Burning of Columbia "Ideal Of Hell" February 17, 1865
On February 17, 1865, Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his army marched into Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. The mayor had surrendered the city to him that morning. The story of what happened next can best be told by the entries for that night in the diary of local 17-year-old Emma LeConte:
"Gen. Sherman has assured the Mayor, 'that he and all the citizens may sleep as securely and quietly tonight as if under Confederate rule. Private property shall be carefully respected... ' At about seven o'clock I was standing on the back piazza in the third story. On one side the sky was illuminated by the burning of Gen. Hampton's residence a few miles off in the country, on the other side by some blazing buildings near the river. Sumter Street was brightly lighted by a burning house so near our piazza that we could feel the heat. By the red glare we could watch the wretches walking- generally staggering- back and forth from the camp to the town- shouting- hurrahing- cursing South Carolina- swearing- blaspheming- singing ribald songs and using such obscene language that we were forced to go indoors. The fire on Main Street was now raging, and we anxiously watched its progress from the upper front windows...
"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... Jane came in to say that Aunt Josie's house was in flames- then we all went to the front door- My God! what a scene! It was about four o'clock and the State House was one grand conflagration. Such a scene as this with the drunken fiendish soldiers in their dark uniforms, infuriated, cursing, screaming, exulting in their work, came nearer the material ideal of hell than anything I ever expect to see again."
Fascinating Fact: An entry for February 23 reveals the defiant nature of this young Rebel: "We have lost everything, but if all this- negroes- property- all could be given back a hundredfold I would not be willing to go back to them. I would rather endure any poverty than live under Yankee rule... Yankees- that word in my mind is a synonym for all that is mean, despicable and abhorrent."
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