In a message dated 7/29/2006 8:11:47 P.M. Central Standard Time,
was a monologue written a few years back for the Blue & Gray
Society by a doctoral candidate on Columbia, SC. This
backs up much of what Mark had to say about SC. IMHO
that it was
Confederate cavalry that started the fires in Columbia,
infantry, as they left the town. With strong winds,
by the locals, and several other factors, fires
ravaged the town.
But of course, everyone blamed Sherman for
Wheeler's cavalry caused tremendous hardship as well. Rebel Cav set the
original fires in Columbia, as noted, but Wheeler was also ordered to conduct a
scorched earth campaign in front of Sherman's column. Wheeler burnt 100s of
graneries and mills, ran off thousands of head of cattle, sheep, hogs and
horses, and burned 10s of thousands of bales of cotton.
However, Wheeler's cavalry, never great at discipline anyway, largely lost
control during the march. Wheeler started with nearly 9,000 troopers, and at the
end, reported about 8,000 present in Feb 65, but in between, Wheeler noted that
he only had a couple thousand men with him at any one time. The rest, sadly,
were committing as many outrages as the Federals. There is a very descriptive
letter from a member of the 8th Texas, writing home to his wife, telling her
that he just acquired a new silver set and candlesticks that he is sending her.
He's very forthright about "finding" it.
Virtually all these crimes were against property, to be sure. Whites were
rarely molested. Blacks, alas, were fair game for the deserters of both sides,
and their fates are largely undocumented.
By January 65, the State and Confederate Governments were deluged with
complaints about Wheeler's depredations. One of Beauregard's staff officers,
Col. Roman (later his biographer) went to Wheeler's camps and conducted a
complete inspection. He tried to vindicate Wheeler, but the details of his
report are damning. Wheeler's "cavalry" could not drill. Officers did not know
basic military protocol. Roll calls were not held, and men came and went as they
pleased. Most days were taken up with drinking and horse-racing. Roman blamed
the outrages on a few bad apples, deserters passing themselves off as Wheeler's
men, but he also made it clear that men left and rejoined the units as they
pleased, so it was impossible to account for any individual. It is clear that
men left the ranks when they felt like it, to return days or weeks later after a
Confederate cavalry in the west was a huge problem for the south throughout
the war, and nothing illustrates that more than Wheeler's role in the march.