Black History Spotlight: William H. Carney

In honor of Black History Month the Pioneer is dedicating a full week to some prominent and influential African Americans who made a big impact on our country’s history. One of these people is William H. Carney who was the first known African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Congressional Medal of Honor Society


This prestigious award was given to William because of a selfless act of bravery in the face of death during a battle. Gory and devastating, the assault on Fort Wagner took place on July 18, 1863 in Charleston, South Carolina. Fighting along side his fellow fighters from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Mr. Carney entered the “front” lines under heavy fire.

Seeing his sergeant felled from a bullet wound, Carney rushed forward and took from the dying man’s hands the flag of which he held. Continuing into the thick of the fighting, the young man saw another wave of his Company C men die, he suddenly found himself alone. Realizing that another surge of enemy soldiers were advancing and that he did not have enough support to continue forward, William started towards the back.

All the while holding the colors safely, William Carney received four bullet wounds. One to the arm, two buried into his side, and another shot that grazed his head. But still he did not go down and would not let the Flag touch the ground, get captured, or torn. Helped by another fighter, William finally reached the back where he was taken to get medical attention. Finally, knowing that the flag was safe and accounted for, the young man let go of the flag and reported “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!”

For this act of bravery and selflessness, William H. Carney was promoted to the rank of sergeant and 40 years later received the Medal of Honor.  When asked about his reasoning for his actions, he simply stated “I only did my duty.”

A couple years after the battle, Carney was honorably discharged due to lingering effects of his four wounds that limited his fighting potency. But his legacy does not stop there. Soon after William married, he worked for the city of New Bedford in Massachusetts. As a postal worker, he continued to be known as a motivational and inspirational speaker who stood up for the rights of  fellow men and woman.

Having been born into slavery on February 29, 1840, on a plantation in Norfolk, Virginia, Mr. Carney knew what it was like to be oppressed. He also knew what it was like to have freedom when he escaped with his father to Massachusetts and worked to buy the rest of his families’ freedom. To top it off, this gentleman also knew what it was like to be given the opportunity to stand up for what you believe in by fighting for his country during the Civil War.

William H. Carney is an example to all of us. He showed Americans what it means to fight for what you believe in, work together no matter skin color or race, and putthe well-being of others before oneself. Carney also committed fully to following God in ensuring that all men are equal. Sergeant William Harvey Carney is a man worth remembering and emulating.

Is there someone you remember who made a difference in the history of our nation or in your life? What makes them special or unique? How have you been blessed by the freedoms that many fought for during the civil war and way after to ensure equality? Answer in a comment. Let us know who impacted you!



About JayJay Sierra

I enjoy to laugh. Love God and have an appreciation for art and music of all types. But with all this in mind I still really enjoy writing on a variety of subjects and styles.

Posted on February 21, 2013, in News, Top Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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