May 23, 1900 - Thirty seven years after his heroics on a Civil War battlefield, William Harvey Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor. Had he been awarded the medal promptly, Carney would have been the first African American to receive this honor.
William was born a slave in Virginia, but he escaped through the Underground Railroad and settled in Massachusetts. It was there he met a white man named William Carney. The white William offered the black William his last name so that the former slave could serve in the Union army.
On July 18, 1863, during an assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, William Carney was charging the enemy lines when he saw the color sergeant fall on the battlefield. Without hesitation, Carney swooped in and picked up the flag. Although he was wounded, Carney would carry the flag all the way into the fort and plant it on the parapet.
When the Union troops were forced to retreat, Carney again grabbed the flag and crossed the battlefield. He was wounded twice more before returning the flag to Union lines.
He was famously quoted as saying:
Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!
After the war, Carney worked at the Post Office. He died in 1908.