William Carney, African American Hero In The American Civil War

William Carney was born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia in 1840. His father, William Sr, escaped North via the Underground Railroad and after working hard, was able to buy freedom for the rest of his family. They settled in Massachusetts where young William learned to read and write, planning to become a minister.
   However, in 1863, 23 year old William Carney joined the 54th Massachusetts Black Regiment. He was now a soldier in the American Civil War.
   In July of that year, the 54th had joined other Union forces outside Charleston, South Carolina to take part in the assault on Fort Wagner, one of the installations guarding Charleston Harbor.
   On the 18th, the 54th was taking cover behind sand dunes about 1000 yards from the fort. When nightfall arrived, orders came through. The 54th was leading the attack on Fort Wagner.
   After dressing their lines, the regiment advanced across open ground under withering cannon and musket fire. Seeing the color bearer start to fall, Carney quickly dropped his gun and grabbed the flag moving to the front of the regiment. He and the 54th continued forward through a storm of bullets and artillery fire. Soldiers fell with terrible wounds but the regiment kept going with Carney at the front holding the American flag aloft.
   He crossed a ditch and clambered up the fort’s earthen wall. When Carney arrived at the top and looked around, he found himself surrounded by dead and wounded members of his regiment.  He was the only one left standing.
   Seeing Confederate forces moving in on him, Carney worked his way back down the wall through the carnage and made it to the ditch that was now waist deep in water. Crouched down, he thought about his next course of action. As he rose up to get a look around, William Carney was shot. A second bullet struck him shortly after. While Carney was painfully pushing his way towards friendly lines, he spotted a soldier from the 100th New York. The man asked if he was wounded. As Carney responded, a third bullet grazed his arm. The soldier helped him and offered to take the flag, but Carney would not relinquish it. The two men, one black and one white, struggled together back to Union lines during which a fourth bullet grazed Carney’s head.
   When they made it back, he refused to give up the flag to anyone except another member of his regiment. Once they reached survivors of the 54th, Carney said, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”
   In 1900, William Carney was awarded The Medal of Honor.

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