headquarters Fifty-Fourth Mass. Vols., Morris Island, S. C., October 15, 1863.Colonel: I have the honor to forward you the following letters, received a few days since from Sergeant W. H. Carney, company C, of this regiment. Mention has before been made of his heroic conduct in preserving the American flag, and bearing it from the field, in the assault on Fort Wagner, on the eighteenth of July last, but that you may have the history complete, I send a simple statement of the facts, as I have obtained them from him, and an officer who was an eye-witness: When the Sergeant arrived to within about one hundred yards of the Fort — he was with the first battalion, which was in the advance of the storming, column — he received the regimental colors, pressed forward to the front rank, near the Colonel, who was leading the men over the ditch. He says, as they ascended the wall of the Fort, the ranks were full, but as soon as they reached the top, they “melted away” before the enemy's fire “almost instantly.” He received a severe wound in the thigh, but fell only upon his knees. He planted the flag upon the parapet, lay down on the outer slope, that he might get as much shelter as possible; there he remained for over half an hour, till the Second brigade came up. He kept the colors flying until the second conflict was ended. When our forces retired, he followed, creeping on one knee, still holding up the flag. It was thus that Sergeant Carney came from the field, having held the emblem of liberty over the walls of Fort Wagner during the sanguinary conflict of the two brigades, and having received two very severe wounds, one in the thigh, and one in the head. Still he refused to give up his sacred trust until he found an officer of his regiment. When he entered the field hospital, where his wounded comrades were being brought in, they cheered him and the colors. Though nearly exhausted with the loss of blood, he said: “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.” Of him, as a man and a soldier, I can speak in the highest terms of praise. I have the honor to be, Colonel, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Norfolk, Va., in 1840; my father's name was William Carney; my mother's name before her marriage was Ann Dean, and she was the property of one Major Carney; but at his death, she, with all his people, was by his will made free. In my fourteenth year, when I had no work to do, I attended a private and secret school, kept in Norfolk by a minister. In my fifteenth year I embraced the Gospel; at that time I was also engaged in the coasting trade with my father. In 1856, I left the sea for a time, and my father set out to look for a place to live in peace and freedom. He first stopped in the land of William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and where the “bright Juniata” flows--Pennsylvania--but he rested not there; the black man was not secure on the soil where the Declaration of Independence was written. He went far. Then he visited the Empire State--great New-York — whose chief ambition seemed to be for commerce and gold, and with her unceasing struggle for supremacy, she heard not the slave; she only had time to spurn the man with the sable skin, and made him feel that he was an alien in his native land. At last he set his weary feet upon the sterile rocks of “Old Massachusetts.” The very air he breathed put enthusiasm into his spirit, Oh! yes, he found a refuge from oppression in the Old Bay State. He selected as his dwelling-place the city of New-Bedford, where “Liberty Hall” is a sacred edifice. Like the Temple of Diana, which covered the virgins from harm in olden time, so old Liberty Hall in New-Bedford protects the oppressed slave of the nineteenth century. After stopping a short time, he sent for his family, and there they still dwell. I remained in the city with the family, pursuing the avocation of a jobber of work for stores, and at such places as I could find employment. I soon formed connection with a church under charge of the Rev. Mr. Jackson, now Chaplain of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts volunteers. Previous to the formation of colored troops I had a strong inclination to prepare myself for the ministry; but when the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God by serving my country and my oppressed brothers. The sequel is short--I enlisted for the war. I am your humble and obedient servant,
William H. Carney, Sergeant Co. C, Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers.