Saluting William Carney, Medal of Honor Winner and Hero

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Confederate troops fighting African American Union soldiers at Fort Wagner

Source: Fine Art / Getty

February is Black History Month and it is important to remember those brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to realize the full promise of America. Brett saluted William and you can hear that story here! 

There have been approximately 3500 Medal of Honor, recipients in the United States of America. Yet, just 88 Black Americans have received the Medal of Honor.

Civil War Hero, Army Sgt. William H. Carney was the first of the nation’s 88 African-American Medal of Honor recipients.

He earned his award during a Union charge at Fort Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina.

Sgt Carney was born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. His family was eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts.

William Carney wanted to work in the Church, but at the time of the Civil War’s outbreak, Carney decided the best way he could serve God was by enlisting in the military to help free the oppressed.

Sgt Carney joined the Union Army in March 1863 and joined Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment

The 54th was the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the Northern States

On July 18, 1863, the 54th led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit’s color guard was shot by Confederate forces. Carney scrambled to catch the falling flag.

Carney kept the American flag held high as he crawled up the hill to Fort Wagner’s walls, calling upon his fellow troops to follow him. All despite being shot several times.

He planted the flag in the sand and held it upright until his nearly-lifeless body was rescued.

According to Department of Defense records, ‘Even then, though, he didn’t give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union’s temporary barracks.’

Carney did not allow the flag to touch the ground. Carney ascended to the rank of sergeant for his actions. Carney returned to Massachusetts and held several public service posts, from Streetlight Repairman to Mailman and finally at the Massachusetts State House in the Department of State.

For his bravery, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900.

The citation reads in part, ‘When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.’