South Carolina is considering legislation to properly display the Confederate battle flag that they used to raise by the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the State Capital’s grounds, and that had earlier flown over the Capital dome. Evidently, plans for an historical display require the appropriation of a few million dollars.
I have some thoughts on this matter, questions for South Carolinians, which I’d like to publish in the capital’s newspaper. That paper says that they generally don’t publish items from out of state writers, so I’m going to try to enlist a historian from one of the state’s universities and colleges as a co-author.
Here’s my first draft.
In 1860, the population of South Carolina was about 700,000 persons according to the census of that year. Of these residents about 400,000 were black slaves and 300,000 were white people. Of the nearly 60,000 families in South Carolina nearly half owned at least one black slave.
Today South Carolinians debate the proper means to honor their heritage. As we all know, they recently removed the Confederate battle flag from its place of honor on the State Capitol grounds. That flag will now appear in a historical display intended to honor the State’s heritage.
During the Civil War, the majority of South Carolina’s residents were black people. Why are today’s legislators planning to honor the minority? Where is South Carolina’s monument to the majority of its 1860s population who lived in slavery? Why not honor the heritage of all of South Carolina’s residents of the Civil War era?
In 1861, United States naval and ground forces arrived on South Carolina’s coast, and many white plantation owners fled inland with their families, abandoning their slaves and land. Thus, those slaves were the first black slaves to find freedom.
Many of those free black South Carolinians wished to defend their newly found freedom and to fight for the freedom of their still enslaved brothers and sisters. The Union army enlisted thousands of South Carolina’s former slaves. The first such unit was the 1st South Carolina volunteers, which later became the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. Eventually more than 5000 of South Carolina’s black residents served in the United States army as part of the United States Colored Regiments.
These brave black soldiers fought at a disadvantage to white Union army soldiers because the Confederate government and its army refused to treat captured black soldiers as prisoners of war. Any black soldiers who surrendered on the battle field or who, wounded, remained on the field, were liable to be murdered by Confederate troops. This happened at the battles of Ft. Pillow, in Tennessee, known as the Ft. Pillow massacre, and Olustee, in Florida. The Confederate armies would have treated white Union fighters who surrendered differently, unless they were officers of Colored Regiments. Surrendering white Union soldiers were treated for their wounds and eventually exchanged for captured Confederate soldiers. Eventually the United States suspended exchanges because of Southern whites’ mistreatment of black Union soldiers.
Where is South Carolina’s monument honoring the heritage of its brave black South Carolinian soldiers?
South Carolina’s minority white residents attempted to secede from the United States because they intended to keep the majority of South Carolina’s residents in slavery. In the heady days of 1860 and 1861, confident of victory, South Carolina’s white residents proudly proclaimed this fact. Today South Carolina wishes to honor the nearly 13,000 white men who died in service to the Confederacy and to its cause. One hundred and fifty years after that terrible war, South Carolinians, all of them citizens of the United States, white and black, might well think to honor their bravery. They should also honor those black soldiers who fought for freedom, and the black slaves who died in slavery during more than a century of bondage.