William Carney was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1840 into a slave family. His father fled north via the Underground Railroad and saved enough money to buy his family freedom in Massachusetts.
In March 1863, then 23 years old, Carney enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th Regiment was his second, but most famous, infantry regiment composed of black Americans authorized by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Just four months later, Mr. Carney was embroiled in a fierce battle.
On July 11, 1863, in the First Battle of Fort Wagner, a stronghold protecting the strategic southern approach to Charleston Harbor, Union forces suffered 339 casualties and Confederates suffered 12 casualties. After taking it out, I turned back. But a week later, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw fought the famous Battle of Fort Wagner (portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Glory). ).
On the morning of July 18, Brigadier General Quincy Gilmore attacked Ft. Wagner came under fire from shore batteries and then from 11 ships. When the attack subsided, the 54th Regiment charged about 150 yards from the ramparts just before sunset. The Confederates opened fire with muskets and cannons, annihilating the ranks of black soldiers, but the 54th Division advanced and reached the fort’s parapet, after which Shaw shouted, “Forward, 54th Division!” We arrived there. He became one of the many victims.
After the 54th Division’s color guard was killed, a young sergeant, William Carney, retrieved the American flag and moved forward. He held it aloft under heavy fire and was twice seriously wounded. When the attack stalled, he buried the flag staff in the sand and defiantly left the flag standing. After an extremely brutal battle, the black infantrymen were ordered to return home in the darkness of night. Forty percent of the force was lost, with 20 killed, 125 wounded, and 102 missing (presumed dead or captured).
But in the end, the soldiers of the 54th Regiment were praised for their courage and bravery.
Sergeant Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, making him the first black American to receive our nation’s highest military decoration, although others followed in his footsteps and received the medal earlier for their actions.
Carney recalled that at one point he stood up with a flag in his hand and was shot. Undeterred by the shot, I continued my course, but before I had gone far a second shot was struck. ” he added. “Guys, I just did my duty. The old flag never touched the ground!”
Carney was honorably discharged in June 1864 and returned to New Bedford, where he married his sweetheart and worked as a mail carrier for the next 32 years. He died in his 1908 year.
Sergeant William Carney, your example of courage and American patriot who defends the freedom of all men will be eternal.
Footnote: A Shaw monument was erected on Boston Common to commemorate the 54th Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On May 31, 2020, the anniversary of the memorial’s dedication, Black Lives Matter rioters severely defaced it. This was part of a nationwide effort to whitewash our shared history.
(Visit the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center located in the Aquarium Plaza. Support the Medal of Honor Sustainment Fund with a designated gift through the Patriot Foundation Trust or make a check payable to the Liberty Fund (Department of Health Sustainment in the memo line) Please write: Patriot Foundation Trust, P.O. Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.)