Tuesday, February 19, 2013

General Howard on who burned Columbia

I had gone on through the city and taken up my quarters at the College; but, noticing the extraordinary conduct of Stone's brigade, I quickly sent for an- other brigade to replace this, and then a little later for another. Finally, I had the whole of one division and a part of another guarding the city, and endeavoring to protect the inhabitants and save all that was possible from the flames. There were many imprisoned people — Negroes, Union prisoners of war, and State convicts — who were let loose by our men. There were also criminal classes and drunken soldiers. All these elements, doubtless, were soon engaged in making bad matters worse, against my wishes and the orders of the other commanders. The ensuing great damage was originally owing to the fires set by the Confederate authorities. I spoke of the depot being consumed. Near that was a magazine. The day before we entered some Confederates were said to be plundering there. They dropped a spark, perhaps from a cigar, where there was some powder upon the floor. This explosion, which was an accident, may have also been the cause of the burning of the railroad station.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the horrors of that long night between the 17th and 18th of February, 1865. Sherman, Logan, and myself, with all the officers under our command, worked faithfully to care for the people who were exposed, and we did save many houses in different parts of the city. The flames would lick up a house seemingly in an instant and shoot from house to house with incredible rapidity. The very heavens at times appeared on fire. A wide street was no barrier. Clusters of inhabitants would carry out all their valuables and sit upon them, and they were often guarded by faithful men. A large number of our men, who perhaps drank whisky for the first time when it was brought to them that day in buckets, became blindly drunk, and hundreds perished in the flames in spite of all the efforts of their comrades to save them.
 It was about three o'clock the morning of the 18th when the wind changed to the opposite quarter, and after that, with little effort, we were able to arrest the progress of the fire, so that more than one third of the beautiful city of Columbia was suffered to re main untouched. During the night I met Logan and Woods and other general officers, and they were taking every possible measure to stop the fire and prevent disorder. Nevertheless, some escaped prisoners, convicts from the penitentiary just broken open, army followers, and drunken soldiers ran through house after house and were doubtless guilty of all manner of villainies, and it was these men that, I presume, set new fires farther to the windward in the northern part of the city. 
-From the Autobiography of Gen. O. O. Howard: 

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