After his March to the Sea, General Sherman moved north through South Carolina, heading toward Columbia, the main target in his Carolina Campaigns. His troops reached the outskirts of the city by February 15th. The Confederate army was forced to retreat, allowing the South Carolina capital to be occupied by Sherman’s men. On February 17th, Governor T.J. Goodwyn surrendered Columbia to the Union.
Emma LeConte, a 17 year old resident of Columbia, recounts the day of the surrender in her diary.
Friday, 17th Feb.
How long is this distress of mind to continue! It is now about eleven o’clock, and the longest morning I ever lived through. I threw myself on the bed late last night, or rather early this morning, without undressing, feeling if I did not take some rest I would be sick. At about six o’clock while it was still quite dark and all in the room were buried in profound slumber, we were suddenly awakened by a terrific explosion. The house shook – broken window-panes clattered down, and we all sat up in bed, for a few seconds mute with terror. My first impression on waking was that a shell had struck the house, but as soon as I could collect my senses I know that no shell could make such a noise. I went out of doors. The day was beginning to break murkily and the air was still heavy with smoke. All continuing quiet we concluded that the authorities had blown up some stores before evacuating. Whatever the cause, the effect was to scare us very effectively and to drive away all thought of sleep.
After breakfast the cannon opened again and so near that every report shook the house. I think it must have been a cannonade to cover our retreat. It did not continue very long. The negroes all went uptown to see what they could get in the general pillage, for all the shops had been opened and provisions were scattered in all directions. Henry says that in some parts of Main Street corn and flour and sugar cover the ground. An hour or two ago they came running back declaring the Yankees were in town and that our troops were fighting them in the streets. This was not true, for at that time every soldier nearly had left town, but we did not know it then.
It was denied that the Yankees had yet crossed the river or even completed their pontoon bridge, and most of the servants returned uptown. They have brought back a considerable quantity of provisions – the negroes are very kind and faithful – they have supplied us with meat and Jane brought mother some rice and crushed sugar for Carrie, knowing that she had none. How times change! Those whom we have so long fed and cared for now help us –
We are intensely eager for every item of news, but of course can only hear through the negroes. A gentleman told us just now that the mayor had gone forward to surrender the town.
One o’clock p.m. – Well, they are here. I was sitting in the back parlor when I heard the shouting of the troops. I was at the front door in a moment. Jane came running and crying – “O Miss Emma, they’ve come at last!” She said they were then marching down Main Street, before them flying a panic-stricken crowd of women and children who seemed crazy. I ran upstairs to my bedroom windows just in time to see the U.S. flag run up over the State house. O what a horrid sight! what a degradation! After four long bitter years of bloodshed and hatred, now to float there at last! That hateful symbol of despotism! I do not think I could possibly describe my feelings. I know I could not look at it. I left the window and went back downstairs to mother.
The troops now in town are a brigade commanded by Col. Stone. Everything is quiet and orderly. Guards have been placed to protect houses, and Sherman has promised not to disturb private property. How relieved and thankful we feel after all our anxiety and distress! –
Later – Gen. Sherman has assured the Mayor, “that he and all the citizens may sleep securely and quietly tonight as if under Confederate rule. Private property shall be carefully respected. Some public buildings have to be destroyed, but he will wait until tomorrow when the wind shall have entirely subsided”. It is said that one or two stragglers from Wheeler’s command fired on the flag as it was borne down Main Street on the carriage containing the Mayor, Col. Stone and officers.
LeConte, Emma. Diary, 1864-1865. Manuscript 420. Collection of UNC Chapel Hill. Digitized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/leconteemma/leconte.html