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William Harvey Carney
Sgt. William H. Carney,
Civil War Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1840-02-29)February 29, 1840
Died December 9, 1908(1908-12-09) (aged 68)
Place of birth Norfolk, Virginia
Place of death Boston, Massachusetts
Place of burial Oak Grove Cemetery New Bedford, Massachusetts
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1863 - 1865
Rank Sergeant
Unit 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars American Civil War
Second Battle of Fort Wagner
Awards Medal of Honor

William Harvey Carney (February 29, 1840 – December 9, 1908) was an African American soldier during the American Civil War. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Fort Wagner.

His actions at Fort Wagner preceded those of any other black recipient. Ironically, he was not awarded the Medal of Honor for nearly 37 years after the action and thus became the last African-American to be awarded the Medal for Civil War service. The first recipient having been Robert Blake, in 1864.[1]

After the war he worked at a post office and was a guest speaker at public events until his death in 1908.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Carney was born simply as "William," a slave in Norfolk, Virginia on February 29, 1840. He ended up escaping through the Underground Railroad, and found his father living in Massachusetts. The two later bought the rest of their family out of slavery. Carney served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as a Sergeant. He took part in the July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. He received the Medal Of Honor for saving the American flag and planting it on the parapet despite being wounded several times. Recognizing the troops had to retreat under fire, Carney struggled back across the battlefield, being wounded twice more. He eventually made his way back to the Union lines, and turned over the colors to another survivor of the 54th, modestly saying "Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!"[2]

William H. Carney

Later life[edit | edit source]

Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor May 23, 1900, nearly 37 years later. More than half such awards from the Civil War were presented 20 or more years after the fact. In later life, Carney was a postal employee and popular speaker at patriotic events. He died in Boston, Massachusetts, and is buried in the family plot at Oak Grove Cemetery in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[3] Engraved on his stone monument is a gold image of the Medal of Honor.[3]

Honors and awards[edit | edit source]

Medal of Honor citation[edit | edit source]

Medal of honor old.jpg

Rank and Organization:

Sergeant, Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Place and date: At Fort Wagner, S.C., July 18, 1863. Entered service at: New Bedford, Mass. Birth: Norfolk, Va. Date of issue: May 23, 1900.


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.[4]

Other honors[edit | edit source]

The attack on Fort Wagner is depicted in the film Glory.

Carney's face is shown on the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th on the Boston Common designed by Augustus Saint Gaudens.

The Sgt. Carney Salute—folding of a flag on a staff in a manner to allow immediate unfurling—was developed by California Scoutmaster J.S. Fox at the 1997 Boy Scout National Scout Jamboree after studying the creases and folds of Civil War Regimental Flags.

A New Bedford, Massachusetts elementary school was named in his honor.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Owens, Ron (2004). Medal of Honor: Historical Facts & Figures. Turner Publishing Company. pp. 20–21. 
  2. Carney, William Harvey (1863-07-18). "William Harvey Carney (1840 - 1908)". The Center for African American Genealogical Research, Inc.. http://www.caagri.org/carney.php. Retrieved 2011-02-08. "Medal of Honor Citation: "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."" 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "William Harvey Carney". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6826582. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  4. "Medal of Honor recipients". American Civil War (A-L). United States Army Center of Military History. July 16, 2007. http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/civwaral.html. Retrieved February 1, 2009. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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