On this day in July 1863, William Carney a sergeant from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry would perform actions that would earn him the Medal of Honor. The action took place at Fort Wagner on Morris Island, outside of Charleston, SC.

Carney was the first African-American to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the nation’s history. And his actions and those of the 54th would pave the way to change. Prior to this battle, African-American soldiers were considered inferior to white soldiers. After the battle that fallacy would begin to disappear.

The war up to mid-1863 hadn’t gone well for the Union. With far fewer men and natural resources, the Confederacy had whipped the Union to a stalemate. With casualties mounting, President Abraham Lincoln approved the formation of all-black regiments. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was one of the first. Lincoln was initially opposed to the idea but relented under the pressure to raise more troops.

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Commander of the 54th Mass. Volunteers

The South had also toyed with the same idea. They too were in desperate need of troops to do the fighting. Confederate President Jefferson was considering putting blacks in the army but changed his mind after receiving a letter from Major General Harold Cobb.