Introducing William Carney (1840-1908)

{after reading this I was left with the question about who writes and approves the history books that are in our schools}

Sergeant William H. Carney – another black American renowned for his heroism – was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia. While William was still a boy, his father escaped to freedom on the Underground Railroad. He soon purchased the family out of slavery and brought them to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, black Americans – both slave and free – believed that God would use President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant to bring them freedom in the same way that God had used Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity. Viewing abolition as a spiritual mission made black Americans all the more eager to help, thereby hastening the arrival of freedom.

In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union Army began actively recruiting black volunteers. William understood the powerful spiritual dimension of emancipation and eagerly enlisted – a decision that sprang from his deep Christian convictions. As he explained: “Previous to the formation of colored troops, I had a strong inclination to prepare myself for the ministry; but when the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God [by] serving my country and my oppressed brothers.”

Carney joined the Morgan Guards, who later became part of the Massachusetts 54th (featured in the 1989 movie Glory). The regiment was led by the 25 year-old white Colonel Robert Shaw, son of prominent Boston abolitionists. The all-black 54th included both freeborn men and former slaves as well as two sons of Frederick Douglass (Douglass played a major role in establishing the 54th). Upon completing their training, the 54th was assigned to attack Fort Wagner, South Carolina.

On the evening of July 18, 1863, the 600 men of the 54th lay along the sandy beach 1,000 yards from the fort. Chosen to lead the charge, they were awaiting orders to move out. Union guns had pounded the Confederate stronghold all day long, attempting to weaken its defenses. That evening, the order to advance finally came.

The men set with fixed bayonets, running toward the enemy; but the Union bombardment had failed to weaken the gun emplacements, and the 54th ran right into a heavy Confederate cannon fire and torrent of bullets that sliced through them, causing extensive casualties. Among those who fell was Sergeant John Wall, the carrier of the United States flag. Sergeant William Carney, who had been running next to Wall, dropped his rifle and caught the flag before it could hit the ground (the scene displayed on this issue’s cover).

As he carried the flag, he was shot in the leg, but he continued to lead the attack. Ignoring the searing pain, he and his forces pushed forward and were able to gain control of a small part of the fort. Carney proudly planted the American flag and held his position against the wall of Fort Wagner for nearly half an hour through hand-to-hand combat. In the darkness of the night, Carney saw troops moving toward him and made the mistake of believing them to be fellow Union fighters. Suddenly surrounded by Confederate soldiers, Carney quickly wrapped the flag around its staff as he and the others fell back down the embankment.

Retreating across the chesthigh water, he held the flag high, keeping it aloft even as he was shot twice more, once in the chest and again in the leg. Still he continued on, resolved not to let the flag fall. A member of another regiment pleaded with the injured Carney to let him carry the flag, but Carney quickly replied, “No one but a member of the 54th should carry the colors.” Carney was shot again (for the fourth time), this time narrowly escaping death as the bullet creased his skull. At last he reached the safety of what remained of the 54th, proclaiming breathlessly before collapsing, “Boys, I only did my duty. The flag never touched the ground.”

The attack against Fort Wagner was unsuccessful, and the battle was a defeat for the Union. The total lives lost that day were 351, only twelve of whom had been Confederates; but the 54th had acquitted itself courageously, just like their counterparts in the Louisiana Native Guards.

On May 23, 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Though several black Americans had already received the prestigious award for gallantry in both the Civil War and the subsequent western Indian Campaigns, Carney’s heroism at Fort Wagner was the earliest action of the Civil War to be recognized. He died eight years later in New Bedford, still strong in his Christian faith. His grave is marked with a gold image of his nation’s highest award for valor in battle – an award which very few American soldiers can claim.


{There are similar heros from the American Revolution and there actually was a history book that detailed the contributions and exploits of the black patriots that were in schools until sometime after the Civil War}

In conclusion here are the words of Reverend Richard Allen (himself a former slave)that they live by Biblical admonitions he delivered long before: "[L]et no rancor or ill-will lodge in your [heart] for any bad treatment you may have received from any. If you do, you transgress against God, Who will not hold you guiltless. He would not suffer it even in His beloved people Israel; and you think He will allow it unto us? . . . I am sorry to say that too many think more of the evil than of the good they have received."

To leave a comment, please sign in with
or or

Comments (7)

  1. cjb321

    Excellent. It makes you wonder about the historians!

    January 16, 2017
    1. SEC

      sometimes that too, though I think it lies in the textbook compilers as to what makes it in or not.

      January 16, 2017
  2. willsblog

    “Who writes and approves the history books in our schools”? LIBERALS. Who arrogantly thinks that they can hide their racist roots? LIBERALS. Who likes to accuse others of what they are guilty of? LIBERALS. Who thinks that they know more than any other human being? LIBERALS. Who believes that they have “superior” education, intelligence and “wisdom”? LIBERALS. Who supports drug use, the break up of families, the increase in the debt, the slaughter of innocents, terrorism, the creation and expansion of “social programs”, the dependence upon government social programs and the growth of government? LIBERALS.

    January 16, 2017
    1. SEC

      now there is a statement of the obvious

      January 16, 2017
  3. noahbody


    January 16, 2017
    1. SEC

      and it would have made history classes much more fascinating

      January 16, 2017
      1. noahbody

        sure would have

        January 16, 2017