Tuesday, February 17, 2015



Columbia, South Carolina (JFK+50) 150 years ago today, February 17, 1865, Columbia, the capital of the Confederate state of South Carolina, was sacked by Union troops under command of General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Arguably "the most important day in the history" of the state and the city was described by Whitelaw Reid in 1868 as "the most monstrous barbarity of the barbarous march."

Sherman's 65,000 soldiers accompanied by 2500 wagons had moved toward Columbia at the rate of 10 to 12 miles per day yet many residents hoped that their city, like Savannah, Georgia, would be spared destruction.

When it became clear this was just wishful thinking, many officials and others left hurriedly by rail.  At 10 a.m., the mayor surrendered the city.

Union Major George Ward Nichols said...

"We have conquered and occupy the capital of the haughty state that instigated and forced...the treason..."

Later in the afternoon "the plunder and destruction of valuable property was beyond description" and every store was sacked.

By nighttime, fires broke out "all over the city," but when Sherman walked outside his headquarters and saw the flames, he said...

"They have brought it on themselves."

At midnight, with fires out of control as well as the Yankee soldiers, 2500 disorderly "officers, soldiers and citizens" were put under arrest.

One-third of the city had been destroyed and all 36 square blocks of the business district including the Old State House designed by James Hoban.

A once proud, bustling Confederate capital was destroyed by fire and by Sherman's troops.  Three days later those soldiers marched away leaving nothing but ruins behind.

The Burning of Columbia
February 17, 1865
by William Waud of Harper's Weekly
Library of Congress Image (1868)


"Sherman's March:  Final Revenge," A Documentary by The Knapp Agency,