On 23 May, 1900, William Harvey Carney received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry during the Battle of Fort Wagner in 1863. Having seen the color guard fatally wounded, Carney grabbed the American flag, striding forward with it as his comrades advanced. When they eventually retreated he carried the flag back, despite being seriously wounded. When he reached his lines he handed the flag to another survivor and said “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!”
His citations 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.’
Given the date of his act of heroism, Carney is considered to be the first African American to be granted the Medal of Honor.
To find out more about African Americans serving in the Civil War take a look at Warrior 114 – African American Soldiers in the Civil War by Mark Lardas.