I want to celebrate our Independence Day 2020 with the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made up of Black soldiers – some Northern freedmen, some escaped slaves.

The 54th figure in one of the most important, bloodiest, almost suicidal actions of the Civil War. In the Library of Congress, a painting depicts the 54th's Sergeant William Harvey Carney carrying the flag in the assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. The soldiers of Carney's regiment led the charge. 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.

In defiance of 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, convincing 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, though, he didn't give up the flag. 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.

Carney lost a lot of blood and nearly died, but not once did he allow the flag to touch the ground. His heroics inspired other soldiers that day and for decades to come. Carney and the 54th's contributions were not only crucial to the North securing victory, but they were also absolutely essential for a Union victory. An important part of American history I thought you should be reminded about this Independence Day holiday.

For his bravery, temerity and courage, New Bedford's Sergeant William H. Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900, the first African American recipient.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at phil@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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