In Search of the Black Confederate Unicorn

Two South Carolina legislators who sponsored a bill to erect a monument to African-American Confederate Veterans were confronted over the weekend with new evidence that the men they wish to honor never existed.

In October, state Representatives Bill Chumley (R) and Mike Burns (R) announced that they would file a bill ahead of the state’s January legislative session that would add a monument to African-American Confederate war veterans on the statehouse grounds. As this article in the Post and Courier from October 9th notes, this is despite the fact that historians consider the idea of African-American Confederate veterans a myth which grew up in the post-Civil Rights Era as emblems and symbols of the Confederacy became more universally identified with racism.

As historian Walter Edgar told The State newspaper, not only is there no evidence of any black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy, the state specifically rejected free blacks volunteers at the outset of the war because of longstanding opposition to arming blacks, free or enslaved. As Edgar put it, “any African-American who served in a Confederate unit in South Carolina was either a slave or an unpaid laborer working against his will.”

The specifics of this story challenge my ability to pry apart pure bad faith and from its second cousin, willful self-delusion.

In any case, The State reviewed state pension records to see if there was any evidence of Chumley and Burns black confederates. It didn’t pan out.

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.

The best part of the whole story is Chumley’s reaction to the State report: “We are all learning a lot. The purpose of the bill is education.”