James Shaw, Jr., Carte de Visite


A Controversial Colonel of African American Troops



A signed carte de visite of Colonel James Shaw, Jr., of Rhode Island, commander of the 7th United States Colored Infantry.

The Rhode Island Jeweler and accountant commanded state troops early in the war and was commissioned Colonel of the 7th United States Colored Infantry November 18, 1863. Shaw commanded these African American Marylanders during operations around Petersburg and was at their head at Appomattox.

Shaw engaged in a long-term controversy with his commander, General William Birney, after the unsuccessful attack on Confederate Fort Gilmer on September 29, 1864. During the repeated and tragic attacks on that fort Birney ordered Shaw to attack the work. He then, allegedly, ordered Shaw to do so with less than half of his regiment. The troops sent forward were virtually wiped out. The regiment lost 236 men that day. The continuing controversy over responsibility for the debacle remained heated and personal for years.

Shaw, James, Jr. (Colonel 7th United States Colored Infantry). Carte de Visite signed “James Shaw Jr / Col, 7th U.S.C.T.” & Backmarked “Dunshee, / Artist. / 175 Westminster St. / Providence / R.I.”

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  • P. E. Tillinghast, History of the Twelfth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1863, Inscribed and Signed

  • John David Smith, Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops, 1st ed.