William Harvey Carney (February 29, 1840 – December 8, 1908) was the first African American soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Fort Wagner. His actions at Fort Wagner preceded those of any other black recipient but he was not presented with the honor until nearly 37 years later. He was the second African-American to be awarded the Medal, the first recipient having been Robert Blake, in 1864.
Sgt. Carney was born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia but escaped through the Underground Railroad to join his father in Massachusetts. They bought the rest of the family and settled in Massachusetts where Carney joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry where he participated in the Battle of Fort Wagner. He saved the colors (the flag), even though suffering multiple wounds. 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!”
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.
After the war he worked at a post office and was a guest speaker at public events until his death in 1908.
Tomorrow, Another MOH winner. Rita Bay