Medal Monday: Flag Day
Medal of Honor Recipient: William Carney
Organization: U.S. Army
Conflict: Civil War
Date of Action: 07/18/1863
This Thursday is Flag Day, a day which commemorates the adoption of the United States flag on June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. Throughout history, flags have united people under banners that represent commonality – often a shared country or belief. Since its establishment, the United States flag has stood as a beacon of hope across the nation, symbolizing our freedom and unification. Today, we share the story of an American hero, Sergeant William Carney, who fought bravely and risked his life to secure the United States flag in battle.
As a young man, William Carney intended to pursue ecclesiastical training and become a minister, but instead he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Due to his education and strong leadership potential, William Carney swiftly rose to the rank of sergeant. In the summer of 1863, two years after the start of the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry saw its first combat.
During the battle, the flag bearer was fatally wounded, and, as he fell, Sergeant Carney, who had multiple wounds to his legs, chest and arm, arrived to take on the flag and return it to the parapet, all while preventing the colors from touching the ground. Despite his injuries and enemy gunfire, Sergeant Carney kept the flag aloft until reinforcements arrived. Sergeant Carney then carried the flag back behind Union lines, and afterwards, collapsed from his wounds, calling to his fellow soldiers, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.” For his heroic and patriotic actions at Fort Wagner, Sergeant William Carney was presented with the Medal of Honor, the first African American to receive the award.
Following his discharge from the infantry, Carney returned to Massachusetts to serve as a postal letter carrier for 32 years, and he was a founding vice president of New Bedford Branch 18 of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Sergeant Carney often shared his experience at Fort Wagner and later became the namesake for a New Bedford, Massachusetts elementary school. Today, his image can be seen on the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th on the Boston Common, designed by Augustus Saint Gaudens.
William Carney is one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients whose combat valor and civic heroics will be enshrined in the National Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, SC. These heroes deserve a home for their legacy to be shared with the next generations.
As the only military museum to recognize all branches of the armed services, it will highlight the fact that the recipients of our nation’s highest military award not only defended our country, they were instrumental in developing, designing, and enriching it.
The museum will be a vault for the values embodied in the Medal of Honor: courage, sacrifice and patriotism. It will showcase the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation Character Development Program, including living histories of over 100 recipients. It will also house the Citizens Heroes Program honoring ordinary citizens who have epitomized the concept of “service above self”.
Americans will walk out of that museum with the conviction that they too can be a hero, inspired by the values of courage and sacrifice that the Medal of Honor recipients used to excel in combat and in civilian life. Learn more at mohmuseum.org.