Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"‘Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!"


Sgt. William Carney, Medal of Honor Recipient May 23 1900 Photograph Courtesy of Wikipedia
Sgt. William Carney, Medal of Honor Recipient May 23 1900 Photograph Courtesy of Wikipedia
On this day in American history, May 23, 1900, Sergeant William H.  Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry's C Company was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his bravery on July 18, 1863 at Fort Wagner.
Seargeant Carney was the first Black American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is our nation’s highest military honor.
Formed in early 1863, the 54th Massachusetts was a prototype for Black American regiments in the Union army and on July 16, 1863, the 54th saw its first action at St. James Island, South Carolina, three days before leading the assault on Fort Wagner for which it volunteered.
Fort Wagner, part of the Confederate defense of Charleston Harbor was a highly fortified post on Morris Island.  You can read the historic accounting the Fort Wagner assault here.
"…The regiment's white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, and his soldiers were overwhelmed by the fort's defenders and had to fall back. Despite his wound, Carney refused to retreat until he removed the flag, and though successful, he was shot again in the process..."
Pursuant to an article I located at Military.com,

"…Carney himself was wounded in head, leg, and hip and lying in agony near the fallen Shaw when he saw the soldier bearing the American flag falter. Gathering his strength, Carney seized the colors: ‘In less than 20 minutes I found myself alone struggling upon the ramparts, while the dead and wounded were all around me ... I knew my position was a critical one, and I began to watch to see if I would be left alone.’ Confronted by a battalion of enemies, Carney wound the flag around its staff and held it aloft while running through a volley of Confederate grapeshot.

When he reached friendly lines, Carney refused to surrender the flag to anyone save a member of his own regiment. Handing it over as his comrades cheered, Carney cried, ‘Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!’ and fell to the ground in a dead faint…"
As also reported by Military.com, in December 1908, all the flags in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were lowered to half-mast in tribute to Sgt. Carney, who had died on Dec. 8, 1908.
Never before had such an honor been bestowed upon an ordinary citizen and Black American.
Suggested reading:  SERGEANT CARNEY'S FLAG.
See also:
Boys, the old flag never touched the ground (sheet music).  Library of Congress.
Boys, the old flag never touched the ground (sheet music). Library of Congress.

All posts cross-posted on PUMABydesign001's Blog