Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

acquaintance, when Wade Hampton's cavalry drew out of the city,

calling out that the Yankees were coming, she armed herself with

this book, and awaited the crisis. Soon the shouts about the

markethouse announced that the Yankees had come; very soon men were

seen running up and down the streets; a parcel of them poured over

the fence, began to chase the chickens and ducks, and to enter her

house. She observed one large man, with full beard, who exercised

some authority, and to him she appealed in the name of "his

general." "What do you know of Uncle Billy?" "Why," she said,

"when he was a young man he used to be our friend in Charleston,

and here is a book he gave me." The officer or soldier took the

book, looked at the inscription, and, turning to his fellows, said:

"Boys, that's so; that's Uncle Billy's writing, for I have seen it

often before." He at once commanded the party to stop pillaging,

and left a man in charge of the house, to protect her until the

regular provost-guard should be established. I then asked her if

the regular guard or sentinel had been as good to her. She assured

me that he was a very nice young man; that he had been telling her

all about his family in Iowa; and that at that very instant of time

he was in another room minding her baby. Now, this lady had good

sense and tact, and had thus turned aside a party who, in five

minutes more, would have rifled her premises of all that was good

to eat or wear. I made her a long social visit, and, before

leaving Columbia, gave her a half-tierce of rice and about one

hundred pounds of ham from our own mess-stores.

In like manner, that same evening I found in Mrs. Simons another

acquaintance--the wife of the brother of Hon. James Simons, of

Charleston, who had been Miss Wragg. When Columbia was on fire

that night, and her house in danger, I had her family and effects

carried to my own headquarters, gave them my own room and bed, and,

on leaving Columbia the next day, supplied her with a half-barrel

of hams and a half-tierce of rice. I mention these specific facts

to show that, personally, I had no malice or desire to destroy that

city or its inhabitants, as is generally believed at the South.

Having walked over much of the suburbs of Columbia in the

afternoon, and being tired, I lay down on a bed in Blanton Duncan's

house to rest. Soon after dark I became conscious that a bright

light was shining on the walls; and, calling some one of my staff

(Major Nichols, I think) to inquire the cause, he said there seemed

to be a house on fire down about the market-house. The same high

wind still prevailed, and, fearing the consequences, I bade him go

in person to see if the provost-guard were doing its duty. He soon

returned, and reported that the block of buildings directly

opposite the burning cotton of that morning was on fire, and that

it was spreading; but he had found General Woods on the ground,

with plenty of men trying to put the fire out, or, at least, to

prevent its extension. The fire continued to increase, and the

whole heavens became lurid. I dispatched messenger after messenger

to Generals Howard, Logan, and Woods, and received from them

repeated assurances that all was being done that could be done, but

that the high wind was spreading the flames beyond all control.

These general officers were on the ground all night, and Hazen's

division had been brought into the city to assist Woods's division,

already there. About eleven o'clock at night I went down-town

myself, Colonel Dayton with me; we walked to Mr. Simons's house,

from which I could see the flames rising high in the air, and could

hear the roaring of the fire. I advised the ladies to move to my

headquarters, had our own headquarter-wagons hitched up, and their

effects carried there, as a place of greater safety. The whole air

was full of sparks and of flying masses of cotton, shingles, etc.,

some of which were carried four or five blocks, and started new

fires. The men seemed generally under good control, and certainly

labored hard to girdle the fire, to prevent its spreading; but, so

long as the high wind prevailed, it was simply beyond human

possibility. Fortunately, about 3 or 4 a.m., the wind moderated,

and gradually the fire was got under control; but it had burned out

the very heart of the city, embracing several churches, the old

State-House, and the school or asylum of that very Sister of

Charity who had appealed for my personal protection. Nickerson's

Hotel, in which several of my staff were quartered, was burned

down, but the houses occupied by myself, Generals Howard and Logan,

were not burned at all. Many of the people thought that this fire

was deliberately planned and executed. This is not true. It was

accidental, and in my judgment began with the cotton which General

Hampton's men had set fire to on leaving the city (whether by his

orders or not is not material), which fire was partially subdued

early in the day by our men; but, when night came, the high wind

fanned it again into full blaze, carried it against the

framehouses, which caught like tinder, and soon spread beyond our


This whole subject has since been thoroughly and judicially

investigated, in some cotton cases, by the mixed commission on

American and British claims, under the Treaty of Washington, which

commission failed to award a verdict in favor of the English

claimants, and thereby settled the fact that the destruction of

property in Columbia, during that night, did not result from the

acts of the General Government of the United States--that is to

say, from my army. In my official report of this conflagration, I

distinctly charged it to General Wade Hampton, and confess I did so

pointedly, to shake the faith of his people in him, for he was in

my opinion boastful, and professed to be the special champion of

South Carolina.

The morning sun of February 18th rose bright and clear over a

ruined city. About half of it was in ashes and in smouldering

heaps. Many of the people were houseless, and gathered in groups

in the suburbs, or in the open parks and spaces, around their

scanty piles of furniture. General Howard, in concert with the

mayor, did all that was possible to provide other houses for them;

and by my authority he turned over to the Sisters of Charity the

Methodist College, and to the mayor five hundred beef-cattle; to

help feed the people; I also gave the mayor (Dr. Goodwin) one

hundred muskets, with which to arm a guard to maintain order after

we should leave the neighborhood. During the 18th and 19th we

remained in Columbia, General Howard's troops engaged in tearing up

and destroying the railroad, back toward the Wateree, while a

strong detail, under the immediate supervision of Colonel O. M.

Poe, United States Engineers, destroyed the State Arsenal, which

was found to be well supplied with shot, shell, and ammunition.

These were hauled in wagons to the Saluda River, under the

supervision of Colonel Baylor, chief of ordnance, and emptied into

deep water, causing a very serious accident by the bursting of a

percussion-shell, as it struck another on the margin of the water.

The flame followed back a train of powder which had sifted out,

reached the wagons, still partially loaded, and exploded them,

killing sixteen men. and destroying several wagons and teams of

mules. We also destroyed several valuable founderies and the

factory of Confederate money. The dies had been carried away, but

about sixty handpresses remained. There was also found an immense

quantity of money, in various stages of manufacture, which our men

spent and gambled with in the most lavish manner.

Having utterly ruined Columbia, the right wing began its march

northward, toward Winnsboro', on the 20th, which we reached on the

21st, and found General Slocum, with the left wing, who had come by

the way of Alston. Thence the right wing was turned eastward,

toward Cheraw, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, to cross the

Catawba River at Peay's Ferry. The cavalry was ordered to follow

the railroad north as far as Chester, and then to turn east to

Rocky Mount, the point indicated for the passage of the left wing.

In person I reached Rocky Mount on the 22d, with the Twentieth

Corps, which laid its pontoon-bridge and crossed over during the

23d. Kilpatrick arrived the next day, in the midst of heavy rain,

and was instructed to cross the Catawba at once, by night, and to

move up to Lancaster, to make believe we were bound for Charlotte,

to which point I heard that Beauregard had directed all his

detachments, including a corps of Hood's old army, which had been

marching parallel with us, but had failed to make junction with,

the forces immediately opposing us. Of course, I had no purpose of

going to Charlotte, for the right wing was already moving rapidly

toward Fayetteville, North Carolina. The rain was so heavy and

persistent that the Catawba, River rose fast, and soon after I had

crossed the pontoon bridge at Rocky Mount it was carried away,

leaving General Davis, with the Fourteenth Corps, on the west bank.

The roads were infamous, so I halted the Twentieth Corps at Hanging

Rock for some days, to allow time for the Fourteenth to get over.

General Davis had infinite difficulty in reconstructing his bridge,

and was compelled to use the fifth chains of his wagons for anchor-

chains, so that we were delayed nearly a week in that neighborhood.

While in camp at Hanging Rock two prisoners were brought to me--one

a chaplain, the other a boy, son of Richard Bacot, of Charleston,

whom I had known as a cadet at West Point. They were just from

Charleston, and had been sent away by General Hardee in advance,

because he was, they said, evacuating Charleston. Rumors to the

same effect had reached me through the negroes, and it was,

moreover, reported that Wilmington, North Carolina, was in

possession of the Yankee troops; so that I had every reason to be

satisfied that our march was fully reaping all the fruits we could

possibly ask for. Charleston was, in fact, evacuated by General

Hardee on the 18th of February, and was taken possession of by a

brigade of General Fosters troops, commanded by General

Schimmelpfennig, the same day. Hardee had availed himself of his

only remaining railroad, by Florence to Cheraw; had sent there much

of his ammunition and stores, and reached it with the effective

part of the garrison in time to escape across the Pedee River

before our arrival. Wilmington was captured by General Terry on

the 22d of February; but of this important event we only knew by

the vague rumors which reached us through rebel sources.

General Jeff. C. Davis got across the Catawba during the 27th, and

the general march was resumed on Cheraw. Kilpatrick remained near

Lancaster, skirmishing with Wheeler's and Hampton's cavalry,

keeping up the delusion that we proposed to move on Charlotte and

Salisbury, but with orders to watch the progress of the Fourteenth

Corps, and to act in concert with it, on its left rear. On the 1st

of March I was at Finlay's Bridge across Lynch's Creek, the roads

so bad that we had to corduroy nearly every foot of the way; but I

was in communication with all parts of the army, which had met no

serious opposition from the enemy. On the 2d of March we entered

the village of Chesterfield, skirmishing with Butler's cavalry,

which gave ground rapidly. There I received a message from General

Howard, who, reported that he was already in Cheraw with the

Seventeenth Corps, and that the Fifteenth was near at hand.

General Hardee had retreated eastward across the Pedee, burning the

bridge. I therefore directed the left wing to march for

Sneedsboro', about ten miles above Cheraw, to cross the Pedee

there, while I in person proposed to cross over and join the right

wing in Cheraw. Early in the morning of the 3d of March I rode out

of Chesterfield along with the Twentieth Corps, which filled the

road, forded Thompson's Creek, and, at the top of the hill beyond,

found a road branching off to the right, which corresponded with

the one, on my map leading to Cheraw. Seeing a negro standing by

the roadside, looking at the troops passing, I inquired of him what

road that was. "Him lead to Cheraw, master!" "Is it a good road,

and how far?" "A very good road, and eight or ten miles." "Any


"Oh! no, master, dey is gone two days ago; you could have played

cards on der coat-tails, dey was in sich a hurry!" I was on my

Lexington horse, who was very handsome and restive, so I made

signal to my staff to follow, as I proposed to go without escort.

I turned my horse down the road, and the rest of the staff

followed. General Barry took up the questions about the road, and

asked the same negro what he was doing there. He answered, "Dey

say Massa Sherman will be along soon!" "Why," said General Barry,

"that was General Sherman you were talking to." The poor negro,

almost in the attitude of prayer, exclaimed: "De great God! just

look at his horse!" He ran up and trotted by my side for a mile or

so, and gave me all the information he possessed, but he seemed to

admire the horse more than the rider.

We reached Cheraw in a couple of hours in a drizzling rain, and,

while waiting for our wagons to come up, I staid with General Blair

in a large house, the property of a blockade-runner, whose family

remained. General Howard occupied another house farther down-town.

He had already ordered his pontoon-bridge to be laid across the

Pedee, there a large, deep, navigable stream, and Mower's division

was already across, skirmishing with the enemy about two miles out.

Cheraw was found to be full of stores which had been sent up from

Charleston prior to its evacuation, and which could not be removed.

I was satisfied, from inquiries, that General Hardee had with him

only the Charleston garrison, that the enemy had not divined our

movements, and that consequently they were still scattered from

Charlotte around to Florence, then behind us. Having thus secured

the passage of the Pedee, I felt no uneasiness about the future,

because there remained no further great impediment between us and

Cape Fear River, which I felt assured was by that time in

possession of our friends. The day was so wet that we all kept

in-doors; and about noon General Blair invited us to take lunch

with him. We passed down into the basement dining-room, where the

regular family table was spread with an excellent meal; and during

its progress I was asked to take some wine, which stood upon the

table in venerable bottles. It was so very good that I inquired

where it came from. General Blair simply asked, "Do you like it?"

but I insisted upon knowing where he had got it; he only replied by

asking if I liked it, and wanted some. He afterward sent to my

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