Introduction - William Harvey CarneyOn July 18th of 1863 Union troops prepared for an assault on Fort Wagner on Morris Island in South Carolina, one of several forts guarding Charleston South Carolina's harbor. Leading the assault was a colored regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Their brave assault would be repelled by a well-defended and overwhelming Confederate force; however the bravery displayed by the 54th Massachusetts would go down in history. Among those brave black Civil War soldiers one, William Harvey Carney, would stand out and be awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his actions that day; the first black soldier to be granted the award. On this page is a list of interesting facts about William Harvey Carney written for both kids and adults. This information includes how he earned the Medal of Honor and why he joined the Union Army.
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William Harvey Carney Early Years Facts
- He was born into slavery on February 29th of 1840 in Norfolk, Virginia.
- It is believed he escaped from slavery with the help of the Underground Railroad.
- He and his family settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the 1850s.
- At an early age he became interested in becoming a minister. He gave this ambition up to join the Union Army stating that he could best serve God by helping his country and helping free those in slavery.
William Harvey Carney Civil War and Fort Wagner Facts
- Carney joined the famous all black Union regiment the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in March of 1863.
- On July 18th of 1863 he participated in the Union assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston South Carolina. His regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, led by Robert Gould Shaw, spear headed the attack which the Confederates repelled and in which staggering numbers of Union soldiers were killed and wounded. It is here that Carney earned his Medal of Honor.
- William Harvey Carney was shot several times at the Battle of Fort Wagner but kept moving forward. When the flag bearer was shot Carney grabbed the flag and held it high even after being shot several more times. After the failed assault and making it back to safety with the flag he is quoted as saying; "The Old Flag never touched the ground!"
- Out of the 600 black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment who attacked the fort 272 were killed or wounded.
- After the assault on Fort Wagner he was promoted to sergeant.
- He responded to questions about his bravery at Fort Wagner by saying, "I only did my duty."
- William Harvey Carney received an honorable discharge from the Union Army in June of 1864 due to wounds he received at the Battle of Fort Wagner. He returned to his home in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
William Harvey Carney Conclusion
- After his discharge from the Union Army he went back to New Bedford, Massachusetts where he married Susannah Williams on October 11th of 1865. They had a daughter, Clara Heronia. He eventually became a mail carrier for New Bedford.
- In 1900, 37 years after the Battle of Fort Wagner, he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his bravery at that battle.
- Although other black American Civil War soldiers received the Medal of Honor before him, Carney is regarded as the first African American to be granted the medal due to the fact the actions for which he earned the medal came before the other soldiers who received the medal.
- William Harvey Carney died on December 9th of 1908 in his home town of New Bedford from complications after an elevator accident that trapped his leg. He is buried in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
- Carney has received several honors, besides the Medal of Honor, for his bravery. These honors include having his image included on the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts located at the Boston Commons in Massachusetts, having an elementary school in his home town named after him, and in 2015 he was honored as one of the "Strong Men and Women in Virginia History," by the Library of Virginia.