William H. Carney and the 54th Massachusetts
For his valor and bravery exhibited on this day in 1863, William Harvey Carney would become one of the first African-Americans to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor.
William Carney served in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, one of the first all African-American Regiments in the Union, and is remembered for carrying his Regimental colors back to Union lines despite their failed assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, which resulted in many casualties. Carney later reported that when rejoined with other survivors of the 54th Regiments assault he was cheered and welcomed as a hero. He explained to them “Boys, I only did my duty. That flag never touched the ground.”
Led by a young Boston Unitarian and abolitionist, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th Massachusetts organized and trained in and around Boston before departing for the war in May of 1863. After the failed engagement with Confederate defenses at Fort Wagner, 272 men were killed or wounded, including Colonel Shaw.
Upon hearing of the death and burial of Colonel Shaw in a trench alongside the ordinary soldiers of the 54th, an uncommon and insulting treatment for officers, Boston writer Epes Sargent wrote a memorial poem in a Boston magazine called The Transcript that partially read:
Ignoble hate defeating its own end
The act that meant dishonor, working glory
Could any mausoleum built by hands
Lift his sweet memory nearer to the Heavens?
You can read more about Colonel Shaw in this UUWorld article.
For more information contact info @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.
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