Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

prescribed the routes of march for the several columns as far as

Fayetteville, North Carolina, and is conclusive that I then

regarded Columbia as simply one point on our general route of

march, and not as an important conquest.

During the 16th of February the Fifteenth Corps reached the point

opposite Columbia, and pushed on for the Saluda Factory three miles

above, crossed that stream, and the head of column reached Broad

River just in time to find its bridge in flames, Butler's cavalry

having just passed over into Columbia. The head of Slocum's column

also reached the point opposite Columbia the same morning, but the

bulk of his army was back at Lexington. I reached this place early

in the morning of the 16th, met General Slocum there; and explained

to him the purport of General Order No. 26, which contemplated the

passage of his army across Broad River at Alston, fifteen miles

above Columbia. Riding down to the river-bank, I saw the wreck of

the large bridge which had been burned by the enemy, with its many

stone piers still standing, but the superstructure gone. Across

the Congaree River lay the city of Columbia, in plain, easy view.

I could see the unfinished State-House, a handsome granite

structure, and the ruins of the railroad depot, which were still

smouldering. Occasionally a few citizens or cavalry could be seen

running across the streets, and quite a number of negroes were

seemingly busy in carrying off bags of grain or meal, which were

piled up near the burned depot.

Captain De Gres had a section of his twenty-pound Parrott guns

unlimbered, firing into the town. I asked him what he was firing

for; he said he could see some rebel cavalry occasionally at the

intersections of the streets, and he had an idea that there was a

large force of infantry concealed on the opposite bank, lying low,

in case we should attempt to cross over directly into the town. I

instructed him not to fire any more into the town, but consented to

his bursting a few shells near the depot, to scare away the negroes

who were appropriating the bags of corn and meal which we wanted,

also to fire three shots at the unoccupied State-House. I stood by

and saw these fired, and then all firing ceased. Although this

matter of firing into Columbia has been the subject of much abuse

and investigation, I have yet to hear of any single person having

been killed in Columbia by our cannon. On the other hand, the

night before, when Woods's division was in camp in the open fields

at Little Congaree, it was shelled all night by a rebel battery

from the other aide of the river. This provoked me much at the

time, for it was wanton mischief, as Generals Beauregard and

Hampton must have been convinced that they could not prevent our

entrance into Columbia. I have always contended that I would have

been justified in retaliating for this unnecessary act of war, but

did not, though I always characterized it as it deserved.

The night of the 16th I camped near an old prison bivouac opposite

Columbia, known to our prisoners of war as "Camp Sorghum," where

remained the mud-hovels and holes in the ground which our prisoners

had made to shelter themselves from the winter's cold and the

summer's heat. The Fifteenth Corps was then ahead, reaching to

Broad River, about four miles above Columbia; the Seventeenth Corps

was behind, on the river-bank opposite Columbia; and the left wing

and cavalry had turned north toward Alston.

The next morning, viz., February 17th, I rode to the head of

General Howard's column, and found that during the night he had

ferried Stone's brigade of Woods's division of the Fifteenth

Corps across by rafts made of the pontoons, and that brigade was

then deployed on the opposite bank to cover the construction of a

pontoon-bridge nearly finished.

I sat with General Howard on a log, watching the men lay this

bridge; and about 9 or 10 A.M. a messenger came from Colonel Stone

on the other aide, saying that the Mayor of Columbia had come out

of the city to surrender the place, and asking for orders. I

simply remarked to General Howard that he had his orders, to let

Colonel Stone go on into the city, and that we would follow as soon

as the bridge was ready. By this same messenger I received a note

in pencil from the Lady Superioress of a convent or school in

Columbia, in which she claimed to have been a teacher in a convent

in Brown County, Ohio, at the time my daughter Minnie was a pupil

there, and therefore asking special protection. My recollection

is, that I gave the note to my brother-in-law, Colonel Ewing, then

inspector-general on my staff, with instructions to see this lady,

and assure her that we contemplated no destruction of any private

property in Columbia at all.

As soon as the bridge was done, I led my horse over it, followed by

my whole staff. General Howard accompanied me with his, and

General Logan was next in order, followed by General C. R. Woods,

and the whole of the Fifteenth Corps. Ascending the hill, we soon

emerged into a broad road leading into Columbia, between old fields

of corn and cotton, and, entering the city, we found seemingly all

its population, white and black, in the streets. A high and

boisterous wind was prevailing from the north, and flakes of cotton

were flying about in the air and lodging in the limbs of the trees,

reminding us of a Northern snow-storm. Near the market-square we

found Stone's brigade halted, with arms stacked, and a large detail

of his men, along with some citizens, engaged with an old fire-

engine, trying to put out the fire in a long pile of burning

cotton-bales, which I was told had been fired by the rebel cavalry

on withdrawing from the city that morning. I know that, to avoid

this row of burning cotton-bales, I had to ride my horse on the

sidewalk. In the market-square had collected a large crowd of

whites and blacks, among whom was the mayor of the city, Dr.

Goodwin, quite a respectable old gentleman, who was extremely

anxious to protect the interests of the citizens. He was on foot,

and I on horseback, and it is probable I told him then not to be

uneasy, that we did not intend to stay long, and had no purpose to

injure the private citizens or private property. About this time I

noticed several men trying to get through the crowd to speak with

me, and called to some black people to make room for them; when

they reached me, they explained that they were officers of our

army, who had been prisoners, had escaped from the rebel prison and

guard, and were of course overjoyed to find themselves safe with

us. I told them that, as soon as things settled down, they should

report to General Howard, who would provide for their safety, and

enable them to travel with us. One of them handed me a paper,

asking me to read it at my leisure; I put it in my breast-pocket

and rode on. General Howard was still with me, and, riding down

the street which led by the right to the Charleston depot, we found

it and a large storehouse burned to the ground, but there were, on

the platform and ground near by, piles of cotton bags filled with

corn and corn-meal, partially burned.

A detachment of Stone's brigade was guarding this, and separating

the good from the bad. We rode along the railroad-track, some

three or four hundred yards, to a large foundery, when some man

rode up and said the rebel cavalry were close by, and he warned us

that we might get shot. We accordingly turned back to the market-

square, and en route noticed that, several of the men were

evidently in liquor, when I called General Howard's attention to

it. He left me and rode toward General Woods's head of column,

which was defiling through the town. On reaching the

market-square, I again met Dr. Goodwin, and inquired where he

proposed to quarter me, and he said that he had selected the house

of Blanton Duncan, Esq., a citizen of Louisville, Kentucky, then a

resident there, who had the contract for manufacturing the

Confederate money, and had fled with Hampton's cavalry. We all

rode some six or eight squares back from the new State-House, and

found a very good modern house, completely furnished, with stabling

and a large yard, took it as our headquarters, and occupied it

during our stay. I considered General Howard as in command of the

place, and referred the many applicants for guards and protection

to him. Before our headquarters-wagons had got up, I strolled

through the streets of Columbia, found sentinels posted at the

principal intersections, and generally good order prevailing, but

did not again return to the main street, because it was filled with

a crowd of citizens watching the soldiers marching by.

During the afternoon of that day, February 17th, the whole of the

Fifteenth Corps passed through the town and out on the Camden and

Winnsboro' roads. The Seventeenth Corps did not enter the city at

all, but crossed directly over to the Winnsboro' road from the

pontoon bridge at Broad River, which was about four miles above the


After we had got, as it were, settled in Blanton Duncan's house,

say about 2 p.m., I overhauled my pocket according to custom, to

read more carefully the various notes and memoranda received during

the day, and found the paper which had been given me, as described,

by one of our escaped prisoners. It proved to be the song of

"Sherman's March to the Sea," which had been composed by Adjutant

S. H. M. Byers, of the Fifth Iowa Infantry, when a prisoner in the

asylum at Columbia, which had been beautifully written off by a

fellow-prisoner, and handed to me in person. This appeared to me

so good that I at once sent for Byers, attached him to my staff,

provided him with horse and equipment, and took him as far as

Fayetteville, North Carolina, whence he was sent to Washington as

bearer of dispatches. He is now United States consul at Zurich,

Switzerland, where I have since been his guest. I insert the song

here for convenient reference and preservation. Byers said that

there was an excellent glee-club among the prisoners in Columbia,

who used to sing it well, with an audience often of rebel ladies:


Composed by Adjutant Byers, Fifth Iowa Infantry. Arranged and sung

by the Prisoners in Columbia Prison.


Our camp-fires shone bright on the mountain

That frowned on the river below,

As we stood by our guns in the morning,

And eagerly watched for the foe;

When a rider came out of the darkness

That hung over mountain and tree,

And shouted, "Boys, up and be ready!

For Sherman will march to the sea!"


Then sang we a song of our chieftain,

That echoed over river and lea;

And the stars of our banner shone brighter

When Sherman marched down to the sea!


Then cheer upon cheer for bold Sherman

Went up from each valley and glen,

And the bugles reechoed the music

That came from the lips of the men;

For we knew that the stars in our banner

More bright in their splendor would be,

And that blessings from Northland world greet us,

When Sherman marched down to the sea!

Then sang we a song, etc.


Then forward, boys! forward to battle!

We marched on our wearisome way,

We stormed the wild hills of Resacar

God bless those who fell on that day!

Then Kenesaw frowned in its glory,

Frowned down on the flag of the free;

But the East and the West bore our standard,

And Sherman marched on to the sea!

Then sang we a song, etc.


Still onward we pressed, till our banners

Swept out from Atlanta's grim walls,

And the blood of the patriot dampened

The soil where the traitor-flag falls;

But we paused not to weep for the fallen,

Who slept by each river and tree,

Yet we twined them a wreath of the laurel,

As Sherman marched down to the sea!

Then sang we a song, etc.


Oh, proud was our army that morning,

That stood where the pine darkly towers,

When Sherman said, "Boys, you are weary,

But to-day fair Savannah is ours!"

Then sang we the song of our chieftain,

That echoed over river and lea,

And the stars in our banner shone brighter

When Sherman camped down by the sea!

Toward evening of February 17th, the mayor, Dr. Goodwin, came to my

quarters at Duncan's house, and remarked that there was a lady in

Columbia who professed to be a special friend of mine. On his

giving her name, I could not recall it, but inquired as to her

maiden or family name. He answered Poyas. It so happened that,

when I was a lieutenant at Fort Moultrie, in 1842-'46, I used very

often to visit a family of that name on the east branch of Cooper

River, about forty miles from Fort Moultrie, and to hunt with the

son, Mr. James Poyas, an elegant young fellow and a fine sportsman.

His father, mother, and several sisters, composed the family, and

were extremely hospitable. One of the ladies was very fond of

painting in water-colors, which was one of my weaknesses, and on

one occasion I had presented her with a volume treating of water-

colors. Of course, I was glad to renew the acquaintance, and

proposed to Dr. Goodwin that we should walk to her house and visit

this lady, which we did. The house stood beyond the Charlotte

depot, in a large lot, was of frame, with a high porch, which was

reached by a set of steps outside. Entering this yard, I noticed

ducks and chickens, and a general air of peace and comfort that was

really pleasant to behold at that time of universal desolation; the

lady in question met us at the head of the steps and invited us

into a parlor which was perfectly neat and well furnished. After

inquiring about her father, mother, sisters, and especially her

brother James, my special friend, I could not help saying that I

was pleased to notice that our men had not handled her house and

premises as roughly as was their wont. "I owe it to you, general,"

she answered. "Not at all. I did not know you were here till a

few minutes ago." She reiterated that she was indebted to me for

the perfect safety of her house and property, and added, "You

remember, when you were at our house on Cooper River in 1845, you

gave me a book;" and she handed me the book in question, on the fly

leaf of which was written: "To Miss Poyas, with the compliments of

W. T. Sherman, First-lieutenant Third Artillery." She then

explained that, as our army approached Columbia, there was a doubt

in her mind whether the terrible Sherman who was devastating the

land were W. T. Sherman or T. W. Sherman, both known to be generals

in the Northern army; but, on the supposition that he was her old

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