William Carney was the first black U.S. soldier to earn the Presidential Medal of Honor. In 1863, Carney joined the Morgan Guards, which later became the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Carney was born a slave in 1840. After moving to New Bedford, MA, Carney’s father escaped slavery and later bought his family’s freedom. Carney had hoped to pursue ministry work but found a calling to join the Army.