By Warner M. MontgomeryWarner@TheColumbiaStar.com
On February 16- 18, 1865, Columbia suffered its darkest days. On the same days of 2007, those days were remembered and re- enacted by the sons and daughters of the Confederacy.
The Last Confederate Bazaar and Ball. Thinking the Union army of Gen. William T. Sherman would move from Savannah to Charleston, citizens of Columbia held a bazaar and ball in the State House. There were exhibits of local products to aid the falling Confederacy. Men in military and formal attire danced the Virginia Reel with ladies in brilliantly- colored gowns.
The event was recreated last week by the Palmetto Soldiers Relief Society, an auxiliary of the Palmetto Battalion, in the S.C. State Museum. Over 100 dancers celebrated the memory of the last days of the Old South.
Sherman’s Trail of Terror
After feigning a move toward Charleston, Sherman sent one army toward Augusta and another crossed the Savannah River and headed toward Columbia. The man who had lived for six years in Charleston then served as the first president of what became Louisiana State University, ordered his men to pillage their way to meet Gen. U.S. Grant who was bearing down on CSA Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia. Along the way, Barnwell, Orangeburg, Aiken, and Lexington fell to the torch.
Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton joined Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler in a vain attempt to slow down the advancing Union army. Earthwork fortifications were built at the junction of State Road and Congaree Creek by commandeered slaves and soldiers.
The Battle for Columbia
As Sherman’s forces looted and burned their way along Augusta Road and State Road toward Columbia, Confederate snipers and cavalry attacked their leading troops. They hoped this would give Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and Wheeler time to prepare defenses in Columbia.
Last Saturday, the Sons of Confederate Veterans staged a re- enactment of “The Battle at Ft. Mick ,” a fictitious but historically accurate account of many battles during the Civil War.
In this last major battle before the attack on Columbia, Confederate troops of Hampton’s Legion gathered at a make- shift barricade called Ft. Mick on the Culler Homestead near present- day Sandy Run. Their mission was to hold up Sherman’s forces under Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard while Wheeler established the defenses of Columbia.
Re- enactors had spent the night in realistic Union and Confederate camps, complete with hardy women and sizzling squirrels. At 3 o’clock, the Yankees placed their artillery at the far end of the Culler field facing the Confederates well- armed fort. Hampton’s Brigade chased the Union scouts out of the woods. When the Confederate Battle Flag was hoisted, the cannon roared.
After a back and forth struggle, the Union forces surrendered. The soldiers and cavalry of both armies gathered before the audience and gave a salute to the American forces now serving in the War on Terror.
The Battle of
A ragtag crew of Confederates manned the earthworks at Congaree Creek as the swollen population of refugees, children, and old people in Columbia began an evacuation. On Feb.16, 1865, Union troops flanked the Confederates who then fled north on State Road. As the soldiers crossed into Columbia they burned the bridges behind them.
Tom Elmore led a bus tour of Sherman’s March into Columbia last Saturday. At Congaree Creek, he pointed out the earthworks that still exist and are, hopefully, going to be restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1865, Sherman’s two armies gathered at the foot of the burned Gervais Street Bridge and set up artillery on the bluff overlooking the Congaree River. Cannons were fired on the State Capitol and the Arsenal Academy.
The soldiers moved up the Saluda River to the Saluda Factory, the largest cotton mill in the South at the time. The mill was sacked and Sherman bedded down in a cave overlooking the destruction.
The next day, using pontoon bridges, Sherman’s army crossed the Saluda and Broad Rivers. One army went north to Winnsboro while the other moved on Columbia. That night Hampton and Beauregard met with Columbia Mayor Thomas Jefferson Goodwyn and decided to surrender the city and request that citizens and property be protected.
At 10 am, Feb. 17, 1865, Mayor Goodwyn met Union Col. George Stone at the corner of Main Street and River Drive. Under a white flag, he surrendered and was assured the city would not be destroyed. That night, Columbia burned.
Re- enacting the 1865 surrender last Saturday, Mayor Bob Coble and Councilwoman Anne Sinclair surrendered again, 142 years later.