In honor of Flag Day
It was the evening of July 18th, 1863 when the Colonel of the 54th Massachusetts stepped in front of his men and prepared them to storm the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner. The regiment had marched for two days in rain and searing heat to reach the sand walls of one of the forts defending the cradle of the rebellion, Charleston, South Carolina.
Colonel Shaw rallied his men and drawing his sword began leading them down the narrow beach toward the confederate fortification. As the regiment approached the earthen works they found a mote protecting the walls, and Confederate fire begin to decimate their ranks. Confederate troops rained down a wall of lead on the advancing troops including rifle fire and cannister fire. Facing this wall of led the 54th moved forward with troops wading across the moat and scaling the wall of fort, here the brave Colonel Shaw was killed. The Flag bearer was at the base of the fort wall when a confederate round found its mark and the Stars and Bars began to fall to the ground.
Seeing the flag fall, Sergeant William H. Carney faced the wall of led and grabbed the flag staff and hoisted the Stars and Bars high above the regiment. Carney continued to move the flag forward, until he took several severe wounds, this including a wound in the leg that left him only able to crawl and yet he moved the flag forward reaching the top of the fort’s parapets. Carney refused to give up the flag and as the 54th began to retreat, Carney crawled back down the fort wall and across the moat, still clutching the Red, White, and Blue and continued to retrace his footsteps back across the beach and to the rear of the Union lines to a hospital.
Only after safely removing the flag off the battlefield did Sergeant Carney hand off the colors. When his fellow soldiers spoke to him all he could say was, “I only did my duty, the old flag never touched the ground!” The wounds Sergeant Carney received at Fort Wagner never fully healed, but for his bravery and courage Sergeant William H. Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor.
What makes this story more amazing is not just Carney’s love for the flag and what it means, but that under the legal system of that day he was not eligible to be an American citizen. He was in parts of the country a fugitive and viewed as property. Carney was born a slave in Virginia and escaped to the North and returned to the South as an American soldier to bring freedom to all people.
The next time you are considering taking a knee or disrespecting the flag because you see injustice in our society, please think of William Carney and him taking to his knees not by choice but by the bullets of lead. Carney represented what Martin Luther King Jr. stated so eloquently on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
We are all heirs to the freedoms guaranteed in our Founding Documents and we are promoting those principles by standing and honoring our flag. When we take a knee, we are rejecting these ideas and principles and what replaces them may put out the shining city on a hill America has been. Please, stand and honor these principles and the men and woman who sacrificed so much for them so that we may benefit from them in the future.
Cody L. Hoover
Submitted by E-Mail