A friend of mine handed me an internet article on Sgt. William Carney. I’d never heard of Sgt. Carney and my friend didn’t know that I’m working on an inspirational book. Once a slave, his father escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and then helped relatives settle in New Bedford. Carney had lofty plans for his life, but when the Civil War came along, he believed his best way to serve God was to join the military in order to free the oppressed.
He gave up his pursuit of the ministry . . . to join the Army. In an 1863 edition of the Abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, Carney stated: ‘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 serving my country and my oppressed brothers. The sequel in short—I enlisted for the war.’
In May, 1900, Carney became the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. We can see his brave deed sculptured in the Saint-Gaudens Monument in Boston Common. What was his brave deed, one of the most heroic of the Civil War?
As a member of the first African-American regiment in Massachusetts, his Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment stormed Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. This was on July 18, 1863. Charging the fort, many of his men were mowed down by musketry and grape shot (small round balls fired from cannons).
When the bearer of our American flag became disabled, Sgt. Carney threw away his gun and took up the colors. He was soon alone while the dead and wounded were all around him, lying on top of each other. He knelt down, bullets and grape shot whizzing all around him, sand flying in his face. Now wounded he raised the flag high and looked to find the remainder of his regiment, sheltered in the rear of the fighting.
Someone offered to carry the colors for him, but Sgt. Carney refused and was promptly wounded in the head. Wounded other times, he did not relent until he finally reached his regiment. Soldiers cheered for the sergeant and the flag. Sgt. Carney spoke these words: “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.” At that point, he fainted and fell to the ground. Having risked his life to protect one of America’s greatest symbols of liberty and our way of life, St. William Carney died in 1908, having received the honor that was due.
In 1866 William Carney was appointed superintendent of streetlights for the city of New Bedford. He then went to California to seek his fortune but returned to New Bedford in 1869 and took a job as a letter carrier for the Postal Service. He worked at that job for 32 years before retiring. After retirement he was employed as a messenger at the Massachusetts State House, where in 1908 he would be fatally injured in an accident that trapped his leg in an elevator.
As with all of us, greatness can emerge from humble circumstances and can be followed by humble circumstances. We can even die in ways that seem unbecoming to persons highly esteemed by God. Although Elijah was taken directly to heaven by chariots of fire, his successor, Elisha who performed twice as many miracles as Elijah, died from a sickness.
Whether we are janitors, garbage collectors, politicians, lawyers, professors, or whatever perceived “rank” we occupy in society, we are known by our acts of goodness, especially in difficult circumstances. Or we are not known at all. Either way, God sees and we can hold our heads high, carrying dignity with us everywhere we go.
 Ibid.; see historynet.com link