The Douglas Archives

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Lewis H. Douglas tells of Carney's heroism

William Carney’s brave actions were honored when he was bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor. An affidavit from Lewis Douglas retells Carney’s actions.

The actions of Sgt. William Carney of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Regiment at the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, are perhaps the best-known example of an African-American Union soldier’s devotion to the flag. During that bloody assault – which is depicted in the 1989 Hollywood film, Glory – the unit’s flag bearer was wounded, and the twenty-three-year-old Carney dropped his rifle and grabbed the Stars and Stripes before it hit the ground. Carney then was shot in the leg. Despite his wounds, he carried the flag and led the advance on the fort. He hoisted the flag over Fort Wagner and suffered another wound before the battle ended.

On May 25, 1900, William Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor for “most distinguished gallantry in action.” He was the first African American to receive the award. The official citation reads: “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.”

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