COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - At this time in December 150 years ago, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army were advancing on Savannah, leaving a wake of destruction behind. But the true wrath of Sherman's army was being reserved for South Carolina.
"He wanted to cripple the Confederacy," said retired University of South Carolina journalism professor Patricia McNeely. Since the campus survived the burning of Columbia, the Horseshoe was an appropriate place for our interview.
"He wanted them to give up fighting. He wanted them to lose faith in their leadership in the Confederacy. But most people have overlooked this. Because, when, when Columbia was burned, he blamed it on General Wade Hampton and the Confederates leaving cotton burning in the streets."
McNeely's book, Sherman's Flame and Blame Campaign explains a strategy that she says previous historians overlooked.
"This is a flame and blame campaign that I have found," McNeely said. "Sherman was providing all this disinformation early and during the Civil War and did not admit until 1875 in his memoirs that he had blamed the Confederates, namely General Hampton. For these reasons, everybody believed what he had sad, the disinformation that he had spread, the propaganda that he'd deliberately used so nobody actually went through and saw the pattern of the burning and blaming."
"It was a fascinating thread of history that I picked up that nobody else has found and that's why I wrote the book and that is what he had -- Sherman had a war on civilians and the strategy stretched from Atlanta all the way to Goldsboro, North Carolina," she said.
By disheartening the morale of the women and children left behind by soldiers and politicians, Sherman hoped the Confederate women would beg their men to give up the fight.
"The main thing that people have missed in the history is he really did intend to create a war against civilians," she said. "The strategy was that he would blame the nearest Confederate for whatever atrocities his own men had committed and then he would say, 'You should thank me for whatever is left because I saved what was left,' and that's been overlooked, the strategy against civilians. He did want to terrorize the civilians. He wanted them to give up. He was very clear in the beginning about wanting the civilians to give up."
The origin of the fire that destroyed hundreds of Columbia homes and businesses in February of 1865 has been argued for years. McNeely says her research uncovered the fact of how the fire started.
"I said, 'Oh my gosh! Look at this! I don't think anybody's noticed and put all this together," she said. "We've had this controversy raging about who burned Columbia for 150 years mainly because people still believe the propaganda and misinformation that Sherman used in his strategy to cripple the Confederacy."
So after thousands of Columbia residents, mostly women and children who became widows and orphans, were left homeless with no means of economic support, somehow they survived to carry on in future generations.
"They pulled together and they said 'We're going to come back again' and so this is why we're back here with this beautiful city restored."
McNeely is presenting lectures throughout the Midlands about her book. Her schedule is below:
- Noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9 at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, 301 Gervais St., Columbia, S.C. For more information, call 737-8095.
- 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11 at the Richland Library, 1431 Assembly St., Columbia. For more information, call 799-9084.
- Jan. 13 through March 10 at Shepherds Center, Ashland Methodist Church, 2600 Ashland Road, Columbia. For more information, call 731-9394. (Registration for Shepherds Center is required.)
- 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Jan. 14 through March 4 at Shepherds Center, 3401 Trenholm Road, Columbia. For more information, call 787-3833. (Registration for Shepherds Center required.)
WIS has a series of stories and coverage planned for the 150th commemoration of the burning of Columbia.