This is the text of William Gilmore Simms's late-1865 pamphlet, The Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia, S.C. This pamphlet is a revised version of his serialized newspaper account, Capture, Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia, which appeared in the Columbia Phoenix in March and April of that year.
Readers are also encouraged to consider Chapter XXVII from Captain David Power Coyngham's account of his time with Sherman, Sherman's March Through the South, which provides a first-hand account of the "Sack and Destruction" of Columbia from the Union perspective. As such, it provides an intriguing companion piece to Simms's narrative.
It has pleased God, in that Providence which is so inscrutable to man, to visit our beautiful city with the most cruel fate which can ever befall States or cities. He has permitted an invading army to penetrate our country almost without impediment; to rob and ravage our dwellings, and to commit three-fifths of our city to the flames. Eighty-four squares, out of one hundred and twenty-four (?) which the city contains, have been destroyed, with scarcely the exception of a single house. The ancient capitol building of the State-that venerable structure, which, for seventy years, has echoed with the eloquence and wisdom of the most famous statesmen--is laid in ashes ; six temples of the Most High God have shared the same fate ; eleven banking establishments ; the schools of learning, the shops of art and trade, of invention and manufacture ; shrines equally of religion, benevolence and industry ; are all buried together, in one congregated ruin. Humiliation spreads her ashes over our homes and garments, and the universal wreck exhibits only one common aspect of despair. It is for us, as succinctly but as fully as possible, and in the simulest language, to endeavor to make the melancholy record of our wretchedness as complete as possible.
When, by a crime, no less than blunder, General Johnston was removed from the command of the Confederate armies in Georgia, which he had conducted with such signal ability, there were not a few of our citizens who felt the impending danger, and trembled at the disastrous consequences which they partly foresaw. The removal of a General so fully in the confidence of his troops, who had so long baffled the conquests, if he could not arrest the march, of the opposing army, was of itself a proceeding to startle the thoughtful mind. General Sherman declared his satisfaction at the event, and on repeated occasions since has expressed himself to the same effect. He was emboldened by the change, and almost instantly after, his successes became rapid and of the most decided character.
General Johnston was by nature, no less than training and education, the very best of the Confederate generals to be opposed to General Sherman. To the nervo-sanguine temperament, eager and impetuous, of the latter, he opposed a moral and physical nature-calm, sedate, circumspect cool, vigilant and wary-always patient and watchful of his moment-never rash or precipitate, but ever firm and decisive-his resources all regulated by a self-possessed. will, and a mind in full possession of that military. coup d'oeil which; grasping the remotest relations of the field, is, probably, the very first essential to a general having the control of a large and various army.
The error which took Hood into the colder regions of Tennessee, at the beginning of winter, was one which the Yankee general was slow to imitate, especially as, in so moving; Hood necessarily left all the doors wide open which conducted to the seaboard. It required no great effort of genius to prompt the former to take the pathways which were thus laid open to him. Even had he not already conceived the propriety of forcing his way to the Atlantic coast, and to a junction with his shipping, the policy of then doing so would have been forced upon him by the proceeding of his rival, and by the patent fact that there were no impediments to such a progress. We had neither army nor general ready to impede his march. It suggested itself. The facility of such a progress was clear enough, and, with that quickness of decision which distinguishes the tentperalnent of Sherman, he at once rushed into the open pathway.
The hasty levies of regular troops, collected by Hardee, and the clans of scattered militia, gathered with great difficulty and untrained to service, were rather calculated to provoke his enterprise than to impede his march, and, laying waste as he went, after a series of small and unimportant skirmishes, he made his way to the coast, made himself master of Savannah, and, from the banks of that river, beheld, opened before him, all the avenues into and through South Carolina. It is understood that Hardee had in hand; to oppose this progress, something less than ten thousand men, while the force of Sherman was, in round numbers, something like fifty thousand, of which thirty-three thousand consisted of infantry-the rest of artillery and cavalry.
The destruction of Atlanta, the pillaging and burning of other towns of Georgia, and the subsequent devastation along the march of the Federal army through Georgia, gave sufficient earnest of the treatment to be anticipated by South Carolina, should the same commander be permitted to make a like progress in our State. The Northern press furnished him the cri de guerre to be sounded when he should cross our borders. "Woe victis !"--wo to the conquered!--in the case of a people who had first raised the banner of secession. "The howl of delight," (such was the language of the Northern press,) sent up by Sherman's legions, when they looked across the Savannah to the shores of Carolina, was the sure fore-runner of the terrible fate which threatened our people should the soldiers be once let loose upon our lands. Our people felt all the danger. They felt that it required the first abilities, the most strenuous exertions, the most prompt and efficient reinforcements, to prevent the threatening catastrophe.
Hardee, though of acknowledged ability, and considered able as the leader of a corps, was not the man to grasp the business of a large army. All eyes looked to General Johnston as the one man, next to Lee, to whom the duty should be confided and the trust. It was confidently hoped and believed that he would be restored to the command, and that adequate reinforcements would be furnished. At all events, no one doubted that, with adequate supplies of men and material, Johnston would most effectually arrest the farther progress of Sherman's army.
Applications of the most urgent entreaty were addressed by our delegates and leading men in the Confederate Congress to President Davis, urging these objects. But he declined to restore the commander whom he had so greatly wronged, and, in respect to reinforcements, these were too tardily furnished, and in too small number to avail much in offering requisite resistance. The reinforcements did not make their appearance in due season for a concentration of the strength at any one point, and opposition to Sherman, everywhere, consisted of little more than a series of small skirmishes, without result on either side. No pass was held with any tenacity; no battle fought; Sherman was allowed to travel one hundred and fifty miles of our State, through a region of swamp and thicket, in no portion of which could a field be found adequate to the display of ten thousand men, and where, under good partisan leaders, the Federals might have been cut off in separate bodies, their supplies stopped, their march constantly embarrassed by hard fighting, and where, a bloody toll exacted at every defile, they must have found a Thermopyl at every five miles of their march. The Confederates had no partisan fighting, as in days of old. They had a system, which insisted upon artillery as paramount-insisted upon arbitrary lines for defence, chosen without any regard to the topography of the country. "We will make a stand," said the Confederate chiefs, "at this river crossing or that; then fall back to the next river, and so on to the last." Although in a thousand places of dense swamp, narrow defile, and almost impenetrable thicket, between these rivers, it would have been easy to find spots where three hundred men, under competent commanders, who knew the country, might most effectually have baffled three thousand.
The march of the Federals into our State was characterized by such scenes of license, plunder and general conflagration, as very soon showed that the threats of the Northern press, and of their soldiery, were not to be regarded as mere brutem fulmen. Day by day brought to the people of Columbia tidings of atrocities committed, and more extended progress. Daily did long trains of fugitives line the roads, with wives and children, and horses and stock and cattle, seeking refuge from the pursuers. Long lines of wagons covered the highways. Half-naked people cowered from the winter under bush tents in the thickets, under the eaves of houses, under the railroad sheds, and in old cars left them along the route. All these repeated the same story of suffering, violence, poverty and nakedness. Habitation after habitation, village after village-one sending up its signal flames to the other, presaging for it the same fate-lighted the winter and midnight sky with crimson horrors.
No language can describe nor can any catalogue furnish an adequate detail of the wide-spread destruction of homes and property. Granaries were emptied, and where the grain was not carried off, it was strewn to waste under the feet of the cavalry or consigned to the fire which consumed the dwelling. The negroes were robbed equally with the whites of food and clothing. The roads were covered with butchered cattle, hogs, mules and the costliest furniture. Valuable cabinets, rich pianos, were not only hewn to pieces, but bottles of ink, turpentine, oil, whatever could efface or destroy, was employed to defile and ruin. Horses were ridden into the houses. People were forced from their beds, to permit the search after hidden treasures.
The beautiful homesteads of the parish country, with their wonderful tropical gardens, were ruined; ancient dwellings of black cypress, one hundred years old, which had been reared by the fathers of the republic-men whose names were famous in Revolutionary history-were given to the torch as recklessly as were the rude hovels; choice pictures and works of art, from Europe, select and numerous libraries, objects of peace wholly, were all destroyed. The inhabitants, black no less than white, were left to starve, compelled to feed only upon the garbage to be found in the abandoned camps of the soldiers. The corn scraped up from the spots where the horses fed, has been the only means of life left to thousands but lately in affluence.
And thus plundering, and burning, the troops made their way through a portion of Beaufort into Barnwell District, where they pursued the same game. The villages of Buford's Bridge, of Barnwell, Blackville, Graham's, Bamberg, Midway, were more or less destroyed; the inhabitants everywhere left homeless and without food. The horses and mules, all cattle and hogs, whenever fit for service or for food, were carried off, and the rest shot. Every implement of the workman or the farmer, tools. plows, hoes, gins, looms, wagons, vehicles, was made to feed the flames.
From Barnwell to Orangeburg and Lexington was the next progress, marked everywhere by the same sweeping destruction. Both of these court towns were partially burned.
These tidings duly reached the people of Columbia, and eight have prepared them for the treatment they were destined to receive. Daily accessions of fugitives, bringing with them their valuables and provisions, made ample report of the progress of the Federal army. Hundreds of families had seasonably left long before, in anticipation of the danger. Columbia was naturally held to be one of the most secure places of refuge. It was never doubted that this capital city, which contained so many of the manufactures of the Confederate Government, the Treasury, &c., would be defended with all the concentrated vigor of which the Confederacy was capable, especially, too, as upon the several railroads connected with the city, the army of Lee and the safety of Richmond were absolutely dependent. Young women of family were sent in large numbers to a city, where numbers seemed to promise a degree of security not to be hoped for in any obscure rural abode. The city was accordingly doubled in population, and here also was to be found an accumulation of wealth, in plate, jewels, pictures, books, manufactures of art and virtu, not to be estimated---not, perhaps, to be paralleled in any other town of the Confederacy. In many instances, the accumulations were those of a hundred years---of successive generations---in the hands of the oldest families of the South. A large proportion of the wealth of Charleston had been stored in the capital city, and the owners of these treasures, in many instances, were unable to effect any farther remove. If apprehensive of the danger, they could only fold their hands, and, hoping against hope, pray for escape from a peril to which they could oppose no farther vigilance or effort.
Still, the lurking belief with most persons, who apprehended the approach of the Federal army, encouraged the faith that, as the city was wholly defenceless, in the event of a summons, it would be surrendered upon the usual terms, and that these would necessarily insure the safety of non-combatants and protect their property.
But, in truth, there was no small portion of the inhabitants who denied or doubted, almost to the last moment, that Sherman contemplated any serious demonstration upon the city. They assumed---and this idea was tacitly encouraged, if not believed, by the authorities, military and civil---that the movement on Columbia was but a feint, and that the bulk of his army was preparing for a descent upon Charleston. This also seemed to be the opinion in Charleston itself.
All these conjectures were speedily set at rest, when, on the 13th February, (Monday,) the Federal army was reported to have reached a point in Lexington District, some ten miles above Jeffcoat's. On the 14th, their progress brought them to Thom's Creek, the stream next below Congaree Creek, and about twelve miles below the city. Here the Confederate troops, consisting of the mounted men of Hampton, Wheeler, Butler, &c., made stubborn head against Sherman, holding him in check by constant skirmishing. This skirmishing continued throughout Wednesday, but failed to arrest his progress; and as the Federal cannon continued momently to sound more heavily upon our ears, we were but too certainly assured of the hopelessness of the struggle. The odds of force against the Confederates were too vast for any valor or generalship to make head against it ; and yet, almost to this moment, the hope was held out to the people, in many quarters, that the city could be saved. It was asserted that the corps of Cheatham and Stewart were making forced marches, with the view to a junction with the troops under Beauregard, and, such was the spirit of the Confederate troops, and one of the Generals at least, that almost at the moment when Sherman's advance was entering the town, Hampton's cavalry was in order of battle, and only waiting the command to charge it. But the horrors of a street fight in a defenceless city, filled with women and children, were prudently avoided; and the Confederate troops were drawn off from the scene at the very hour when the Federals were entering upon it. But we anticipate.
Whatever hopes might have been entertained of the ultimate success of our defences, they were all dissipated, when, by daylight, on the 16th, (Thursday,) the Confederate troops re-entered the city, burning the several bridges over the Congaree, the Broad and Saluda Rivers. They were quartered through the day about the streets, and along their several bivouacs they dug slight excavations in the earth, as for rifle pits and for protection from the shells, which fell fast and thick about the town. The shelling commenced the evening before, and continued throughout the night and the next day. No summons for surrender had been made; no warning of any kind was given. New batteries were in rapid progress of erection on the West side of the Congaree, the more effectually to press the work of destruction. The damage was comparatively slight. The new capitol building was struck five times, but suffered little or no injury. Numerous shells fell into the inhabited portions of the town, yet we hear of Only two persons killed-one on the hospital square, and another near the South Carolina Railroad Depot. The venerable Mr. S. J. Wagner, from Charleston, an aged citizen of near eighty, narrowly escaped with life, a shell bursting at his feet. His face was excoriated by the fragments, and for awhile his eye-sight was lost; but we are happy to state that the hurts were slight, and he is now as well as ever.
On Wednesday, the 15th, the city was placed under martial law, and the authority confided to General E. M. Law, assisted by Mayor Goodwyn and Captains W. B. Stanley and John McKenzie. With characteristic energy, this officer executed his trusts, and was employed day and night in the maintenance of order. This, with some few exceptions, was surprisingly maintained. There was some riotous conduct after night. Some highway robberies were committed, and several stores broken open and robbed. But, beyond these, there were but few instances of crime and insubordination.
Terrible, meanwhile, was the press, the shock, the rush, the hurry, the universal confusion--such as might naturally be looked for, in the circumstances of a city from which thousands were preparing to fly, without previous preparations for flight-burdened with pale and trembling women, their children and portable chattels-trunks and jewels, family Bibles and the lares familiares. The railroad depot for Charlotte was crowded with anxious waiters upon the train-with a wilderness of luggage---millions perhaps, in value---much of which was left finally and lost. Throughout Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, these scenes of struggle were in constant performance. The citizens fared badly. The Governments of the State and of the Confederacy absorbed all the modes of conveyance.
Transportation about the city could not be had, save by a rich or favored few. No love could persuade where money failed to convince,and SELF, growing bloated in its dimensions, stared one from every hurrying aspect, as you traversed the excited and crowded streets. In numerous instances, those who succeeded in getting away, did so at the cost of trunks and luggage; and, under what discomfort they departed, no one who did not see can readily conceive.
The end was rapidly approaching. The guns were resounding at the gates. Defence was impossible. At a late hour on Thursday night, the Governor, with his suite and a large train of officials, departed. The Confederate army began its evacuation, and by daylight few remmained who were not resigned to the necessity of seeing the tragedy played out. After all the depletion, the city contained, according to our estimate, at least twenty thousand inhabitants, the larger proportion being females and children and negroes. Hampton's cavalry, as we have already mentioned, lingered till near 10 o'clock the next day, and scattered groups of Wheeler's command hovered about the Federal army at their entrance into the town.
The inhabitants were startled at daylight, on Friday morning, by a heavy explosion. This was the South Carolina Railroad Depot. It was accidentally blown up. Broken open by a band of plunderers, among whom were many females and negroes, their reckless greed precipitated their fate. This building had been made the receptacle of supplies from sundry quarters, and was crowded with stores of merchants and planters, trunks- of treasure, innumerable wares and goods of fugitives-all of great value. It appears that, among its contents, were some kegs of powder. The plunderers paid, and suddenly, the penalties of their crime. Using their lights freely and hurriedly, the better to pick, they fired a train of powder leading to the kegs. The explosion followed, and the number of persons destroyed is variously estimated, from seventeen to fifty. It is probable that not more than thirty-five suffered, but the actual number perishing is unascertained.
At an early hour on Friday, the commissary and quartermaster stores were thrown wide, the contents cast out into the streets and given to the people. The negroes especially loaded themselves with plunder. All this might have been saved, had the officers been duly warned by the military authorities of the probable issue of the struggle. Wheeler's cavalry also shared largely of this plunder, and several of them might be seen, bearing off huge bales upon their saddles.
It was proposed that the white flag should be displayed from the tower of the City Hall. But General Hampton, whose command had not yet left the city, and who was still eager to do battle in its defence, indignantly declared that if displayed, he should have it torn down.
The following letter from the Mayor to General Sherman was the initiation of the surrender :
CoLUMBIA, S. C., February 17, 1865.
To MAJOR-GENERAL SHERMAN: The Confederate forces having evacuated Columbia, I deem it my duty, as Mayor and representative of the city, to ask for its citizens the treatment accorded by the usages of civilized warfare. I therefore respectfully request that you will send a sufficient guard in advance of the army, to maintain order in the city and protect the persons and property of the citizens.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. J. GOODWYN, Mayor.
At 9 o'clock, on the painfully memorable morning of the 17th February, (Friday,) a deputation from the City Council, consisting of the Mayor, Aldermen McKenzie, Bates and Stark, in a carriage bearing a white flag proceeded towards the Broad River Bridge Road. Arriving at the forks of the Winnsboro Road, they discovered that the Confederate skirmishers were still busy with their guns, playing upon the advance of the Federals. These were troops of General Wheeler. This conflict was continued simply to afford the main army all possible advantages of a start in their retreat. General Wheeler apprised the deputation that his men would now be withdrawn, and instructed them in what manner to proceed. The deputation met the column of the Federals, under Captain Platt, who sent them forward to Colonel Stone, who finally took his seat with them in the carriage. The advance belonged to the 15th corps.
The Mayor reports that on surrendering the city to Colonel Stone, the latter assured him of the safety of the citizens and of the protection of their property, while under his command. He could not answer for General Sherman, who was in the rear, but he expressed the conviction that he would fully confirm the assurances which he (Colonel Stone) had given. Subsequently, General Sherman did confirm them, and that night, seeing that the Mayor was exhausted by his labors of the day, he counselled him to retire to rest, saying, "Not a finger's breadth, Mr. Mayor, of your city shall be harmed. You may lie down to sleep, satisfied that your town shall be as safe in my hands as if wholly in your own." Such was very nearly the language in which he spoke; such was the substance of it. He added: "It will become my duty to destroy some of the public or Government buildings; but I will reserve this performance to another day. It shall be done tomorrow, provided the day be calm." And the Mayor retired with this solemnly asserted and repeated assurance.
About 11 o'clock, the head of the column, following the deputation--the flag of the United States surmounting the carriage--reached Market Hall, on Main street, while that of the corps was carried in the rear. On their way to the city, the carriage was stopped, and the officer was informed that a large body of Confederate cavalry was flanking them. Colonel Stone said to the Mayor, "We shall hold you responsible for this!" The Mayor explained, that the road leading to Winnsboro, by which the Confederates were retreating, ran nearly parallel for a short distance with the river road, which accounted for the apparent flanking. Two officers, who arrived in Columbia ahead of the deputation, (having crossed the river at a point directly opposite the city,) were fired upon by one of Wheeler's cavalry. We are particular in mentioning this fact, as we learn that, subsequuently, the incident was urged as a justification of the sack and burning of the city.
Hardly had the troops reached the head of Main street, when the work of pillage was begun. Stores were broken open within the first hour after their arrival, and gold, silver, jewels and liquors, eagerly sought. The authorities, officers, soldiers, all, seemed to consider it a matter of course. And woe to him who carried a watch with gold chain pendant; or who wore a choice hat, or overcoat, or boots or shoes. It was stripped in the twinkling of an eye. It is computed that, from first to last, twelve hundred watches were transferred from the pockets of their owners to those of the soldiers. Purses shared the same fate; nor was the Confederate currency repudiated. But of all these things hereafter, in more detail.
At about 12 o'clock, the jail was discovered to be on fire from within. This building was immediately in rear of the Market, or City Hall, and in a densely built portion of the city. The supposition is that it was fired by some of the prisoners--all of whom were released and subsequently followed the army. The fire of the jail had been preceded by that of some cotton piled in the streets. Both fires were soon subdued by the firemen. At about half-past 1 P. M., that of the jail was rekindled, and was again extinguished. Some of the prisoners, who had been confined at the Asylum, had made their escape, in some instances, a few days before, and were secreted and protected by citizens.
No one felt safe in his own dwelling; and, in the faith that General Sherman would respect the Convent, and have it properly guarded, numbers of young ladies were confided to the care of the Mother Superior, and even trunks of clothes and treasure were sent thither, in full confidence that they would find safety. Vain illusions! The Irish Catholic troops, it appears, were not brought into the city at all; were kept on the other side of the river. But a few Catholics were collected among the corps which occupied the city, and of the conduct of these, a favorable account is given. One of them rescued a silver goblet of the church, used as a drinking cup by a soldier, and restored it to the Rev. Dr. O'Connell. This priest, by the way, was severely handled by the soldiers. Such, also, was the fortune of the Rev. Mr. Shand, of Trinity (the Episcopal) Church, who sought in vain to save a trunk containing the sacred vessels of his church. It was violently wrested from his keeping, and his struggle to save it only provoked the rougher usage. We are since told that, on reaching Camden, General Sherman restored what he believed were these vessels to Bishop Davis. It has since been discovered that the plate belonged to St. Peter's Church in Charleston.
And here it may be well to mention, as suggestive of many clues, an incident which presented a sad commentary on that confidence in the security of the Convent, which was entertained by the great portion of the people. This establishment, under the charge of the sister of the Right Rev. Bishop Lynch, was at once a convent and an academy of the highest class. Hither were sent for education the daughters of Protestants, of the most wealthy classes throughout the State; and these, with the nuns and those young ladies sent thither on the emergency, probably exceeded one hundred. The Lady Superior herself entertained the fullest confidence in the immunities of the establishment. But her confidence was clouded, after she had enjoyed a conference with a certain major of the Yankee army, who described himself as an editor, from Detroit. He visited her at an early hour in the day, and announced his friendly sympathies with the Lady Superior and the sisterhood; professed his anxiety for their safety--his purpose to do all that he could to insure it--declared that he would instantly go to Sherman and secure a chosen guard; and, altogether, made such professions of love and service, as to disarm those suspicions, which his bad looks and bad manners, inflated speech and pompous carriage, might otherwise have provoked. The Lady Superior, with such a charge in her hands, was naturally glad to welcome all shows and prospects of support, and expressed her gratitude. He disappeared, and soon after re-appeared, bringing with him no less than eight or ten men--none of them, as he admitted, being Catholics. He had some specious argument to show that, perhaps, her guard had better be one of Protestants. This suggestion staggered the lady a little, but he seemed to convey a more potent reason, when he added, in a whisper: "For I must tell you, my sister, that Columbia is a doomed city!" Terrible doom! This officer, leaving his men behind him, disappeared, to show himself no more. The guards so left behind were finally among the most busy as plunderers. The moment that the inmates, driven out by the fire, were forced to abandon their house, they began to revel in its contents.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?--who shall guard the guards?--asks the proverb. In a number of cases, the guards provided for the citizens were among the most active plunderers; were quick to betray their trusts, abandon their posts, and bring their comrades in to join in the general pillage. The most dextrous and adroit of these, it is the opinion of most persons, were chiefly Eastern men, or men of immediate Eastern origin. The Western men, including the Indiana, a portion of the Illinois and Iowa, were neither so dextrous nor unscrupulous--were frequently faithful and respectful; and, perhaps, it would be safe to assert that many of the houses which escaped the sack and fire, owed their safety to the presence or the contiguity of some of these men. But we must retrace our steps.
It may be well to remark that the discipline of the soldiers, upon their first entry into the city, was perfect and most admirable. There was no disorder or irregularity on the line of march, showing that their officers had them completely in hand. They were a fine looking body of men, mostly young and of vigorous formation, well clad and well shod, seemingly wanting in nothing. Their arms and accoutrements were in bright order. The negroes accompanying them were not numerous, and seemed mostly to act as drudges and body servants. They groomed horses, waited, carried burdens, and, in almost every instance under our eyes, appeared in a purely servile, and not a military, capacity. The men of the West treated them generally with scorn or indifference, sometimes harshly, and not infrequently with blows.
But, if the entrance into town and while on duty, was indicative of admirable drill and discipline, such ceased to be the case the moment the troops were dismissed. Then, whether by tacit permission or direct command, their whole deportment underwent a sudden and rapid change. The saturnalia soon began. We have shown that the robbery of the persons of the citizens and the plunder of their homes commenced within one hour after they had reached the Market Hall. It continued without interruption throughout the day. Sherman, at the heal of his cavalry, traversed the streets everywhere--so did his officers. Subsequently, these officers were everywhere on foot, yet beheld nothing which required the interposition of authority. And yet robbery was going on at every corner in nearly every house. Citizens generally applied for a guard at their several houses, and, for a time, these guards were allotted them. These might be faithful or not. In some cases, as already stated, they were, and civil and respectful; considerate of the claims of women, and never trespassing upon the privacy of the family; but, in numbers of cases, they were intrusive, insulting and treacherous--leaving no privacy undisturbed, passing without a word into the chambers and prying into every crevice and corner.
But the reign of terror did not fairly begin till night. In some instances, where parties complained of the misrule and robbery, their guards said to them, with a chuckle: "This is nothing. Wait till to-night, and you'll see h-ll."
Among the first fires at evening was one about dark, which broke out in a filthy purlieu of low houses, of wood, on Gervais street, occupied mostly as brothels. Almost at the same time, a body of the soldiers scattered over the Eastern outskirts of the city, fired severally the dwellings of Mr. Secretary Trenholm, General Wade Hampton, Dr. John Wallace, J. U. Adams, Mrs. Starke, Mr. Latta, Mrs. English, and many others. There were then some twenty fires in full blast, in as many different quarters, and while the alarm sounded from these quarters, a similar alarm was sent up almost simultaneously from Cotton Town, the Northermost limit of the city, and from Main street in its very centre, at the several stores or houses of O. Z. Bates, C. D. Eberhardt, and some others, in the heart of the most densely settled portion of the town; thus enveloping in flames almost every section of the devoted city. At this period, thus early in the evening, there were few shows of I that drunkenness which prevailed at a late hour in the night, and only after all the grocery shops on Main street had been rifled. The men engaged in this were well prepared with all the appliances essential to their work. They did not need the torch. They carried with them, from house to house, pots and vessels containing combustible liquids, composed probably of phosphorous and other similar agents, turpentine, &c.; and, with balls of cotton saturated in this liquid, with which they also overspread floors and walls, they conveyed the flames with wonderful raipidity from dwelling to dwelling. Each had his ready box of Lucifer matches, and, with a scrape upon the walls, the flames began to rage, Where houses were closely contiguous, a brand from one was the means of conveying destruction to the other.
The winds favored. They had been high throughout the day, and steadily prevailed from South-west by West, and bore the flames Eastward. To this fact we owe the preservation of the portions of the city lying West of Assembly street.
The work, begun thus vigorously, went on without impediment and with hourly increase throughout the night. Engines and hose were brought out by the firemen, but these were soon driven from their labors--which were indeed idle against such a storm of fire--by the pertinacious hostility of the soldiers; the hose was hewn to pieces, and the firemen, dreading worse usage to themselves, left the field in despair. Meanwhile, the flames spread from side to side, from front to rear, from street to street, and where their natural and inevitable progress was too slow for those who had kindled them, they helped them on by the application of fresh conlbustibles and more rapid agencies of conflagration. By midnight, Main street, from its Northern to its Southern extremity, was a solid wall of fire. By 12 o'clock, the great blocks, which included the banking houses and the Treasury buildings, were consumed; Janney's (Congaree) and Nickerson's Hotels; the magnificent manufactories of Evans & Cogswell--indeed, every large block in the business portion of the city the old Capitol and all the adjacent buildings were in ruins. The range called the "Granite" was beginning to flame at 12, and might have been saved by ten vigorous men, resolutely working.
At 1 o'clock, the hour was struck by the clock of the Market Hall, which was even then illuminated from within. It was its own last hour which it sounded, and its tongue was silenced forevermore. In less than five minutes after, its spire went down with a crash, and, by this time, almost all the buildings within the precinct were a mass of ruins.
Very grand, and terrible, beyond description, was the awful spectacle. It was a scene for the painter of the terrible. It was the blending of a range of burning mountains stretched in a continuous series for more than a mile. Here was Aetna, sending up its spouts of flaming lava ; Vesuvius, emulous of like display, shooting up with loftier torrents, and Stromboli, struggling, with awful throes, to shame both by its superior volumes of fluid flame. The winds were tributary to these convulsive efforts, and tossed the volcanic torrents hundreds of feet in air. Great spouts of flame spread aloft in canopies of sulphurous cloud--wreaths of sable, edged with sheeted lightnings, wrapped the skies, and, at short intervals, the falling tower and the tottering wall, avalanche-like, went down with thunderous sound, sending up at every crash great billowy showers of glowing fiery embers.
Throughout the whole of this terrible scene the soldiers continued their search after spoil. The houses were severally and soon gutted of their contents. Hundreds of iron safes, warranted "impenetrable to fire and the burglar," it was soon satisfactorily demonstrated, were not "Yankee proof." They were split open and robbed, yielding, in some cases, very largely of Confederate money and bonds, if not of gold and silver. Jewelry and plate in abundance was found. Men could be seen staggering off with huge waiters, vases, candelabra, to say nothing of cups, goblets and smaller vessels, all of solid silver. Clothes and shoes, when new, were appropriated--the rest left to burn. Liquors were drank with such avidity as to astonish the veteran Bacchanals of Columbia; nor did the parties thus distinguishing themselves hesitate about the vintage. There was no idle discrimination in the matter of taste, from that vulgar liquor, which Judge Burke used to say always provoked within him "an inordinate propensity to sthale," to the choicest red wines of the ancient cellars. In one vault on Main street, seventeen casks of wine were stored away, which, an eye-witness tells us, barely sufficed, once broken into, for the draughts of a single hour--such were the appetites at work--and the numbers in possession of them. Rye, corn, claret and Madeira all found their way into the same channels, and we are not to wonder when told that no less than one hundred and fifty of the drunken creatures perished miserably among the flames kindled by their own comrades, and from which they were unable to escape. The estimate will not be thought extravagant by those who saw the condition of hundreds after 1 o'clock A. M. By others, however, the estimate is reduced to thirty; but the number will never be known. Sherman's officers themselves are reported to have said that they lost more men in the sack and burning of the city (including certain explosions) than in all their fights while approaching it. It is also suggested that the orders which Sherman issued at daylight, on Saturday morning, for the arrest of the fire, were issued consequence of the loss of men which he had thus sustained.
One or more of his men were shot, by parties unknown, in some dark passages or alleys--it is supposed in consequence of some attempted out-rages which humanity could not endure; the assassin taking advantage of the obscurity of the situation and adroitly mingling with the crowd without. And while these scenes were at their worst--while the flames were at their highest and most extensively raging--groups might be seen at the several corners of the streets, drinking, roaring, revelling--while the fiddle and accordeon were playing their popular airs among them. There was no cessation of the work till 5 A. M. on Saturday.
A single thought will suffice to show that the owners or lodgers in the houses thus sacrificed were not silent or quiet spectators of a conflagration which threw them naked and homeless under the skies of night. The male population, consisting mostly of aged men, invalids, decrepits, women and children, were not capable of very active or powerful exertions; but they did not succumb to the fate without earnest pleas and strenuous efforts. Old men and women and children were to be seen, even while the flames were rolling and raging around them, while walls were crackling and rafters tottering and tumbling, in the endeavor to save their clothing and some of their most valuable effects. It was not often that they were suffered to succeed. They were driven out headlong.
Ladies were hustled from their chambers---their ornaments plucked from their persons, their bundles from their hands. It was in vain that the mother appealed for the garments of her children. They were torn from her grasp and hurled into the flames. The young girl striving to save a single frock, had it rent to fibres in her grasp. Men and women bearing off their trunks were seized, despoiled, in a moment the trunk burst asunder with the stroke of axe or gun-butt, the contents laid bare, rifled of all the objects of desire, and the residue sacrified to the fire. You might see the ruined owner, standing woe-begone, aghast, gazing at his tumbling dwelling, his scattered property, with a dumb agony in his face that was inexpressibly touching. Others you might hear, as we did, with wild blasphemies assailing the justice of Heaven, or invoking, with lifted and clenched hands, the fiery wrath of the avenger. But the soldiers plundered and drank, the fiery work raged, and the moon sailed over all with as serene an aspect as when she first smiled upon the ark resting against the slopes of Ararat.
Such was the spectacle for hours on the chief business street of Columbia.
We have intimated that, at an early hour in the day, almost every house was visited by groups, averaging in number from two to six persons. Some of these entered civilly enough, but pertinaciously entered, in some cases, begging for milk, eggs, bread and meat-in most eases, demanding them. The kitchens were entered frequently by one party, while another penetrated the dwelling, and the cook was frequently astounded by the audacity by which the turkey, duck, fowl or roast was transferred from the spit to the wallet of the soldier. In the house, parties less meek of temper than these pushed their way, and the first intimation of their presence, as they were confronted at the entrance, was a pistol clapped at the head or bosom of the owner, whether male or female.
"Your watch!" "Your money!" was the demand. Frequently, no demand was made. Rarely, indeed, was a word spoken, where the watch or chain, or ring or bracelet, presented itself conspicuously to the eye. It was incontinently plucked away from the neck, breast or bosom. Hundreds of women, still greater numbers of old men, were thus despoiled. The slightest show of resistance provoked violence to the person.
The venerable Mr. Alfred Huger was thus robbed in the chamber and presence of his family, and in the eye of an almost dying wife. He offered resistance, and was collared and dispossessed by violence.
We are told that the venerable ex-Senator, Colonel Arthur P. Hayiie, was treated even more roughly.
Mr. James Rose, besides his watch, lost largely of choice wines, which had been confided to his keeping.
But we cannot descend to examples. In the open streets the pickpockets were mostly active. A frequent mode of operating was by first asking you the hour. If thoughtless enough to reply, producing the watch or indicating its possession, it was quietly taken from hand or pocket, and transferred to the pocket of the "other gentleman," with some such remark as this: "A pretty little watch that. I'll take it myself; it just suits me." And the appropriation followed; and if you hinted any dislike to the proceeding, a grasp was taken of your collar and the muzzle of a revolver put to your ear. Some of the incidents connected with this wholesale system were rather amusing.
Dr. Templeton, a well known and highly esteemed citizen, passing along the street, was accosted by a couple of these experts, who stopped and asked him, pointing to the arsenal building, on the hill opposite, "What building is that?"
"The State Arsenal," was his reply, unwisely extending his arm, as he pointed, in turn, to the building, and revealing between the folds of his coat the shining links of a rich gold chain.
Before he could recover himself, his chain- and watch were in the grasp of the thief, who was preparing to transfer it to his own pocket, quietly remarking, "A very pretty little watch; just to my liking."
"That is very cool," said Templeton.
"Just my way," said the fellow, walking off.
"Stop," said Templeton, half amazed at the coolness of the proceeding, and feeling that he had only to put the best face on the matter. "Stop; that watch will be of no use to you without the key; won't you take that also?"
"All right," replied the robber, returning and receiving the key.
The question, "What's o'clock," was the sure forerunner of an attempt upon your pocket. Some parties saved their chronometers by an adroitness which deserves to be made known. One individual replied to the question: "You are too late my good fellows. I was asked that question already by one of your parties, at the other corner." He left them to infer that the watch was already gone, and they passed him by.
We are told of one person who, being thus asked for the time of day by three of them, in a street in which he could see no other of their comrades, thrust a revolver suddenly into their faces, and cocking it quickly, cried out, " Look for yourselves." They sheered off and left him.
We, ourselves, were twice asked the question the morning after the fire, and looking innocently to where the City Hall clock once stood, replied, " \Our city clock is gone, you see; but it must be near 11."
Mr. J. K. Robinson was assailed with the same question by a party in the neighborhood of his house. He denied that he had a watch. "Oh! look, look!" was the answer of the questioner.
"I need not look," quoth Robinson, "since I have not a watch."
"Look, look--a man of your appearance must own a watch. "
"Well, I do; but, it is at my home--at my house."
"Where's your house? We'll go and see."
He took them into his house, suddenly called his guard and said, "These men are pursuing me; I, know not what they want."
The guard drove out the party, with successive thrusts at them of the bayonet, and from, the street, defrauded of their spoils, they saluted house guard and owner with all manner of horrid execrations.
Hundreds of like anecdotes are told, not merely of loss in watches, but of every other article of property. Hats and boots, overcoats and. shawls--these, when new and attractive, were sure to be taken. Even the negroes were despoiled, whenever the commodity was of any value.
An incident occurred, which, though amusing to read of, could not have been very pleasant to one of the party engaged at least. A gentleman was directed to break in the heads and empty the contents of some forty barrels of whiskey stored at the Fair Grounds. He had proceeded with the job only so far as breaking in the heads of the barrels, when a number of soldiers entered the building, and stopped all further proeeeding. They charged him with poisoning the liquor, and forced him to take a drink from every barrel, before they would touch the contents. The consequence was that he was drunk for over a week.
Within the dwellings, the scenes were of more harsh and tragical character, rarely softened by any ludicrous aspects, as they were screened by the privacy of the apartment, with but few eyes to witness. The pistol to the bosom or the head of woman, the patient mother, the trembling daughter, was the ordinary introduction to the demand. "Your gold, silver, watch, jewels." They gave no time, allowed no pause or hesitation. It was in vain that the woman offered her keys, or proceeded to open drawer, or wardrobe, or cabinet, or trunk. It was dashed to pieces by axe or gun-butt, with the cry, "We have a shorter way than that!" It was in vain that she pleaded to spare her, furniture, and she would give up all its contents.
All the precious things of a family, such as the heart loves to pore on in quiet hours when alone with memory--the clear miniature, the photograph, the portrait--these were dashed to pieces, crushed under foot, and the more the trembler pleaded for the object so precious, the more violent the rage which destroyed it. Nothing was sacred in their eyes, save the gold and silver which they bore away. Nor were these acts those of common soldiers. Commissioned officers, of rank so high as that of a colonel, were frequently among the most active in spoliation, and not always the most tender or considerate in the manner and acting of their crimes. And, after glutting themselves with spoil, would often utter the foulest speeches, coupled with oaths as condiment, dealing in what they assumed, besides, to be bitter sarcasms upon the cause and country.
"And what do you think of the Yankees now ?" was a frequent question. "Do you not fear us, now ?" "What do you think of secession?" &c., &c. "We mean to wipe you out! We'll burn the very stones of South Carolina." Even General Howard, who is said to have been once a pious parson, is reported to have made this reply to a citizen who had expostulated with him on the monstrous crime of which his army had been guilty: "It is only what the country deserves. It is her fit punishment; and if this does not quiet rebellion, and we have to return, we will do this work thoroughly. We will not leave woman or child."
Almost universally, the women of Columbia behaved themselves nobly under their insults. They preserved that patient, calm demeanor, that simple, almost masculine firmness, which so becomes humanity in the hour of trial, when nothing can be opposed to the tempest but the virtue of inflexible endurance. They rarely replied to these insults; but looking coldly into the faces of the assailants, heard them in silence and with unblenching cheeks. When forced to answer, they did so in monosyllables only, or in brief, stern language, avowed their confidence in the cause of their country, the principles and rights for which their brothers and sons fought, and their faith in the ultimate favor and protection of God. One or two of many of these dialogues--if they may be called such, where one of the parties can urge his speech with all the agencies of power for its enforcement, and with all his instruments of terror in sight, while the other stands exposed to the worst terrors which maddened passions, insolent in the consciousness of strength--may suffice as a sample of many.
"Well, what do you think of the Yankees now?"
"Do you expect a favorable opinion?"
"No! d---n it! But you fear us, and that's enough."
"No--we do not fear you."
"What! not yet?"
"But you shall fear us."
"We'll make you."
"You may inflict, we can endure; but fear--never! Anything but that."
"We'll make you fear us!" clapping a revolver to the lady's head.
Her eye never faltered. Her cheek never changed its color. Her lips were firmly compressed. Her arms folded on her bosom. The eye of the assassin glared into her own. She met the encounter without flinching, and he lowered the implement of murder, with an oath: "D--n it ! You have pluck enough for a whole regiment!"
In a great many cases the guard behaved themselves well, using their utmost endeavors to protect the property under their charge, even to the use of the bayonet.
An officer, Lieutenant McQueen, stopped with Dr. Wm. Reynolds, and during the fire, worked manfully, and was the means of saving the residence from destruction. His gentlemanly manners won the respect and confidence of the family, and when he was on the point of leaving, the doctor gave him a letter, signed by several gentlemen, acknowledging his grateful feelings for the manner in which he had been treated; saying that; the fortunes of war might some time place him in a position that the letter might be of use to him. This proved to be the case. At the skirmish near Lynch's Creek, this officer was wounded and captured. On showing the letter to a friend of Dr. Reynolds, who happened to be in the hospital, he was removed to a private house, every attention shown him, and when he was able to move, a special parole was obtained for him, and he returned to his home.
The "pluck" of our women was especially a subject of acknowledgment. They could admire a quality with which they had not soul to sympathize--or rather the paramount passion for greed and plunder kept in subjection all other qualities, without absolutely extinguishing them from their minds and thoughts. To inspire terror in the weak, strange to say, seemed to them a sort of heroism. To extort fear and awe appeared to their inordinate vanity a tribute more grateful than any other, and a curious conflict was sometimes carried on in their minds between their vanity and cupidity. Occasionally they gave with one hand, while they robbed with another.
Several curious instances of this nature took place, one of which must suffice. A certain Yankee officer happened to hear that an old acquaintance of his, whom he had known intimately at West Point and Louisiana, was residing in Columbia. He went to see him after the fire, and ascertained that his losses had been very heavy, exceeding two hundred thousand dollars. The parties had not separated for an hour, when a messenger came from the Yankee, bringing a box, which contained one hundred thousand dollars in Confederate notes. This the Yankee begged his Southern friend to accept, as helping to make up his losses. The latter declined the gift, not being altogether satisfied in conscience with regard to it. In many cases, Confederate money by the handfull was bestowed by the officers and soldiers upon parties from whom they had robbed the last particles of clothing, and even General Sherman could give to parties, whom he knew, the flour and bacon which had been taken from starving widows and orphans. So he left with the people of Columbia a hundred old muskets for their protection, while emptying their arsenals of a choice collection of beautiful Enfield rifles. And so the starving citizens of Columbia owe to him a few hundred starving cattle, which he had taken from the starving people of Beaufort, Barnwell, Orangeburg and Lexington-cattle left without food, and for which food could not be found, and dying of exhaustion at the rate of fifteen to twenty head per diem.
In this connection and this section, in which we need to devote so much of our space to the cruel treatment of our women, we think it proper to include a communication from the venerable Dr. Sill, one of the most esteemed and well-known citizens of Columbia. It is from his own pen and the facts occurred under his own eyes. We give this as one of a thousand like cases, witnessed by a thousand eyes, and taking place at the same time in every quarter of the city, almost from the hour of the arrival of the army to that of its departure. He writes as follows:
"On Thursday, the day before the evacuation of the city by the Confederate forces, I invited a very poor French lady, (Madame Pelletier,) with her child, refugees from Charleston, to take shelter in my house, where they might, at least, have such protection as I could give her, shelter and food-for herself and child. She was poor, indeed, having very little clothing, and only one or two implements--a sewing machine and a crimping apparatus--by means of Which she obtained a precarious support. My own family (happily) and servants being all absent, and being myself wholly incapacitated by years of sickness from making any exertion, all that the poor widow woman and myself could remove from my house, besides the few things of hers, consisted of two bags of flour, a peck of meal, and about the same of grist, and about thirty pounds of bacon and a little sugar. These few things we managed to get out of the house, and, by the aid of a wheelbarrow, removed about fifty yards from the burning buildings. Waiting then and there, waiting anxiously the progress and direction of the fire, we soon found that we had been robbed of one bag of flour and a trunk of valuable books of account and papers. The fire continuing to advance on us, we found it necessary to remove again. About this time, there came up a stalwart soldier, about six feet high, accoutred with pistols, Bowie-knife, &c., and stooping down over the remaining bag of flour, demanded of the poor French lady what the bag contained. Having lost, but a few moments before, almost everything she had in the way of provisions, she seemed most deeply and keenly alive to her destitute situation, in the event she should lose the remaining bag of flour ; the last and only hope of escape from starvation of her child and herself. She fell upon her knees, with hands uplifted, in a supplicating manner, and most piteously and imploringly set forth her situation--an appeal which, under the circumstances, it would be impossible to conceive, more touching or heart-rending. She told him she was not here of her own choice; that herself and husband had come to Charleston in 1860 to better their fortunes; that they had been domiciled in New Jersey, where her husband had taken the necessary steps to become a citizen of the United States. She had in her hand his papers vouching the truth of her statement; that her husband had died of yellow fever in Charleston; that being unable, from want of the means, to return to New Jersey, she had been driven from Charleston to Columbia, (a refugee, flying from the enemy's shells,) to try to make an honest support for herself and child. To all this, he not only turned a deaf ear, but deliberately drew from his breast a huge shining Bowie-knife, brandished it in her face, rudely pushed her aside, using, at the same time, the most menacing and obscene language shouldered the bag of flour, and marched off, leaving the poor starving creature, with her helpless child, overwhelmed with grief and despair. E. SILL."
This surely is very piteous to hear, and were the case an, isolated one, it would probably move compassion in every heart; but where the miseries of like and worse sort, of a whole community of twenty thousand, are massed, as it were, together before the eyes, the sensibilities become obtuse, and the universal suffering seems to destroy the sensibilities in all. We shall not seek to multiply instances like the foregoing, which would be an endless work and to little profit.
General Sherman tells General Hampton that, could he find any civil authority, and could they provide him with forage and provisions, he would suffer no foraging upon the people. His logic and memory are equally deficient. Was there no Mayor and Council in Columbia? They had formally surrendered the city into his hands, They constituted the civil authority; but he made no requisition upon them for provisions for his troops. He did not say to them, "Supply me with twenty thousand rations in so many hours." Had he done so, the rations would have been forthcoming. The citizens would have been only too glad, by yielding up one-half of their stores, to have saved the other half, and to have preserved their dwellings from the presence of the soldiers. Nay, did not the in-dwellers of every house--we will say five thousand houses--seek at his hands a special guard--which usually consisted of two men--and were not these fed wholly by the families where they lodged during the whole time of their stay? Here, by a very simple computation, we find that ten thousand soldiers were thus voluntarily provided with rations; and a requisition for twenty thousand men might easily and would probably have been provided, had any such been made; for the supplies in the city were abundant of every sort--the population generally having laid in largely, and without stint or limit, anticipating a period of general scarcity from the march of the enemy.
But, even had the people been unable to supply these provisions--even had the Council failed to respond to these requisitions--at whose doors should the blame be laid? The failure would have been the direct consequences of General Sherman's own proceedings. Had lie not ravaged and swept, with a bosom of fire, all the tracts of country upon which the people of Columbia depended for their supplies? Had he not, himself, cut off all means of transportation, in the destruction, not only of the rail-ways, but of every wagon, cart, vehicle, on all the plantations through which he had passed--carrying off all the beasts of burden of any value, and cutting the throats of the remainder? He cuts off the feet and arms of a people, and then demands that they shall bring him food and forage!
But even this pretext, if well grounded, can avail him nothing. He was suffering from no sort of necessity. It was the boast of every officer and soldier in his army, thqt he had fed fat upon the country through which be had passed; everywhere finding abundance, and had not once felt the necessity of lifting the cover from his own wagons, and feeding from his own accumulated stores. But the complaint of Hampton, and of our people at large, is not that he fed his followers upon the country, but that he destroyed what he did not need for food, and tore the bread from the famishing mouths of a hundred thousand women and children--feeble infancy and decrepit age.
We have adverted to the outrages which were perpetrated within the households of the citizen, where, unrestrained by the rebuking eyes of their own comrades, and unresisted by their interposition, cupidity, malignity and lust, sought to glut their several appetites. The cupidity generally triumphed over the lust. The greed for gold and silver swallowed up the more animal passions, and drunkenness supervened in season for the safety of many.
We have heard of some few outrages, or attempts at outrage, of the worst sort, but the instances, in the case of white females, must have been very few. There was, perhaps, a wholesome dread of goading to desperation the people whom they had despoiled of all but honor. They could see, in many watchful and guardian eyes, the lurking expression which threatened sharp vengeance, should their tresspasses proceed to those extremes which they yet unquestionably contemplated.
The venerable Mr. H--- stood ready, with his couteau de chasse, made bare in his boom, hovering around the persons of his innocent daughters. Mr. O ---, on beholding some too familiar approach to one of his daughters, bade the man stand off at the peril of his life; saying that while he submitted to be robbed of property, he would sacrifice life without reserve--his own and that of the assailant--before his child's honor should be abused.
Mr. James G. Gibbes with difficulty, pistol in hand, and only with the assistance of a Yankee officer, rescued two young women from the clutches of as many ruffians.
We have been told of successful outrages of this unmentionable character being practiced upon women dwelling in the suburbs. Many are understood to have taken place in remote country settlements, and two cases are described where young negresses were brutally forced by the wretches and afterwards murdered--one of there being thrust, when half dead, head down, into a mud puddle, and there held until she was suffocated. But this must suffice.
The shocking details should not now be made, but that we need, for the sake of truth and humanity, to put on record the horrid deeds. And yet, we should grossly err if, while showing the forbearance of the soldiers in respect to our white women, we should convey to any innocent reader the notion that they exhibited a like forbearance in the case of the black. The poor negroes were terribly victimized by their assailants, many of them, besides the instance mentioned, being left in a condition little short of death. Regiments, in successive relays, subjected scores of these poor women to the torture of their embraces, and--but we dare not further pursue the subject. There are some horrors which the historian dare not pursue-which the painter dare not delineate. They both drop the curtain over crimes which humanity bleeds to contemplate.
Some incidents of gross brutality, which show how well prepared were these men for every crime, however monstrous, may be given.
A lady, undergoing the pains of labor, had to be borne out on a mattress into the open air, to escape the fire. It was in vain that her situation was described as the soldiers applied the torch within and without the house, after they had penetrated every chamber and robbed them of all that was either valuable or portable. They beheld the situation of the sufferer, and laughed to scorn the prayer for her safety.
Another lady, Mrs. J-----, was but recently confined. Her condition was very helpless. Her life hung upon a hair. The men were apprised of all the facts in the case. They burst into the chamber--took the rings from the lady's fingers--plucked the watch from beneath her pillow, and so overwhelmed her with terror, that she sunk under the treatment--surviving their departure but a day or two.
In several instances, parlors, articles of crockery, and even beds, were used by the soldiers as if they were water closets. In one case, a party used vessels in this way, then put them on the bed, fired at and smashed them to pieces, emptying the filthy contents over the bedding.
In several cases, newly made graves were opened, the coffins taken out, broken open, in search of buried treasure, and the corpses left exposed. Every spot in grave-yard or garden, which seemed to have been recently disturbed, was sounded with sword, or bayonet, or ramrod, in their desperate search after spoil.
In this grave connection, we have to narrate a somewhat picturesque transaction, less harsh of character and less tragic, and preserving a somewhat redeeming aspect to the almost uniform brutality of our foes. Mr. M.M. C--- had a guard given him for his home, who not only proved faithful to their trust, but showed themselves gentle and unobtrusive. Their comrades, in large numbers, were encamped on the adjoining and vacant lands. These latter penetrated his grounds, breaking their way through the fences, and it was not possible, where there were so many, to prevent their aggression entirely. The guard kept them out of the dwelling, and preserved its contents. They were not merely civil, but amused the children of the family; played with them, sympathized in their fun, and contributed to their little sports in sundry ways. The children owned a pretty little pet, a grey-hound, which was one of the most interesting of their sources of enjoyment. The soldiers, without, seemed to remark this play of the guard with the children and dog with discontent and displeasure. They gave several indications of a morose temper in regard to them, and, no doubt, they considered the guard with hostility, per se, as guard, and because of their faithful protection of the family. At length, their displeasure prompted one of them to take an active but cruel part in the pastimes of the children. Gathering up a stone, he watched his moment, and approaching the group, where they were at play, suddenly dashed out the brains of the little dog, at the very feet of the children. They were terribly frightened, of course, at this cruel exhibition of power and malignity. Their grief followed in bitter lamentations and tears. To soothe them, the soldiers of the guard took up the. remains of the dog, dug for it a grave in one of the flower beds of the garden, tenderly laid it in the earth, and raised a mound over it, precisely as if it had been a human child. A stake at the head and feet rendered the proceeding complete.
That night, Mr. C----, returning home, his wife remarked to him:
"We have lost our silver. It was buried in the very spot where these men have buried the dog. They have no doubt found it, and it is lost to us."
It was impossible then to attempt any search for the relief of their anxiety, until the departure of the troops. When they had gone, however, the search was eagerly made, and the buried treasure found untouched. But the escape was a narrow one. The cavity made for the body of the dog approached within a few inches the box of silver.
Mayor Goodwyn also saved a portion of his plate through the fidelity of his guard. But he lost his dwelling and everything besides. We believe that, in every instance where the guard proved faithful, they were Western men. They professed to revolt at the spectacles of crime which they were compelled to witness, and pleaded the necessity of a blind obedience to orders, in justification of their share of the horrors to which they lent their hands. Just before the conflagration began, about the dusk of evening, while the Mayor was conversing with one of the Western men, from Iowa, three rockets were shot up by the enemy from the capitol square. As the soldier beheld these rockets, he cried out:
"Alas! alas! for your poor city! It is doomed. Those rockets are the signal. The town is to be fired."
In less than twenty minutes after, the flames broke out in twenty distinet quarters. Similar statements were made by other soldiers in different quarters of the city.
Of the conflagration itself, we have already given a, sufficient idea, so far as words may serve for the description of a scene which beggars all and language to portray. We have also shown, in some degree, the usual course of proceedure among the soldiers; how they fired the dwelling as they pillaged; how they abused and outraged the in-dwellers; how they mocked at suffering, scorned the pleadings of women and innocence.
As the flames spread from house to house, you could behold, through long vistas of the lurid empire of flames and gloom, the miserable tenants of the once peaceful home issuing forth in dismay, bearing the chattel; most useful or precious, and seeking escape through the narrow channels which the flames left them only in the centre of the streets. Fortunately, the streets of Columbia are very wide, and greatly protected by umbrageous trees, set in regular order, and which, during the vernal season, confer upon the city one of its most beautiful features. But for this width of its passages, thousands must have been burned to death.
These families moved in long procession, the aged sire or grand-sire first a sad, worn and tottering man, walking steadily on, with rigid, set features and tearless eyes--too much stricken, too much stunned, for any ordinary shows of suffering. Perhaps, the aged wife hung upon one arm, while the other was supported by a daughter. And huddling apse, like terrified partridges, came the young, each bearing some little bundle-all pressing forward under the lead of the sire, and he witless where to go. The ascending fire-spouts flamed before them on every hand-shouts assailed them at every step-the drunken soldiers danced around them as they went, piercing their ears with horrid threats and imprecations. The little bundles were snatched from the grasp of their trembling bearers, torn open, and what was not appropriated, was hurled into the contiguous pile of flame. And group after group, stream after stream of fugitives thus pursued their way through the paths of flaming and howling horror, only too glad to fling themselves on the open ground, whither, in some cases, they had succeeded in conveying a feather bed or mattress. The malls, or open squares, the centres of the wide streets, like Assembly street, were thus strewn with piles of bedding, on which lay exhausted mothers--some of them with anxious physicians in attendance, and girdled by crouching children and infants, wild and almost idiotic with their terrors. In one case, as we have mentioned, a woman about to become a mother was thus borne out from a burning dwelling.
It was scarcely possible to advise, in which direction to fly. The churches were at first sought by many several streams of population. But these were found to afford no security--the churches of God were set on flame. Again driven forth, numbers made their way into the recesses of Sidney Park, and here fancied to find security, as but few houses occupied the neighborhood, and these not sufficiently high to lead to apprehension from the flames. But fire-balls were thrown from the heights into the deepest hollows of the park, and the wretched fugitives were forced to scatter, finding their way to other places of retreat, and finding none of them secure.
One of these mournful processions of fugitives was that of the sisterhood of the Convent, the nuns and their pupils. Beguiled to the last moment by the promises and assurances of officers and others in Sherman's army, the Mother Superior had clung to her house to the last possible moment. It was not merely a home, but in some degree a temple, and, to the professors of one church at least, a shrine. It had been chosen, as we have seen, as the place of refuge for many of other churches. Much treasure had been lodged in it for safe keeping, and the Convent had a considerable treasure of its own. It was liberally and largely furnished, not only as a domain, but as an academy of the highest standard. It was complete in all the agencies and material for such an academy, and for the accommodation of perhaps two hundred pupils. Among these agencies for education were no less than seventeen pianos. The harp, the guitar, the globe, the maps, desks, benches, bedding and clothing, were all supplied on a scale of equal amplitude. The establishment also possessed some fine pictures, original and from the first masters. The removal of these was impossible, and hence the reluctance of the Mother Superior to leave her house was sufficiently natural. Assured, besides, of safety, she remained until further delay would have perilled the safety of her innocent and numerous flock. This lady marshalled her procession with great good sense, coolness and decision. They were instructed to secure the clothes most suitable to their protection from the weather, and to take with them those valuables which were portable; and, accompanied by Rev. Dr. O'Connell and others, the damsels filed on, under the lead of their Superior, through long tracts of fire, burning roofs, tumbling walls, wading through billows of flame, and taking, at first, the pathway to St. Peter's (Catholic) Church. Blinding fires left them almost aimless in their march; but they succeeded in reaching the desired point in safety. Here, on strips of bedding, quilts and coverlets, the young girls found repose, protected by the vigilance of a few gentlemen, their priest, and, we believe, by two officers of the Yankee army, whose names are given as Colonel Corley and Dr. Galaghan. To these gentlemen, both Catholic Irish, the Mother Superior acknowledges her great indebtedness.
They had need of all the watch and vigilance of these persons. It was soon found that several soldiers followed them in their flight, and were making attempts to fire the edifice on several sides. These attempts, repeatedly baffled and as often renewed, showed at length so tenacious a purpose for its destruction, that it was thought best to leave the building and seek refuge in the church-yard, and there, in the cold and chill, and among the grave-stones with the dead, these terrified living ones remained, trembling watchers through the rest of this dreary night.
The Presbyterian grave-yard had a number of families quartered in it for several days after the destruction of the city. Aged ladies and young children were also exposed in open lots until after the Federals left the city.
We here borrow freely from a communication made by the Rev Lawrence P. O'Connell to the Catholic Pacificator. He so fully reports the fate of St. Mary's College, that nothing need be added to it. We have simply abridged such portions of his statement as might be dispensed with in this connection: "St. Mary's College, founded in 1852, by the Rev. J. J. O'Connell, Pastor of the Catholics in Columbia, was robbed, pillaged and then given to the flames. The College was a very fine brick building, and capable of accommodating over one hundred students. It had an excellent library attached, which was selected with great care, and with no limited view to expense. It also possessed several magnificent paintings, executed in Rome, and presented to the institution by kind patrons. Besides the property belonging to St. Mary's College, that of four priests, who were its professors and lived there, was also consumed. Each, as is always the case amongst the Catholic clergy, had his individual collection of books, paintings, statuary, sacred pictures, &c. Nobody who is not a rigorous student and a lover of literature can possibly realize the losses sustained by these gentlemen. Manuscripts of rare value, notes taken from lectures of the most eminent men in Europe and America, orations, sermons, &c., are treasures not often valued by the vulgar, but to the compiler they are more priceless than diamonds. Of those who lost all in St. Mary's, three are brothers, viz: Revs. Jeremiah J. O'Connell, Lawrence P. O'Connell, Joseph P. O'Connell, D. D., and the other, Rev. Augustus J. McNeal."
The Post Chaplain, the author of the report from which we draw, was the only clergyman in the College when it was destroyed. He was made a prisoner, and, though pleading to be allowed to save the holy oils, &c., his prayer was rejected, A sacrilegious squad drank their whiskey from the sacred chalice. The sacred vestments and consecrated vessels used for the celebration of the mass--all things, indeed, pertaining to the exercise of sacerdotal functions--were profaned and stolen. Of the College itself, and the property which it contained, nothing was saved but the massed ruins, which show where the fabric stood. The clergymen saved nothing beyond the garments which they had upon their persons.
The destruction of private libraries and valuable collections of objects of art and virtu, was very large in Columbia. It was by the urgent entreaties of the Rev. Mr. Porter, the professors and others, that the safety of the South Carolina College library was assured. The buildings were occupied by Confederate hospitals, where some three hundred invalids and convalescents found harborage.
In a conversation with the Rev. Mr. Porter, regarding the safety of the College Library, General Sherman indulged in a sneer. "I would rather," said he, "give you books than destroy them. I am sure your people need them very much." To this Mr. Porter made no reply, suffering the General to rave for awhile upon a favorite text with him, the glories of his flag and the perpetuation of the Union, which he solemnly pledged himself to maintain against all the fates.
That his own people did not value books, in any proper degree, may be shown by their invariable treatment of libraries. These were almost universally destroyed, tumbled into the weather, the streets, gutters, hacked and hewn and trampled, even when the collections were of the rarest value and immense numbers. Libraries of ten thousand volumes--books such as cannot again be procured--were sacrificed. It will suffice to illustrate the numerous losses of this sort in Columbia, to report the fate of the fine collections of Dr. R. W. Gibbes. This gentleman, a man of letters and science, a virtuoso, busied all his life in the accumulation of works of arts and literature, and rare objects of interest to the amateur and student, has been long known to the American world, North and South, in the character of a savant. Perhaps no other person in South Carolina has more distinguished himself by his scientific writings, and by the indefatigable research which illustrated them, by the accumulation of proofs from the natural world. A friendly correspondent gives us a mournful narrative of the disasters to his house, his home, his manuscripts and his various and valuable collections, from which we condense the following particulars :
"Besides the fine mansion of Dr. Gibbes, and its usual contents of furniture, his real estate on Main street, &c., his scientific collections and paintings were of immense value, occasioning more regret than could arise from any loss of mere property. His gallery contained upwards of two hundred paintings, among which were pictures by Washington Allston, Sully, Inman, Charles Fraser and DeVeaux; and many originals and copies by European hands, were highly prized from their intrinsic excellence and interesting associations. The family portraits in the collection were also numerous--some ancient, all valuable; and several admirable busts graced his drawing-room. His portfolios contained collections of the best engravings, from the most famous pictures of the old masters and by the most excellent engravers of the age. These were mostly a bequest from the venerable C. Fraser, who was one of those who best knew what a good engraving or picture should be, and who had, all his life, been engaged in accumulating the most valuable illustrations of the progress of art. Nor was the library of Dr. Gibbes less rich in stores of letters and science, art and medicine. His historical collection was particularly rich, especially in American and South Carolina history. His cabinet of South-ern fossils and memorials, along with those brought from the remotest regions, was equally select and extensive. It contained no less than ten thousand specimens. The collection of shark's teeth was pronounced by Agassiz to be the finest in the world. His collections of historical documents, original correspondence of the Revolution, especially that of South Carolina, was exceedingly large and valuable. From these he had compiled and edited three volumes, and had there arrested the publication, in order to transfer his materiel to the Historical Society of South Carolina. All are now lost. So, also, was his collection of autographs--the letters of eminent correspondents in every department of letters, science and art. Many relics of our aborigines, others from the pyramids and tombs of Egypt, of Herculaneum, Pompeii and Mexico, with numerous memorials from the Revolutionary and recent battle-fields of our country, shared the same fate--are gone down to the same abyss of ruin. The records of the Surgeon-General's Department of the State, from its organization, no longer exist. The dwelling which contained these inestimable treasures was deliberately fired by men, for whose excuse no whiskey influence could be pleaded. They were quite as sober as in a thousand other cases where they sped with the torch of the incendiary. It was fired in the owner's presence, and when he expostulated with them, he was laughed to scorn. A friend who sought to extinguish the fire kindled in his very parlor, was seized by the collar and hurled aside, with the ejaculation, "Let the d-d house burn."
It was one almost invariable feature of the numerous melancholy processions of fugitive women and children and old men escaping from their burning houses, to be escorted by Federal officers or soldiers--as frequently by the one as by the other--who sometimes pretended civility, and mixed it up with jeering or offensive remarks upon their situation. These civilities had an ulterior object. To accept them, under the notion that they were tendered in good faith, was to be robbed or insulted. The young girl carrying work-box or bundle, who could be persuaded to trust it to the charge of one of the men, very often lost possession of it wholly.
"That trunk is small, but it seems heavy," quoth one to a young, lady, who, in the procession of the nuns, was carrying off her mother's silver.
"What's in it, I wonder ? Let me carry it."
"No, thank you. My object is to save it, if I can."
"Well, I'll save it for you; let me help you."
"No; I need no help of yours, and wish you to understand that I mean to save it, if I can."
"You are too proud, miss! but we'll humble you yet. You have been living in clover all your life--we'll bring you down to the wash-tub. Those white hands shall be done brown in the sun before we're done with you."
Officers, even ranking as high as colonels, were found as active in the work of insults and plunder as any of their common men. One of these colonels came into the presence of a young girl, a pupil at the Convent, and the daughter of a distinguished public man. He wore in his hat her riding plume, attached by a small golden ornament, and in his hands he carried her riding whip. She calmly addressed him thus:
"I have been robbed, sir, of every article of clothing and ornaments; even the dress I wear is borrowed. I am resigned to their loss. But there are some things that I would not willingly lose. You have in your cap the plume from my riding hat--you carry in your hand my riding whip. They were gifts to me from a precious friend. I demand them from you."
"Oh ! these cannot be yours-I have had them a long time."
"You never had them before last night. It was then I lost them. They are mine, and the gold ornament of the feather engraved with the initials of the giver. Once more I demand them of you."
"Well, I'm willing to give them to you, if you'll accept them as a keep-sake."
"No, sir; I wish no keep-sake of your's; I shall have sufficiently painful memories to remind me of those whom I could never willingly see again--whom I have never wished to see. "
"Oh! I rather guess you're right there," with a grin.
"Will you restore me my whip and feather?"
"As a keep-sake! Yes."
"No, sir; as my property-which you can only wear as stolen property." "I tell you, if you'll take them as a keep-sake from me, you shall have them."
"You must then keep them, sir--happy, perhaps, that you cannot blush whenever you sport the plume or flourish the whip."
And he bore off the treasures of the damsel.
In these connections, oaths of the most blasphemous kind were rarely foreborne, even when their talk was had with females. The troops had a large faith in Sherman's generalship. One of their lieutenants is reported to have said: "He's all hell at flanking. He'd flank God Almighty out of Heaven and the devil into hell."
But this is enough on this topic, and we must plead the exactions of truth and the necessities of historical evidence, to justify us in repeating and recording such monstrous blasphemies. We shall hereafter, from other hands, be able to report some additional dialogues held with the women of Columbia, by some of the Federal officers. Of their temper, one or two more brief anecdotes will suffice.
The Convent, among its other possessions, had a very beautiful model of the Cathedral, of Charleston. This occupied a place in the Convent ground. It was believed to have been destroyed by the soldiers. One of the nuns lamented its fate to the Mother Superior, in the presence of Colonel Ewell, (?) an aid of one of the generals. He muttered bitterly, "Yes; it is rightly served; and I could wish the same fate to befall every cathedral in which Te Deum has been performed at the downfall of our glorious flag."
A gentleman was expressing to one of the Federal generals the fate of the Convent, and speaking of the losses, especially of the Lady Superior, he replied dryly : "It is not: forgotten that this lady is the sister of Bishop Lynch, who had Te Deum performed in his cathedral at the fall of Fort Sumter."
A lady of this city spoke indignantly to General Atkins, of Sherman's army, and said of that general, "He wars upon women!"
"Yes," said Atkins, "and justly. It is the women of the South who keep tip this cursed rebellion. It gave us the greatest satisfaction to see those proud Georgia women begging crumbs from Yankee leavings ; and this will soon be the fate of all you Carolina women."
Escorting a sad procession of fugitives from the burning dwellings, one of the soldiers said :
"What a glorious sight!"
"Terribly so," said one of the ladies.
"Grand!" said he.
"Very pitiful," was the reply.
The lady added:
"How, as men, you can behold the horrors of this scene, and behold the sufferings of these innocents, without terrible pangs of self-condemnation and self-loathing, it is difficult to conceive."
"We glory in it!" was the answer. "I tell you, madam, that when the people of the North hear of the vengeance we have meted out to your city, there will be one universal shout of rejoicing from man, woman and child, from Maine to Maryland."
You are, then, sir, only a fitting representative of your people."
Another, who had forced himself as an escort upon a party, on the morning of Saturday, said, pointing to the thousand stacks of chimneys,
"You are a curious people here in house-building. You run up your chimneys before you build the house."
One who had been similarly impudent, said to a mother, who was bearing a child in her arms:
"Let me carry the baby, madam,"
"Do not touch him for your life," was the reply. "I would sooner hurl him into the flames and plunge in after him than that he should be polluted by your touch. Nor shall a child of mine ever have even the show of obligation to a Yankee !"
"Well, that's going it strong, by --; but I like your pluck. We like it d--e; and you'll see us coming back after the war--every man of us--to get a Carolina wife. We hate your men like h--l, but we love your women!"
"We much prefer your hate, even though it comes in fire. Will you leave us, sir?"
It was not always, however, that our women were able to preserve their coolness and firmness under the assaults: We have quite an amusing story of a luckless wife, who was confronted by a stalwart soldier, with a horrid oath and a cocked revolver at her head.
"Your watch! your money! you d---d rebel b---h!"
The horrid oaths, the sudden demand, fierce look and rapid action, so terrified her that she cried out, "Oh! my G-d ! I have no watch, no money, except what's tied round my waist!"
We need not say how deftly the Bowie-knife was applied to loose the stays of the lady.
She was then taught, for the first time in her life, that the stays were wrongly placed. They should have been upon her tongue.
In all their conversation, the officers exhibited a very bombastic manner, and their exaggerations of their strength and performances great and frequent. On their first arrival they claimed generally to have sixty thousand men; in a few hours after, the number was swollen to, seventy-five thousand; by night, it had reached one hundred thousand; and on Saturday, the day after, they claimed to have one hundred and twenty-five thousand. We have already estimated the real number at forty thousand-total cavalry, infantry and artillery.
We have already passingly adverted to the difficulty of saving the South Carolina College library from the flames, and lest we should have conveyed a false impression in respect to the degree of effort made in saving it, we give some particulars which may be found of interest. We need scarcely say that the professors clung to their sacred charge with a tenacity which never once abandoned it or forebore the exertions necessary for its safety; while the officers of the several hospitals, to which the College buildings were generally given up, were equally prompt to give their co-operation. Very soon after the entrance of the Federals into the city, Dr. Thompson, of the hospital, with Professors LaBorde, Reynolds and Rivers, took their places at the gate of the College Campus, and awaited their approach. Towards noon, a body of soldiers, led by a Captain Young, made their appearance at the gate, and the surgeon, with the professors, made a special appeal to the captain for the protection of the library and the College buildings ; to which he replied with a solemn assurance that the place should be spared, and that he would station a sufficient guard within and without the walls. He remarked, with some surprise, upon the great size of the enclosure and establishment. The guard was placed, and no serious occasion for alarm was experienced throughout the day; but, from an early hour of the night, the buildings began to be endangered by showers of sparks from contiguous houses, which fell upon their roofs. This danger increased hour by hour, as the flames continued to advance, and finally, the roofs of the several dwellings of Professors LaBorde and Rivers burst out in flames. Their families were forced to fly, and it required all the efforts of professors, surgeons, servants, even aided by a file of soidiers, to arrest the conflagration. Every building within the campus was thus in danger. The destruction of any one building would to a certainty have led to the loss of all. The most painful apprehensions were quickened into a sense of horror, when the feeble inmates of the hospital were remembered. There were numbers of noble soldiers, brave Kentuckians and others, desperately wounded, to whom--lacking, as the establishment did at that moment, the necessary labor--but little assistance could be rendered. They were required to shift for themselves, while the few able-bodied men within the campus were on the house-tops fighting the fire. The poor fellows were to be seen dragging their maimed and feeble bodies, as best they could, along the floors, adown the stairs, and crawling out, with great pain and labor, and by the tardiest process, into that atmosphere of reeking flame, which now girdled the establishment. Others, again, unable to leave their beds, resigned themselves to their fate. We can better conceive than describe the terrible agonies, to them, of those hours of dreadful anticipation in which they lay. Happily, the fires were subdued by 4 in the morning of Saturday.
But the danger, even then, was not over. About 8 A. M., the College gate was assaulted by a band of drunken cavalry, one hundred and fifty or more, bent upon penetrating the campus, and swearing to fire the buildings. The officer in command of the guard reported to the professors that his force was not adequate to the protection of the establishment, and that he was about to be overwhelmed.
Professors LaBorde and Rivers, followed by Surgeon Thompson, at once sped, in all haste, to the headquarters of General Howard, appealing to him, in the most passionate terms, to redeem his pledge for the protection of the College and its library. He promptly commanded his Chief of Staff, Colonel Stone, to repair to the scene and arrest the danger. This-revolver in hand-he promptly did, and succeeded in dispersing the incendiary cavalry.
It is with profound regret that we add that the Legislative library, consisting of twenty-five thousand choice volumes, was wholly destroyed in the old Capitol.
Among the moral and charitable institutions which suffered greatly in the fire, were the several Masonic bodies. They lost everything, with rare exceptions; houses, lodges, regalias, charts, charters, jewels, and every form of implement and paraphernalia. Much of this property had been accumulated in Columbia from Charleston and other places-had been sent hither for safe keeping. Their losses will for a long while be Wholly irreparable, and cannot be repaired, unless, indeed, through the liberality of remote and wealthy fraternities in other sections. The furniture and jewels were, in the largest number of cases, of the richest and most valuable order, wholly of silver, and in great proportion were gifts and bequests of favorite brothers who had reached the highest ranks in the order. We enumerate the following lodges as the chief sufferers:
1. Richland Lodge No. 39, A. F. M.
2. Acacia Lodge No. 94, A. F. M.
3. True Brotherhood Lodge No. 84, A. F. M.
[These all met in Columbia.]
4. Union Kilwinning No. 4, A. F. M.
5. Orange.No. 14, A. F. M.
[These met in Charleston.]
6. Carolina Chapter No.: 1, R. A. M.
7. Columbia Chapter No. 5, R. A. M.
8. Union Council No. 5, R. A. M.
9. Enoch Lodge of Perfection--Ineffable Degrees.
10. DeMolay Council, Knights of Kadosch---Ineffable Degrees.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and other orders were sufferers in like-degree with the Masonic bodies. These were:
1. Palmetto Lodge No. 5.
2. Congaree Lodge No. 29.
3. Eutaw Encampment Lodge No. 2.
4. Sons of Temperance.
5. Sons of Malta.
The buildings, chambers, and lodges which contained the treasures of these bodies, were first plundered and then given to the flames. The soldiers were to be seen about the streets, dressed up in the aprons, scarfs and regalias. Some of the Federal Masons were active in endeavoring to arrest the robbers in their work, but without success. In a conversation with one of the Western Masons, he responded to the signs and behaved courteou sly, but he said: "We are told that all fraternization with your Masonic bodies of the South has been cut off, in consequence of your Masons renouncing all connection or tie between them and the Masons of the North. We replied to him that the story was absurd, and evidently set afloat in order to prevent the Northern, Masons from affording succor to a Southern brother in the hour of his distress--that Masonry overrides the boundaries of States, allows of no political or religious differences, and that its very nature and constitution are adverse to the idea of any such renunciations of the paramount duties of the craft, in all countries and under all circumstances.
We add a few particulars in relation to some of these lodges, showing the extent and character of their losses. The minutes of Union Kilwinning Lodge No. 4, were more than a century old; those of Orange Lodge No. 14, very near a century. These are all gone, and the loss is irremediable. A portion of the minutes of Richland Lodge No. 39 are supposed to be safe, as they were confided to the keeping of a Masonic writer, with a view to the preparation of a history.
Among the items of loss, which are particularly lamented, that of the famous sword of State, called "the Cromwell Sword," belonging to the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, is particularly deplored. This was an antique of peculiar interest and value. Its history, as given by Dalcho, may be given here, as particularly calculated to gratify the curious, as well as the Masonic reader. It was a large, elegant and curious two-edged weapon, in a rich velvet scabbard, highly ornamented with Masonic emblems, and with the arms of the Grand Master. It had been presented to the Grand Lodge by the Provincial Grand Master, after the installation of the grand officers, was given as a consecrated sword, and received with. reverent assurances, to keep it safely, so far as human. effort could accord safety. The weapon had been long in the possession of the Grand Master's family, and was said to have once belonged to Oliver Cromwell, a legend to which some degree of probability may be given, from the fact that the Provincial Grand Master was a descendant of Sir Edward Leigh, who was a member of the Long Parliament and a Parliamentary General in the time of the Protector, from whom, perhaps, he received it.
The farther history of this sword may as well be given here. From the time of the presentation it continued in the possession of the Grand Lodge, and was borne by the Grand Sword Bearer, or in later times, the Grand Pursuivant, in all public processions. At length, at the conflagration which, in the year 1838, destroyed so large a portion of the city of Charleston, and with other buildings the Masonic Hall, the sword was, with great difficulty, saved by brother Samuel Seyle, the Grand Tiler, with the loss of the hilt, the scabbard, and a small part of the extremity of the blade. In the confusion consequent on the fire, the sword thus mutilated was mislaid, and for a, long time it was supposed to be lost. In 1852, a committee was appointed by the Grand Lodge to make every exertion for its recovery, and, at length, in the beginning of the year 1854, it was accidentally found by the Grand Tiler, in an out-house on his premises, and was by him restored to the Grand Lodge in its mutilated condition. The lost piece of the blade was ingeniously replaced by a cutler in the city of Charleston, and being sent to New York, was returned with new hilt and velvet scabbard, and was used in its appropriate place during the centennial ceremonies of that year.
With such a history, and blended with such tradition of its origin, we need not feel surprised at the universal and keen feeling occasioned by its loss.
The morning of Saturday, the 18th of February, opened still with its horrors and terrors, though somewhat diminished in their intensity. A lady said to a an officer at her house, somewhere about 4 o'clock that morning:
"In the name of God, sir, when is this work of hell to be ended?"
He replied "You will hear the bugles at sunrise, when a guard will enter the town and withdraw these troops. It will then cease, and not before."
Sure enough, with the bugle's sound, and the entrance of fresh bodies of troops, there was an instantaneous arrest of incendiarism. You could see the rioters carried off in groups and squads, from the several precincts they had ravaged, and those which they still meditated to destroy.
The tap of the drum, the sound of the signal cannon, could not have been more decisive in its effect, more prompt and complete. But two fires were set, among private dwellings, after sunrise; and the flames only went up from a few places, where the fire had been last applied; and these were rapidly expiring.
The best and most beautiful portion of Columbia lay in ruins. Never was ruin more complete; and the sun rose with a wan countenance, peering dimly through the dense vapors which seemed wholly to overspread the firmament. Very miserable was the spectacle. On every side ruins, and smoking masses of blackened walls, and towers of grim, ghastly chimneys, and between, in desolate groups, reclining on mattress, or bed, or earth, were wretched women and children, gazing vacantly on the site of a once blessed abode of home and innocence.
Roving detachments of the soldiers passed around and among them. There were those who looked and lingered nigh, with taunt and sarcasm. Others there were, in whom humanity did not seem wholly extinguished; and others again, to their credit, be it said, who were truly sorrowful and sympathizing, who had labored for the safety of family and property, and who openly deplored the dreadful crime, which threatened the lives and honors of the one, and destroyed so completely the other.
But we have no time for description. The relentless fate was hurrying forward, and the destroyer had still as large a share of his assigned labors to execute. This day was devoted to the destruction of those buildings of a public character which had escaped the wreck of the city proper.
The Saluda cotton manufactory, the property of Colonel L. D. Childs, was burned by the troops prior to their entry of the city and on their approach to it, the previous day. The several powder mills were destroyed on Saturday. The Arsenal buildings (State and Confederate) on Sunday, and it is understood that in the attempt to haul away ammunition from the latter place, the Federals lost a large number of men, from an unlooked for explosion. It is reported in one case that no less than forty men, with their officers-one entire company-were blown to pieces in one precinct, and half as many in another. But the facts can never be precisely ascertained. The body of a Federal captain lay on the banks of the river for several days.
The magnificent steam printing establishment of Evans & Cogswell--with the house assigned to their engravers, and another house, stoked with stationery and book stock--perhaps the most complete establishment of the kind in the Southern States--was destroyed on Saturday. These were all private property, most of it isolated in situation, and deliberately fired.
So, the fearful progress of incendiarism continued throughout Saturday and Sunday, nor did it wholly cease on Monday. The gas works--one of the greatest necessities of the people--was then deliberately destroyed; and it was with some difficulty that the water works were saved.
The cotton card manufactory of the State; the sword factory--a private interest; the stocking manufactory--private; the buildings at Fair Grounds, adjoining cemetery; the several railway depots; Alexander's foundry; the South Carolina Railroad foundry and work shops; the Government armory, and other buildings of greater or less value, partly Government and partly private property--all shared a common fate.
Major Niernsee, the State Architect, was a great loser, in his implements and valuable scientific and professional library.
The new Capitol building, being unfinished, and not likely to be finished in many years--useless, accordingly to us--was spared--only suffering from some petty assaults of malice. Here and there, a plinth fractured; here and there a Corinthian capital. The beautiful pillar of Tennessee marble was thus injured. So, at great pains-taking, the soldiers clambered up on ladders to reach and efface the exquisite scroll and ornamental work on the face of the building--disfiguring the beautiful chiseling which had wrought out the vine and acorn tracery on the several panels; and the bundles of fasces, on the Northern part, were fractured or broken away in parts.
The statue of Washington, in bronze, cast in 1858, for the city of Charleston, from Houdon's original, the rotunda at Richmond, received several bruises from brickbats, addressed to face and breast. A shell scratched his back, and the staff which he bore in his hand was broken off in the middle. But the bronze seems to have defied destruction and may be considered still perfect.
The bust of Calhoun, by Powers, was totally destroyed; so, also, was the ideal personification, by the sculptor Brown, of the Genius of Liberty.
A large collection of complete capitals, destined for the Capitol, and lying in the open square, were destroyed either by the heat of the contiguons fire, or by explosions of gun-powder introduced among them. Hereafter, such beautiful pieces of workmanship might be kept more safely and certainly, by being buried deeply in excavations of sand.
The iron Palmetto tree, that ingenious performance of Werner, of Charleston, dedicated as a monument to the Palmetto Regiment, so renowned in the war with Mexico, suffered the loss of a number of its lower and larger branches but these, we think, may be restored at comparatively little cost. The apartment in the base was torn open, having been wrenched from its fastenings, but no other mischief seems to have been done to it. It was probably spared; as commemorating the deeds of those who had fought under their own flag.
An officer connected with the State Capitol, furnishes the following particulars:
The new State Capitol presented a very conspicuous mark to the cannon on Lexington heights, yet fortunately sustained but little injury--none, indeed; which cannot be easily repaired. Five shots struck the West end, yet none of them did any serious damage, except one. This shattered the ornamented sill and ballusters of one of the corridors of the principal floor. Another shell injured a fluted column on the centre projection. Two shots hit the interior of the brick arch over the Eastern front centre window, and two other shots struck and slightly scaled off the granite jamb division of the treble centre window in the Eastern front.
When in possession, the soldiers tried to deface and defile as much as they could. They wrote their names in pencil on the marble, giving their companies and regiments, and sometimes coupling appropriately foul comments with their signatures, thus addressed to posterity. They seem to have found considerable sport in their practice, with brick-bats, or fragments of rocks, as sharp-shooters; and making the fine bronze statue of Washington their mark, they won various successes against his face, breast and legs. Sundry bruises and abrasions are to be found upon the head and front, and a part of his cane has been carried away among their spolia opima. The finely sculptured oak leaf decorations of the marble door pilasters at the main entrance door of the principal floor over the Northern front, as well as the ornaments of the soffit of that door, have been seriously defaced. The beaks of the eagles, in the panels above, and to the right and left of that doorway, as also the lower portions of the fasces on each side of the same, have been beaten out. The corner, or groin stones, and basement cornice at the South-western corner of the building, were also damaged to some extent by the fire from the adjacent old State House building.
But all the injuries to the structure were insignificant in comparison with that which was done to the finished and raw material within the precinct--the wrought and rude marble, granite, iron and machinery; the work completed in these materials, and which has been accumulating for the last four years in yard and work-shop--in all this, our loss has been very great. There were destroyed among these accumulations forty beautifully sculptured Corinthian capitals, designed for the two large porticoes of the edifice, and wrought in our own beautiful native granite; the Corinthian capitals wrought in Italian marble for the great marble hall and stair-cases on the principal floor in the interior; all the polished shafts, in Tennessee marble, for the latter; and nearly all the marble work and pavements for the whole building in Tennessee and Italian marble--together with the granite ballustrade and railings surmounting the main building and for the surrounding terrace. To these, add the destruction of hundreds of immense unwrought blocks of granite and marble of every description--machinery, tools; the sculptor's atelier and work-shops, containing all the models and some of the unfinished statues meant for the main gable field or tympanum of the Northern front; the original models, of the medallion portraits of Hayne and McDuffie, and one of the latest and best casts of the head of Calhoun. But one small store-house remains uninjured throughout the premises, containing some finished marble work, the monolith granite columns of the main porticoes, and some completed work for the main cornice of the structure. The total pecuniary loss to the State, in the damage thus done to the new capitol, and to the material designed for it, including tools, instruments, models, &c., can fall very little short of one million of dollars in specie.
Something should be said in respect to the manner in which the negroes were treated by the Federals while in Columbia, and as regards the influences employed by which to beguile or take them from their owners. We have already adverted to the fact that there was a vast difference between the feelings and performances of the men from the West, and those coming, or directly emanating, from the Eastern States. The former were adverse to a connection with them; but few negroes were to be seen among these, and they were simply used as drudges, grooming horses, bearing burdens, humble of demeanor and rewarded with kicks, cuffs and curses, frequently without provocation. They despised and disliked the negro; openly professed their scorn or hatred, declared their unwillingness to have them as companions in arms or in company at all.
Several instances have been given us of their modes of repelling the association of the negro, usually with blow of the fist, butt of the musket, slash of the sword or prick of the bayonet.
Sherman himself looked on these things indifferently, if we are to reason from a single fact afforded us by Mayor Goodwyn. This gentleman, while walking with the general, heard the report of a gun. Both heard it, and immediately proceeded to the spot. There they found a group of soldiers, with a stalwart young negro fellow lying dead before them on the street, the body yet warm and bleeding. Pushing it with his feet, Sherman said, in his quick, hasty manner:
"What does this mean, boys?"
The reply was sufficiently cool and. careless. "The d--d black rascal gave us his impudence, and we shot him."
"Well, bury him at once! Let him out of sight!"
As they passed on, one of the party remarked:
"Is that the way, General, you treat such a case?"
"Oh!" said he, "we have no time now for courts martial and things of that sort!"
A lady showed us a coverlet, with huge holes burned in it, which she said had covered a sleeping negro woman, when the Yankees threw their torches into her bed, from which she was narrowly extricated with life.
Of the recklessness of these soldiers, especially when sharpened by cupidity, an instance is given where they thrust their bayonets into a bed, where they fancied money to be hidden, between two sleeping children--being, it is admitted, somewhat careful not to strike through the bodies of the children.
The treatment of the negroes in their houses was, in the larger proportion of cases, quite as harsh as that which was shown to the whites. They were robbed in like manner, frequently stripped of every article of clothing and provisions, and where the wigwam was not destroyed, it was effectually gutted. Few negroes having a good hat, good pair of shoes, good overcoat, but were incontinently deprived of them, and roughly handled when they remonstrated. These acts, we believe, were mostly ascribed to Western men. They were repeatedly heard to say: "We are Western men, and don't want your d--d black faces among us."
When addressing the negro, they frequently charged him with being the cause of the war. In speaking to the whites on this subject, especially to South Carolinians, the cause was ascribed to them. In more than one instance, we were told:
"We are going to burn this d--d town. We've begun, and we'll go through. This thing began here, and we'll stack the houses and burn the town."
A different role was assigned to, or self-assumed by, the Eastern men. They hob-a-nobbed with the negro, walked with him, and smoked and joked with him. Filled his ears with all sorts of blarney; lured him, not only with hopes of freedom, but all manner of license. They hovered about the premises of the citizens, seeking all occasion to converse with the negroes. They would elude the guards, slip into the kitchens, if the gates were open, or climb over the rear fence and converse with all who would listen. No doubt they succeeded in beguiling many, since nothing is more easy than to seduce, with promises of prosperity, ease and influence, the laboring classes of any people, white or black. To teach them that they are badly governed and suffering wrong, is the favorite method of demagogueism in all countries, and is that sort of influence which will always prevail with a people at once vain, sensual and ignorant. But, as far as we have been able to see and learn, a large proportion of the negroes were carried away forcibly. When the beguiler failed to seduce, he resorted to violence.
The soldiers, in several cases which have been reported to us, pursued the slaves with the tenacity of blood-hounds; were at their elbows when they went forth, and hunted them up, at all hours, on the premises of the owner. Very frequent are the instances where the negro, thus hotly pursued, besought protection of his master or mistress, sometimes voluntarily seeking a hiding place along the swamps of the river; at other times, finding it under the bed of the owner; and not leaving these places of refuge till long after the troops had departed.
For fully a month after they had gone, the negroes, singly or in squads, were daily making their way back to Columbia, having escaped from the Federals by dint of great perseverance and cunning, generally in wretched plight, half-starved and with little clothing. They represented the difficulties in the way of their escape to be very great, the officers placing them finally under guards at night, and that they could only succeed in flight at the peril of life or limb. Many of these were negroes of Columbia, but the larger proportion seemed to hail from Barnwell. They all sought passports to return to their owners and plantations.
We should not overlook the ravage and destruction in the immediate precincts of the city, though beyond its corporate boundaries. Within a few miles of Columbia, from two to five miles, it was girdled by beautiful country seats, such as those of the Hampton family--Millwood--a place famous of yore for its charm and elegance of society, its frank hospitality and the lavish bounty of its successive hosts. The destruction of this family seat of opulence, and grace, and hospitality, will occasion sensation in European countries, no less than in our own, among those who have enjoyed its grateful privileges, as guests, in better days.
The beautiful country seats of Mr. Secretary Trenholm, of Dr. John Wallace, Mrs. Thomas Stark, Colonel Thomas Taylor, Captain James U. Adams, Mr. C. P. Pelham, (Mill Creek,) as well as homestead--and many more--all shared the fate of Millwood--all were robbed and ruined, then given to the flames; and from these places were carried off all horses, mules, cattle, hogs and stock of every sort; and the provisions not carried off, were destroyed.
In many cases, where mules and horses were not choice, they were shot clown. But this was the common history. On all the farms and plantations, and along the road sides everywhere, for many a mile, horses, mules and cattle, strew the face of the country. Young colts, however fine the stock, had their throats cut. One informant tells us that in one pile he counted forty slain mules on the banks of the Saluda. Every vehicle which could not be carried away was destroyed.
But there were barbarities reported in the more isolated farm settlements and country houses. Horrid narratives of rape are given which we dare not attempt to individualize.
Individuals suspected of having concealed large sums of money, were hung up repeatedly, until, almost in the agonies of death and to escape the torture, they confessed where the deposit had been made.
A German baker had a rope put round his neck, and was hauled up several times; until, through fear of death, he confessed that he had specie around his person and in a trunk.
A family of the name of Fox, of Lexington, were treated with especial cruelty. The head of the family was hung up thrice by the neck till nearly dead, when he yielded nine thousand dollars in specie.
Mr. Meetze, of the same District, is reported to have been robbed in like manner and by the same process; and one poor idiot-a crazy creature, mistaken for another party, was subjected, till nearly dead, to the same treatment.
This mode of torture, from what we can learn, was frequently resorted to. Other parties were whipped; others buffeted or knocked down, and, indeed, every form of brutality seems to have been put in practice, when-ever cupidity was sharpened into rage by denial or disappointment.
But we sicken at the farther recital of these cruelties.
The reader will have seen that we have brought to a close our narrative of the most conspicuous events, in the "capture, sack, and burning of the city of Columbia." We have been at great pains to make the statements ample, and to justify them by reference to the best authorities and witnesses to be found. We believe that the facts are substantially complete, and so, true in all respects. The incidents given are selected as typical of large groups of facts, representative anecdotes, uniform in their variety, and quite too numerous for separate consideration. But the very uniformity, amidst such a numerous collection, is in confirmation of the general authenticity of the whole and we repeat the conviction that the narrative is wholly true withal, and to be relied on as a history.
We have seen, with surprise, some attempts, in sundry quarters, to account for the destruction of Columbia by ascribing it to accident, to the drunkenness of straggling parties, to our negroes, and, indeed, to any but the proper cause. It is evidently the design of these writers, without inquiring into the motives by which they were governed, to relieve General Sherman and his army from the imputation. If it could be shown that one-half of the army were not actually engaged in firing the houses in twenty places at once, while the other half were not quiet spectators indifferently looking on, there might be some shrewdness in this suggestion. If it could be shown that the whiskey found its way out of stores and cellars, grappled with the soldiers and poured itself down their throats, then they are relieved of the responsibility. If it can be proved that the negroes were not terrified by the presence of these soldiers, in such large numbers, and did not, (as they almost invariably did) on the night of the fire, skulk away into their cabins, lying quite low, and keeping as dark as possible, we might listen to this suggestion, and perhaps admit its plausibility. But why did the soldiers prevent the firemen from extinguishing the fire as they strove to do? Why did they cut the hose as soon as it was brought into the streets? Why did they not assist in extinguishing the flames? Why, with twenty thousand men encamped in the streets, did they suffer the stragglers to succeed in a work of such extent? Why did they suffer the men to break into the stores and drink the liquor wherever it was found? And what shall we say to the universal. plundering, which was a part of the object attained through the means of fire? Why, above all, did they, with their guards massed at every corner, suffer the negroes to do this work? These questions answered, it will be seen that all these suggestions are sheer nonsense. To give them plausibility, we have been told, among other mis-statements, that General Sherman himself was burned out of his own selected quarters, no less than four times. This is simply ridiculous. He was burned out in no single instance. None of his generals was burned out. The houses chosen for their abodes, were carefully selected, and the fire was kept from approaching them in any single instance.
But we have pursued our narrative very imperfectly, if our array of facts be not such as conclusively to show that the destruction of the city was a deliberately designed thing, inflexibly fixed from the beginning, and its fate sufficiently well known to be conceived and comprehended by all the army.
Long before the army left Savannah, a lady inquired of one of the Federal Generals in that city, whither she should retire--mentioning her preference of Columbia. His reply was significant. "Go anywhere but to Columbia." We have stated the conference between the Lady Superior of the Ursuline Convent, and a certain Major of the Federals, who originally belonged to the press gang of Detroit. He warned her at 11 o'clock of Friday, "that she would need all the guard he had brought, as Columbia was a doomed city."
A lady in one of our upper districts, expressing surprise at the treatment of Columbia in this nineteenth, or boasted century of civilization, was answered:
"South Carolina has been long since the promised boon of Sherman's army."
Masonic brethren told others in the city that an order had been issued to the troops before they crossed the river, giving them license to sack, plunder and destroy for the space of thirty-six hours, and that Columbia was destined to destruction. A sick Federal soldier, who had been fed, nursed and kindly treated by a city lady, told her, on Friday morning, that the place would be destroyed that night. The simultaneous breaking out of the fires, in the heart of the city, and in the suburbs in twenty places besides, should conclude all doubt.
1. Enough that Sherman's army was under perfect discipline. They were, as an army, completely in the hands of the officers. Never was discipline, more complete--never authority more absolute.
2. That the fire was permitted, whether set by drunken stragglers or negroes, to go on, and Sherman's soldiers prevented, by their active opposition, efforts of the firemen, while thousands looked on in perfect serenity, seeming totally indifferent to the event.
3. That soldiers, quite sober, were seen in hundreds of cases busily engaged in setting fire, well provided with all the implements and agencies.
4. That they treated with violence the citizens who strove to arrest the flames.
5. That when entreated and exhorted by citizens to arrest the incendiaries and prevent the catastrophe, at the very outset, the officers, in many cases, treated the applicants cavalierly, and gave no heed to their application.
6. That, during the raging of the flames, the act was justified by a reference to the course of South Carolina in originating the secession movement.
7. That the general officers themselves held aloof until near the close of the scene and of the night. That General Sherman knew what was going on, yet kept aloof and made no effort to arrest it, until daylight on Saturday, ought, of itself, to be conclusive.
8. That, with his army under such admirable discipline, he could have arrested it at any moment; and that he did arrest it, when it pleased him to do so, even at the raising of a finger, at the tap of a drum, at the blast of a single trumpet.
But, what need of these and a thousand other suggestive reasons, to establish a charge which might be assumed from a survey of Sherman's general progress, from the moment when he entered South Carolina? The march of his army was a continued flame--the tread of his horse was devastation. On what plea was the picturesque village of Barnwell destroyed? We had no army there for its defence; no issue of strength in its neighborhood had excited the passions of the combatants. Yet it was plundered--every house--and nearly all burned to the ground; and this, too, where the town was occupied by women and children only. So, too, the fate of Blackville, Graham, Bamberg, Buford's Bridge, Lexington, &c., all hamlets of most modest character, where no resistance was offered--where no fighting took place--where there was no provocation of liquor even, and where the only exercise of heroism was at the expense of women, infancy and feebleness. Such, too, was the fate of every farm-house--of six in seven, at least. Surely, when such was the fate and treatment in all cases, there need be no effort now to show that an exception was to be made in favor of the State capital, where the offences charged upon South Carolina had been necessarily of the rankest character; and, when they had passed Columbia--greatly bemoaning the cruel fate which, under stragglers and whiskey-drinkers and negroes, had brought her to ruin--what were the offences of the villages of Allston, Pomaria, Winnsboro, Blackstock, Society Hill, and the towns of Camden and Cheraw? Thus weeping over the cruelty which so unhappily destroyed Columbia, was it that she should enjoy fellowship in woe and ashes, that they gave all these towns and villages to the flames, and laid waste all the plantations and farms between? But enough. If the conscience of any man be sufficiently flexible on this subject to coerce his understanding even into a momentary doubt, all argument will be wasted on him.
Our task has ended. Our narrative is drawn by an eye-witness of much of this terrible drama, and of many of the scenes which it includes, but the chief part has been drawn from the living-mouths of a cloud of witnesses, male and female, the best people in Columbia.