The Burning of Columbia: Still feeling the effects 150 years lat - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

The Burning of Columbia: "City of ruins" still under construction

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William Waud's 1865 print "The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina" from Harper's Weekly William Waud's 1865 print "The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina" from Harper's Weekly
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Before 1/3 of Columbia was destroyed by fire in the wrath of General William T. Sherman's Union Army, it was a thriving city.

"In the 1860's Columbia was a magnificent, wealthy city -- in the whole country." said Frank Knapp, who researched a documentary on the burning of Columbia called Sherman's March: Final Revenge.

 "All of that was lost on February 17th, 1865," he said. "Columbia was never able to come back from that and we're not back today."

Although Columbia appears to be thriving as a city, Knapp says evidence remains that it hasn't recovered from what it was prior to 1865.

"We are nowhere near how prestigious we were," said Knapp.  "How influential we were.  How wealthy we were."

Prior to 1865, Columbia's economy was among the top in the nation.  It was the center of rail, river and road transportation, and it was home to one of the wealthiest families in the country, the Hamptons.

It was considered as one of the "liveliest cities" in the Confederacy.  Refugees and their valuables from throughout the south were sent to Columbia because they thought it would be safe from the ravages of war.

Although the blockade of southern ports led to shortages of many goods throughout the south, the Daily Southern Guardian reported "Luxuries of all sorts were for sale in local stores."

A reporter for the New York Herald, David P. Conyingham, described Columbia: "It was famed for its fine public buildings, it's magnificent private residences, with their lovely flower gardens…It is hard to conceive of a city more beautifully situated or more gorgeously embellished, with splendidly shaded walks and drives, with flowers, shrubberies and plantations…unsurpassed in the elegance of their finish."

Sherman himself thought that Columbia was so valuable to the Confederacy, he expected the Confederate Army to put up a major fight to defend the city.

An artillery soldier manning guns firing on the city from West Columbia recalled hearing Sherman remark, "Down there lies a pretty town."

"An aide-de-camp to Sherman, after their trip through Columbia, wrote very clearly that the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina had suffered greatly and they would suffer from that for not only decades to come, but centuries to come," said Knapp.

"I think there is still a feeling of resentment toward the federal government," said Knapp. "We don't like to be told what to do.  We don't like the concept of a federal entity giving us instructions.  It's a peculiar thing how we have a relationship with the federal government."

Keeping Columbia at the forefront of contemporary importance is the State Capital, Fort Jackson, and the University of South Carolina.  Yet compare Columbia's growth after the war to Atlanta's and there's a huge difference.

"It is part of the history of why Columbia is what it is today," said Knapp. "Why you look at other cities and say ‘How did they ever get so big and so productive, economic powerhouses and we just have struggled along?'  You can trace it back to February 17th, 1865."

Click here to see Sherman's March: Final Revenge and read its bibliography.

Tom Elmore's book A Carnival of Destruction was also used as a source for this story.

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