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Renovations start on Civil War memorial honoring the Massachusetts 54th Regiment

Massachusetts 54th Regiment reenactors posed in front of the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial after an event marking a signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly restore the memorial in 2018. The National Park Service, the City of Boston, Friends of the Public Garden, the Museum of African American History formed a partnership to restore the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Common across from the Massachusetts State House.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/File

A memorial dedicated to the first African-American regiment in the Northern army during the Civil War is undergoing a major renovation, and construction officially began at the site Wednesday.

Sitting at the edge of Boston Common, just across the street from the State House, the memorial shows an image cast in bronze of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry and their leader, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, heading into battle. It was given to the city of Boston in 1897.

About 900 feet of signage featuring recruiting signs from the era, handwritten letters from Shaw, and photos of the men who served in the 54th Regiment will line the fences of the construction site while crews work there, officials said.


Shaw was killed during an attack on Fort Wagner, S.C., in July 1863, according to the National Parks Service. At least 74 soldiers and three officers were killed in the battle and many more were wounded, including Sergeant William H. Carney.

Despite his severe injuries, Carney was able to save the 54th Regiment’s flag from being captured. He became the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.

The monument honors the bravery Shaw, Carney, and other members of the regiment showed during the war. However, it has fallen into disrepair over the past century.

After stone conservators discovered in 2015 that water had deteriorated the monument’s brick core, the Partnership to Renew the Shaw 54th Memorial Regiment was formed to renovate and revitalize the memorial through a $3 million project.

“We’re delighted to continue the long-needed restoration of the historic Shaw 54th Monument by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the first civic monument to pay homage to the heroism of African American soldiers and considered the nation’s greatest piece of public art,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, in a statement.


The partnership was formed by officials from the Friends of the Public Garden, the city of Boston, the National Parks Service, and the Museum of African American History.

According to the statement, the partnership filed a work and safety plan that was approved by the city of Boston under the phase one reopening guidelines issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stone and bronze on the monument will be restored at an offsite conservation studio, officials said. Waterproofing will be added under its brick plaza, and workers will construct a new concrete foundation under the monument’s bronze artwork and plaques.

“Monuments and parks tell these important stories for generations upon generations, and we’re proud of the Partnership’s efforts to ensure that this Memorial speaks loud and clear, today and for many years to come,” Vizza said.

To learn more about the memorial, go to Shaw54thMemorialRestoration.org.

Caroline Enos can be reached at caroline.enos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.