, Maine and raised in Augusta, Eastman Johnson earned a reputation as a renowned painter of sentimental genre. His father operated a tavern in Lovell and also built homes there before moving the family to nearby Fryeburg in 1828. Again the father operated a hotel, which gave his young son much exposure to a variety of human beings and activities. When Eastman was ten, the family moved again, this time to Augusta, Maine, where Eastman became a clerk in a dry good store and where the family prospered.

He went to Boston at age sixteen to train as a lithographer but shortly after returned to Augusta and built his art career on more familiar territory. From there he moved from town to town in the 1840s, making a living doing crayon portraits in eastern cities including Washington D.C. where he used a Senate committee room. In 1849, he went to Dusseldorf, Germany to study under Emanuel Leutze, then traveled to Italy and France and spent four years at The Hague closely studying works of Rembrandt and Hals. Known there as the American Rembrandt, he was offered the position of Court Painter, but declined as he wished to return to America.

In 1858, he established a studio in New York and did portraits of many prominent persons. A year later, he was elected to the National Academy of Design with a painting titled Life in the South, regarded to that time as one of the most important genre paintings of blacks ever done by an American. This was a period in his career when he championed Black Americans in the South, During the Civil War, he painted The Wounded Drummer Boy, based on an incident at the battle of Antietam, and exhibited at the National Academy, it became a public favorite.

In the 1871, he set up a studio and house with his wife and baby on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts and painted landscapes and interiors there, using local people as models. One of his favorites was a bewiskered old sea captain named Charles Myrick. His genre paintings seemed to lapse in popularity, and he turned increasingly and successfully to portraiture of rich and famous people such as John Quincy Adams and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


  • Condition
  • Dimensions
    37 in. H x 32 in. W x 2 in. D
  • Seller Location
    Gallatin, TN
  • Reference Number
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Located in Gallatin, TN

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