On Memorial Day in 1897, a work of art was unveiled to the public at the edge of the Boston Common, across from the State House. It was a bronze bas-relief by the American master Augustus Saint-Gaudens commemorating the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its leader, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The 54th was one of the first units composed of black soldiers to fight in the Civil War, and Shaw was from a Boston abolitionist family.
Considered by many to be the finest piece of public art in Boston, as well as one of Saint-Gaudens' masterpieces, the work depicts the 54th on May 28, 1863, marching down Beacon Street and off to war, with Shaw on horseback and an angel floating above. Shaw and 29 of his men died in South Carolina less than two months later, but throughout the war, the 54th fought with distinction. The regiment was portrayed in the Oscar-winning 1989 film Glory.