Burning of Columbia: A Tale of Two Cities

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One-hundred and forty-eight years after two of the south's greatest cities were nearly destroyed during the Civil War, one has recovered to return as a national powerhouse, while one the other hasn't gotten beyond its reputation as a southern college town.

Both Atlanta and Columbia were conquered and burned by the Union Army. While Atlanta has grown to nearly 5.5 million people, Columbia is home to about 130,000.

But Columbia businessman Frank Knapp says the Capital City has something her Georgia counterpart lacks.

"We have things here from the Civil War, that Atlanta has nothing," said Knapp. "While everyone knows about the burning of Atlanta, you can't find anything from the Civil War. It's all torn down."

And Knapp thinks Columbia could capitalize on that history.

"Here you can follow the same roads that [General William T.] Sherman's army followed to enter the city of Columbia and see where the skirmishes took place, see exactly what Sherman and his troops saw."

And when it comes to Civil War research, Knapp says historians come to Columbia.  Much of the information used for Knapp's documentary, Sherman's March: Final Revenge, was found in Columbia.

"We have a wealth of information here," Knapp said. "It's right here in South Carolina at the South Caroliniana Library at USC. Scholars come here to research the Civil War."

Knapp thinks Columbia could take a lesson in historical tourism from Charleston.

"It's truly amazing what you can do today here," Knapp said. "Charleston does it.  Other cities do it, but we've really never taken advantage of it.

Although the Historic Columbia Foundation offers historic homes and tours, Knapp says more could be done to lure tourists to experiences beyond touring homes and reading historical markers.

"Tourists love that," he said. "They love history. And if you make them see it, touch it and feel it, they'd love it even more.

Knapp says the Confederate Flag on the Confederate Memorial Monument at the State House shouldn't keep the city from promoting its historical past.

"Other cities got beyond that," he said. "Charleston got beyond that."

"Tell the story," Knapp said. "Tell the truth.  We should do more of that."

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