Lacking documentation that black armed Confederates existed, two lawmakers want a state monument honoring them.
“The State” newspaper reviewed pension records from 1923 that show three blacks claimed armed service in South Carolina units under the Confederacy. Two pensions were confirmed as cooks or servants, and none for armed service.
That didn’t surprise historian Walter Edgar at all.
“In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy. In fact, when secession came, the state turned down free (blacks) who wanted to volunteer because they didn’t want armed persons of color,” said Edgar, who spent 32 years as director of the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies and is author of “South Carolina: A History.”
Any African-American who served in a Confederate unit in South Carolina was either a slave or an unpaid laborer working against his will, Edgar said.
A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Chumley of Woodruff and Rep. Mike Burns of Taylors would create a commission to establish a monument to honor black Confederate veterans.
Chumley said his bill could honor any African-American who served in the Confederacy, whether they picked up a gun or not.
“We are all learning a lot. The purpose of the bill is education,” said Chumley, who filed a companion proposal to research the contributions of black people to the Confederacy and teach about their service in public schools.
For much of the Civil War, South Carolina prevented blacks from carrying weapons because their feared it might lead to a slave revolt. The Confederacy allowed African-American soldiers in the final months of the war as their cause appeared doomed. African-American units did show up in states such as Virginia and Texas.
Democrats said at the time Chumley and Burns released their proposal that its only chance to get their support is if the monument honors blacks who fought for the Union.
A separate proposal from Sen. Darrell Jackson, a black Democrat, and Sen. Greg Gregory, a white Republican, would memorialize Robert Smalls with the first monument on Statehouse grounds to honor an individual African-American.
In 1862, Smalls hijacked a Confederate supply ship he worked on, steered his family to freedom and delivered the ammunition-laden vessel to the Union.
He went on to become a state legislator and five-term congressman.