Various cultures and races have carefully woven American history, as those components are part of what makes our history so unique. Throughout the last century, the United States has seen divides driven by racism and hate, however our nation has also seen men and women come together in spite of these under the common title “American”. Being an American has been motivation for people of all colors and backgrounds to fight and defend our country, it has even driven some to do extraordinary things. On May 23rd, 1900, Army Sgt. William H. Carney was recognized for his outstanding service in the Civil War, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Sgt. Carney was born in Norfolk, Virginia to two slaves who eventually gained their freedom and moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he dedicated his life to ministry and to God. However, as the Civil War broke out, Carney made the decision that he would better serve God by serving in the military on behalf of those still being oppressed. He enlisted into the Army and was assigned to the Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment.
After three months of training Carney and his regiment were sent to South Carolina, to the heart of the war. It was in July of 1863 when the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment was instructed to lead the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the color guard was fatally shot. As he was staggering, about to drop the colors, Carney saw him and seized the flag, never to let go of it.
While protecting the flag, Carney was wounded twice- once in the arm and once in the leg, and remained under heavy fire. Despite his injuries, he crawled to the walls of Fort Wagner and planted the flag into the sand, ultimately rejuvenated the motivation of his men. Eventually, Carney was rescued and taken back to the Union’s temporary barracks, never having let go of the flag, ensuring that our colors never touched the ground once.
On May 23rd, 1900, Sgt. William H. Carney became the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads: “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.” (http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=119323)