America’s First Black Medal of Honor Winner
According to an article at: https://www.army.mil of the 3,498 service members who have received the Medal of Honor throughout U.S. history, only 88 have been black. The first was Army Sgt. William H. Carney.
He earned the honor for protecting the United States' greatest symbol during the Civil War -- the American flag.
Carney was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. His family was eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts, where Carney was eager to learn and secretly got involved in academics, despite laws and restrictions that banned blacks from learning to read and write.
In March 1863, Carney joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the north. Forty other black men served with him, including two of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass' sons. Within a few months, Carney's training would be put to the ultimate test during the unit's first major combat mission in Charleston, South Carolina.
Charge on Fort Wagner
On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of Carney's regiment led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit's color guard was shot. Carney, who was just a few feet away, saw the dying man stumble, and he scrambled to catch the falling flag. Despite suffering several serious gunshot wounds himself, Carney kept the symbol of the Union held high as he crawled up the hill to the walls of Fort Wagner, urging his fellow troops to follow him. He planted the flag in the sand at the base of the fort and held it upright until his near-lifeless body was rescued.
Even then, he didn't give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union's temporary barracks.