“I ran upstairs to my bedroom windows just in time to see the U.S. flag run up over the State house. O what a horrid sight! what a degradation! After four long bitter years of bloodshed and hatred, now to float there at last! …The troops now in town is a brigade commanded by Col. Stone. Everything is quiet and orderly. Guards have been placed to protect houses, and Sherman has promised not to disturb private property. How relieved and thankful we feel after all our anxiety and distress!”
So wrote Emma Florence LeConte in her journal’s entry for February 17th, 1865. Unfortunately, her relief would turn to grief as roughly one-third of the city was left a smoking ruin by the following morning. Today marks 150 years since Sherman’s army captured the capital of South Carolina, and tonight will mark the 150th anniversary of the massive fires that burned much of the city. Debate continues to swirl regarding the exact details of the fires and who was responsible for them. An interesting article from the February 7th issue of The State newspaper consults a panel of historians and authors on the subject of the Burning of Columbia:
“Who was really responsible for the burning of Columbia in 1865?”
Yet despite the destruction and violence of that night 150 years ago, there were moments of compassion that occurred amid the chaos, as this article from The State remembers:
“Acts of compassion also marked burning of Columbia”
Interestingly, the same evening that the South Carolina capital was facing its trials, a city rivaling Columbia in importance was being evacuated. Charleston’s Confederate defenders and many of its inhabitants pulled out of the city the night of the 17th, allowing the Union to finally capture the city after many months of siege. Thus in just a couple of days in 1865 the two most prominent cities in the birthplace of secession were finally in Union hands.