America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan

By James H. Willbanks | Go to book overview

Carney, William H.

Born: February 29, 1840

Died: December 8, 1908

Home State: Massachusetts

Service: Army

Conflict: Civil War

Age at Time of Award: 23

Born a slave in Virginia on February 29, 1840, William H. Carney attended a secret school conducted by a local minister and learned to read and write. Later, he was emancipated when his master died. He moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and was studying for the ministry when he learned that the first regiment of African American soldiers was being formed to fight for the Union. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and, for the first time, African Americans were being encouraged to enlist in the Union Army. Carney joined the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry’s C Company, saying he “could best serve my God by serving my Country and my oppressed brothers.”

In July of that same year, the 54th Massachusetts spearheaded the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, the first real test of the young African Americans who had volunteered for service in the Union Army. When the company’s flag bearer was fatally shot, 23-year-old Carney threw down his rifle and grabbed the flag before it fell and then carried it throughout the remainder of the battle.

Although he suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the head, chest, legs, and one arm, Carney carried the flag to safety when the 54th was driven back by a Confederate counterattack. Seeing his predicament, a soldier from another regiment offered to take the flag so Carney could seek medical aid. Carney replied, “No one but a member of the 54th should carry the colors!”

Later, Carney miraculously carried the regiment’s flag into camp after the battle to the rousing cheers of his battered comrades. He responded, “Boys, I only did my duty. The flag never touched the ground.” He then fell to the ground in a dead faint, weak from the wounds he had received. For these feats, he became the first African American to perform action in combat that resulted in the awarding of the Medal of Honor, but he would not receive the medal until long after the action at Fort Wagner.

The following year, Carney was discharged due to the disabilities of his wounds. He returned to New Bedford and worked as a mail carrier and later as a messenger in the Massachusetts legislature in Boston. On May 23, 1900, nearly 40 years after his valor during the Civil War, Carney was awarded the nation’s highest honor for heroism, the Medal of Honor. Though by this time several other African Americans had already received the award for heroism during the Civil War and the Indian Campaigns, Sergeant Carney’s action at Fort Wagner was the first to merit the award.

William Carney died at his home in New Bedford on December 8, 1908, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery there. His final resting place bears a distinctive stone—an engraved white marble stone with the gold image of the Medal of Honor, a tribute to a courageous soldier and the flag he loved so dearly.

James H. Willbanks

-45-

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America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Entries ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Adams, Lucian 1
  • Baca, John P. 2
  • Bacon, Nicky Daniel 4
  • Baker, Vernon 6
  • Baldwin, Frank D. 8
  • Ballard, Donald E. 11
  • Barfoot, Van T. 13
  • Barnum, Harvey C., Jr 14
  • Barrett, Carlton W. 16
  • Basilone, John 18
  • Benavidez, Roy P. 20
  • Birkhimer, William E. 22
  • Blake, Robert 24
  • Bleak, David B. 25
  • Boyington, Gregory 27
  • Brady, Patrick Henry 29
  • Britt, Maurice L. 30
  • Brown, Bobbie E. 32
  • Bucha, Paul William 34
  • Burke, Lloyd L. 36
  • Bush, Robert Eugene 38
  • Butler, Smedley Darlington 40
  • Butterfield, Daniel 42
  • Cafferata, Hector a., Jr 43
  • Carney, William H. 45
  • Cavaiani, Jon R. 48
  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. 49
  • Childers, Ernest 51
  • Cody, William F. 53
  • Cohn, Abraham 55
  • Cole, Robert G. 57
  • Craft, Clarence B. 59
  • Crandall, Bruce P. 61
  • Custer, Thomas W. 63
  • Dahlgren, John Olof 65
  • Daly, Daniel Joseph 67
  • Davila, Rudolph B. 69
  • Davis, Charles W. 70
  • Davis, Raymond G. 73
  • Davis, Sammy L. 74
  • Day, George E. 76
  • Dean, William F. 78
  • Deblanc, Jefferson Joseph 79
  • Dix, Drew Dennis 81
  • Donlon, Roger Hugh C. 84
  • Donovan, William Joseph 85
  • Doolittle, James H. 87
  • Doss, Desmond T. 88
  • Dunham, Jason L. 90
  • Dunham, Russell E. 91
  • Dyess, Aquilla James 93
  • Ehlers, Walter D. 96
  • Evans, Ernest Edwin 98
  • Faith, Don C., Jr 100
  • Finn, John William 102
  • Fletcher, Frank Jack 104
  • Fluckey, Eugene Bennett 105
  • Foley, Robert F. 107
  • Foss, Joseph Jacob 109
  • Fox, John Robert 112
  • Freeman, Ed W. 113
  • Funston, Frederick 115
  • Galer, Robert Edward 117
  • García, Macario 119
  • Gonsalves, Harold 121
  • Gonzalez, Alfredo 123
  • Gordon, Gary I. 125
  • Hagemeister, Charles Chris 126
  • Harmon, Roy W. 128
  • Harrell, William George 130
  • Hatch, John P. 131
  • Hayashi, Shizuya 133
  • Hayes, Webb C. 134
  • Heard, John W. 137
  • Hendrix, James R. 139
  • Hernández, Rodolfo P. 140
  • Herrera, Silvestre S. 142
  • Hooper, Joe R. 144
  • Howard, Oliver O. 146
  • Howard, Robert L. 148
  • Inouye, Daniel K. 150
  • Irwin, Bernard J. D. 154
  • Izac, Edouard Victor Michel 155
  • Jackson, Joe M. 158
  • Jacobs, Jack H. 160
  • Joel, Lawrence 162
  • Kaufman, Benjamin 164
  • Keeble, Woodrow W. 166
  • Kelly, Charles E. 167
  • Kerrey, Joseph R. 169
  • Kisters, Gerry H. 171
  • Kouma, Ernest R. 173
  • Lang, George C. 175
  • Lemon, Peter C. 177
  • Levitow, John L. 178
  • Liteky, Angelo J. 181
  • Livingston, James E. 182
  • Lopez, Jose M. 184
  • Lucas, Jacklyn Harold 186
  • Luke, Frank, Jr 189
  • Mabry, George L., Jr 191
  • Macarthur, Arthur, Jr 193
  • Macarthur, Douglas 195
  • Mackie, John F. 198
  • Mallon, George H. 200
  • Marm, Walter Joseph, Jr 201
  • Martinez, Joe P. 203
  • McCool, Richard Miles, Jr 204
  • McGinnis, Ross A. 206
  • McGinty, John J., III 207
  • McKinney, John R. 209
  • Merli, Gino J. 211
  • Miles, L. Wardlaw 213
  • Miles, Nelson A. 214
  • Millett, Lewis L. 218
  • Miyamura, Hiroshi H. 220
  • Mize, Ola L. 223
  • Moffett, William A. 225
  • Monsoor, Michael A. 226
  • Monti, Jared C. 227
  • Munemori, Sadao S. 229
  • Munro, Douglas Albert 231
  • Murphy, Audie L. 233
  • Murphy, Michael P. 235
  • Murphy, Raymond G. 236
  • Norris, Thomas R. 238
  • Novosel, Michael J. 240
  • O’Hare, Edward Henry 243
  • O’Kane, Richard Hetherington 245
  • Okubo, James K. 246
  • Olive, Milton L., III 248
  • O’Neill, Richard W. 249
  • Page, John U. D. 251
  • Paige, Mitchell 254
  • Parker, Samuel I. 256
  • Pennypacker, Galusha 258
  • Penry, Richard A. 260
  • Pitsenbarger, William H. 262
  • Pittman, John A. 264
  • Pittman, Richard A. 265
  • Pope, Everett Parker 267
  • Pope, Thomas A. 269
  • Rascon, Alfred V. 271
  • Ray, Ronald Eric 273
  • Red Cloud, Mitchell, Jr 275
  • Rickenbacker, Edward V. 278
  • Roberts, Gordon R. 279
  • Rocco, Louis R. 281
  • Rodriguez, Joseph C. 283
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 285
  • Rosser, Ronald E. 287
  • Rubin, Tibor 289
  • Rudolph, Donald E. 291
  • Ruiz, Alejandro R. Renteria 293
  • Sakato, George T. 294
  • Salomon, Ben L. 296
  • Sandlin, Willie 298
  • Sasser, Clarence Eugene 300
  • Schofield, John M. 302
  • Shafter, William R. 303
  • Shoup, David Monroe 305
  • Shughart, Randall D. 307
  • Sickles, Daniel E. 310
  • Sijan, Lance P. 312
  • Simanek, Robert E. 313
  • Sitter, Carl L. 315
  • Smith, Andrew Jackson 317
  • Smith, Paul R. 319
  • Spurrier, Junior J. 320
  • Stockdale, James B. 322
  • Stone, James L. 324
  • Stowers, Freddie 326
  • Thornton, Michael Edwin 327
  • Thorsness, Leo K. 329
  • Titus, Calvin Pearl 332
  • Turner, George B. 333
  • Urban, Matt 335
  • Vandegrift, Alexander Archer 337
  • Vargas, Jay R. 339
  • Versace, Humbert R. 341
  • Wahlen, George Edward 343
  • Wai, Francis B. 345
  • Wainwright, Jonathan M. 347
  • Walker, Dr. Mary E. 349
  • Ware, Keith L. 350
  • Warren, Francis E. 352
  • Watson, George 353
  • Watters, Charles Joseph 354
  • Webb, Alexander S. 358
  • Wetzel, Gary George 360
  • Whiteley, Eli 362
  • Whittington, Hulon B. 363
  • Williams, Hershel Woodrow 365
  • Wilson, Louis Hugh, Jr. 367
  • Wood, Leonard 369
  • Woodfill, Samuel 372
  • York, Alvin C. 373
  • Young, Rodger W. 375
  • Zabitosky, Fred William 377
  • Zeamer, Jay, Jr. 379
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor 381
  • Double Award Recipients 487
  • Medals of Honor Awarded by Conflict and Service 489
  • Bibliography 493
  • Index 511
  • About the Editor 529
  • Contributors 531
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