Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground

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"Boys the Old Flag Never Touched The Ground"
Cover, sheet music, 1909, with photo of W.H. Carney
Songwriter(s)Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson
Composer(s)Henry Mather
Lyricist(s)George E. Lothrop

"Boys the Old Flag Never Touched The Ground" is a patriotic song that was sung at events about the Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The song was written by Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson, and J. Rosamond Johnson and was sung in their Broadway musical "Shoo Fly Regiment." It was published in 1901. They dedicated the song to Carney.

It celebrates his actions during the Battle of Fort Wagner during the American Civil War. After Carney's death in 1908, Henry Mather and George E. Lothrop put his song to music and published it. The chorus celebrates Carney's actions:

'Twas the Blue against the Gray, Boys,
And he said to all around,
"I've only done my duty boys,
The old Flag never touch'd the ground.
"I've only done my duty boys,"
He said to all around,
"I've only done my duty boys,
It never touched the ground.

The account of Sgt.Carney's action as it appears on his Medal of Honor citation May 23, 1900:

When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.

The account of Sgt. Carney's action as it appeared in 'The United States Service Magazine, 1864:

As our forces retire, Sergeant Carney, who has kept the colors of his regiment flying upon the parapet of Wagner during the entire conflict, is seen creeping along on one knee, still holding up the flag, and only yielding its sacred trust upon finding an officer of his regiment. As he enter the field-hospital, where his wounded comrades are being brought in, they cheer him and the colors. Though nearly exhausted with the loss of blood, he says, "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground."[1]


  1. ^ Davis, "Three Months Around Charleston Bar", p. 282.


  • Seniors, Paula Marie, "Beyond Lift Every Voice and Sing: The Culture of Uplift, Identity and Politics in Black Musical Theater," Ohio State University Press, 2003
  • Davis, Robert Stewart. "Three Months Around Charleston Bar; Or, the Great Siege as We Saw It". The United States Service Magazine. New York: Charles B. Richardson (1864) I:3 March 1864.