William Harvey Carney was born in Norfolk, Va., in 1840 and attended a school for blacks which was conducted secretly by a local minister. When the Civil War broke out, Carney made his way to Massachusetts and in time joined the famed Morgan’s Guard, which became part of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. It was while he was thus engaged in the service of his country that Carney etched an indelible mark for himself in our nation’s history.
It was in 1863 that the 23- year-old Carney became a soldier, and in July of that year he found himself engaged in a fierce battle. Carney’s regiment was part of a large force whose task it was to storm the sandy beaches of Morris Island, South Carolina and take Fort Wagner. As William and his comrades inched toward the Confederate defenses, the minie balls took their toll, as did the Rebel artillery. Carney was hit twice, but still he moved inexorably toward the enemy. He was determined not to stop until he reached the Rebel ramparts, then he spied the flag.
Carney saw the color bearer receive a hit. It was a stomach wound, but somehow the soldier held on for a moment. William, who was bleeding himself, reached the mortally wounded soldier as he slumped to the sand. Carney made a dive for the flag. He grabbed Old Glory just before it too hit the ground.
Somehow throughout the remainder of the battle, Carney miraculously held on to the American flag and kept it aloft. 1,757 Union soldiers were killed or wounded on the sands before Fort Wagner, and bleeding from his own wounds, Sgt. Carney worked his way to his regimental commander and presented him with the Stars and Stripes. “The old flag never touched the ground,” Carney whispered before he fell unconscious from the loss of blood...