Union soldier's diary part of new Civil War exhibit

Union soldier's diary part of new Civil War exhibit

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - "In the early part of the evening fires broke out in the city and at 12 (Midnight) the entire city seemed to be erupted in flames."

A diary written by a Union soldier who was in Columbia in February 1865 is part of a new exhibit commemorating the event at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.

The museum recently acquired the diary of Carroll M. Bills, an officer with the 39th Iowa Infantry.

"It's a major addition to our collection because we cover the military history of South Carolina in a national context," Relic Room Director Allen Roberson explained when asked why a museum commemorating Confederate history would have something belonging to a Union solider.

"Not a lot of opinions, but tells a whole wealth of information about Sherman's march across the state."

"It discloses a lot that we didn't know," he said. "He talks about crossing the rivers. Where the army camped. He's in the right wing of Sherman's army so it's very detailed."

"It's wonderful. We saw it and realized that this was unknown at the time."

Bills was in charge of orderlies who ran messages between commanders.

"As chief of orderlies in Sherman's armies, he's got a -- an overall view of what's going on," Roberson said. "He knows where the whole army is. So he's moving back and forth between different large units in Sherman's army and the command center."

The diary is one of the most recently acquired artifacts featured in the museum's new exhibit, Paths of Destruction: Sherman's Final Campaign. The exhibit tells the story of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through South Carolina in February of 1865. We are coming up on the 150th commemoration of the Carolinas Campaign, one of the last of the war.

"It's talking about what it's like to move across the state," Roberson said. "You can read all this in history books, but you're there. You're there with him, in the army, moving across the state -- a state that you know about. An occasion that you know about. Getting a day-by-day chronicling of what he's encountering and what he's seeing and to me, that puts you in the moment."

Paths of Destruction focuses on the march's impact on the people of South Carolina and its significance in the development of the concept of total war. Artifacts include Union and Confederate weapons and accoutrements, ammunition, POW pieces, uniforms, excavated relics from locations along Sherman's path, and flags. The exhibit also includes an interactive map that shows the city before and after the fire of 1865.

"It's the most exciting exhibit we've done since the World War I exhibit we produced eight years ago," Roberson said.

WIS has exclusive access to the transcript of Bills' diary. WISTV.com will provide a day-by-day update of each entry on its corresponding days in January and February 2015.

The exhibit opens Friday and runs through March 6, 2015. Click here for details.

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