University of South Carolina history Professor Tom Brown assigned a fall class to research one person with a connection to Columbia during early 1865, then create three 140-character-or-less Tweets about the Burning of Columbia from that person’s diaries or memoirs.
Those Tweets will be sent out over the next five weeks under Historic Columbia’s Twitter account. Here are a few details to help you understand the perspectives of some of the more interesting characters who will show up in the Tweets.
Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers, a 26-year-old officer in an Iowa regiment of the Union Army, was captured in late 1863 and spent 19 months in Confederate prisons. His final prison stint was at Camp Asylum, on the grounds of what was then called the Lunatic Asylum in Columbia.
While a prisoner, Byers read of Sherman’s progress through the South and was inspired to write the poem “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” Another prisoner set the poem to music. When Sherman arrived in Columbia, someone passed along a copy of the poem to him. He included the entire poem in his official account of his stay in Columbia.
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After the war, Byers wrote several books on his experience, and the experience of other Iowans, during the war. He served as U.S. consul to Switzerland for 15 years, contributed articles to various magazines and, upon moving to California, wrote poetry for the Los Angeles Times. He died in 1933.
Grace Brown Elmore, a 25-year-old Columbia woman, was one of eight children in a wealthy, influential family. Her father was a banker, and her mother traced heritage to the Taylors and Chesnuts, both prominent S.C. families. Her diary entries reflect a society, and a city, changing rapidly before her eyes.
Elmore commented on the impertinence of newly freed slaves, while at the same time chafing at the social restraints put on women in that era. She was in Columbia as the Confederate troops left and as Union troops took over the city, giving readers a front-row seat to the events. Elmore died in 1912 in Florida.
Malvina Gist, 22-year-old widow of a Confederate soldier, worked for the Confederate States of America Treasury Department office along Gervais Street, where she signed financial documents. In addition to her diaries, she later wrote several books.
Her first husband, William Moreno Gist, son of former S.C. Gov. William H. Gist, died while serving in the S.C. Volunteer Infantry near Knoxville, Tenn., in 1862. She married Clark Waring after the Civil War and was one of the founding members of the Wade Hampton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. That group founded the S.C. Relic Room and War Museum in 1896. She died in 1930 in Columbia.
Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, 34 in 1865, commanded the right wing of Sherman’s army, which included the corps that occupied Columbia. That was among a string of important assignments for Howard, who earned the Medal of Honor after losing his right arm in battle at Fair Oaks in 1962. He was known as the “Christian general,” which came through in his diary.
After the war, Howard was put in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which helped freed slaves integrate into the new work, politics and education landscapes during Reconstruction. In that role, he helped found Georgetown University. He also commanded troops during the Indian campaigns in the 1870s. He died in 1909 in Vermont.
Henry D. Jenkins, about 15, was a slave on Joseph Reese Howell’s 600-acre plantation in the Richland District. At the age of 87, he was interviewed for the Works Progress Administration’s compilation that became known as the Slave Narratives. He told of the slaves carrying on the work of the Howell plantation when the owner went off to war. By the 1930s, Jenkins owned 480 acres of land in Fairfield County, where he lived with three generations of his family in a four-room house.
Emma LeConte, the 17-year-old daughter of South Carolina College geology professor Joseph LeConte, watched the invasion and burning of Columbia from the school’s Horseshoe area. She wrote one of the most animated tales of the events in her diary, which ends a few months later when she decides it’s better not to think about or write about the situation in her city.
After the war, Joseph LeConte moved to California, where he started the geology department at the new University of California, Berkeley. Emma married Farish Carter Furman, the grandson of the founder of Furman University. They settled in Milledgeville, Ga., and Emma LeConte Furman died in 1932.
Henry Timrod, 36, was known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy. His poems at the start of the war inspired many young men to join the fight. He proved to be too sickly himself, being sent home twice from military assignments. Late in the war, he was in Columbia as an editor at Daily South Carolinian, a newspaper in Columbia. He was forced to hide from Sherman’s troops, and the newspaper office was destroyed. In the class project, Timrod won’t be listed by name but as a correspondent from the Daily South Carolinian.
After the war, his sickly body didn’t hold up long. He died in 1867 and was buried at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia.
BELOW: An interactive map follows Sherman's march through Columbia 150 years ago. Mobile and tablet users, click here: