I visited the graveyard along side Sumter Street’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Friday and felt something I didn’t expect—jealousy.
February 17 marked the 150th anniversary of the burning of Columbia led by Union General William T. Sherman. And like many other South Carolinians, I wanted to know more about the burning of my city during the American Civil War—or, War Between the States, if you prefer.
When I asked my friend, Joe Long, for recommendations of historic sites to visit, he suggested this graveyard, for starters. Joe works as a curator at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, housed in the State Museum.
Confederate Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist was buried at Trinity. The name has a nice ring, no? Six South Carolina governors were buried there, including Gen. Wade Hampton III. Three other generations of Hamptons were buried there, also.
Until reading the names on some of the headstones, I hadn’t stopped to consider the rootedness of some of these South Carolina families that went before us. I started to feel a little jealous of the families that made our state what it is.
The Barnwells, Guignards, Hamptons, Ravenels and others have given South Carolina places their names.
That’s a powerful thing.
Joe said not enough attention is given to the churches of the
day. Trinity’s chapel wasn’t destroyed, but the parsonage, Sunday school buildings and church records were lost, according to Tom Elmore in his book, “Columbia Civil War Landmarks.”
Seven churches, two hotels, four schools and 265 homes were among the estimated 450 buildings that were burned.
I also thought I’d take on some other light reading—more like skimming—on this anniversary.
One indispensable account is the diary of then-17-year-old Emma LeConte, titled “When the World Ended.” She was the daughter of Joseph LeConte, a scientist at South Carolina College—now the University of South Carolina.
Emma’s diary shows us the mood of the day and gives a first-hand account of the destruction.
In it, she wrote—
“The wretched people rushing from their burning homes were not allowed to keep even the few necessaries they gathered up in their flight—even blankets and food were taken from them and destroyed. The firemen attempted to use their engines, but the hose was cut to pieces and their lives threatened. The wind blew a fearful gale, wafting the flames from house to house with frightful rapidity. By midnight the whole town (except the outskirts) was wrapped in one huge blaze.”
Her home was spared, though sparks kept falling on the dry roof.
“She (Aunt Josie) thought with us that it was more like the mediaeval pictures of hell than anything she had ever imagines. We do not know the extent of the destruction, but we are told that the greater portion of the town is in ashes—perhaps the loveliest town in all our Southern country. This is civilized warfare. This is the way in which the ‘cultured’ Yankee nation wars upon women and children! Failing with our men in the field, this is the way they must conquer! I suppose there was scarcely an able bodied man, except the hospital physicians, in the whole twenty thousand people.”
Other books recommended to me by friends include biographies
on Hampton and Gist by Walter Brian Cisco and “Sherman’s Flame and Blame Campaign” by Patricia McNeely. Another gentleman at the museum recommended an account of the era by Confederate soldier, Ulysses R. Brooks, titled, “Stories of the Confederacy.”
These accounts are important to our knowledge of history—for those of us whose great grandparents lived here, for those who were born here, and those who got here as fast as we could. We’re all South Carolinians—that’s rooted enough for me.