Sherman’s march through South Carolina, his brief occupation of Columbia and the fire that accompanied it — 150 years ago today — were marked by myriad acts of destruction and violence.
But amid the carnage and flames, numerous acts of compassion also occurred.
Lt. John McQueen: Lt. John McQueen, 15th Illinois Cavalry, saved Dr. A. Toomer Porter’s house, located near then-South Carolina College’s Horseshoe, from destruction by guarding it.
When the grateful resident offered him a silver mug, McQueen refused for fear that people might think he stole it. However, McQueen did accept a letter of introduction, addressed to Confederate Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III, in case he was captured.
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“Let me entreat you to show (Lt. McQueen) every kindness in your power,” Porter wrote.
Sure enough, McQueen was wounded and captured. Upon reading the note, Hampton had the Union officer sent back to Porter’s home for treatment and recuperation. Then, McQueen was delivered back to Union lines by carriage, instead of being held as a prisoner of war
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Although Union soldiers set numerous fires, burned houses and help spread the blazes, many others helped fight the fires, guarded private homes, attempted to reel in drunken rioters and protected private property. Many Union soldiers took pity on civilians or on enemies in helpless conditions, volunteered at hospitals or engaged in other acts of kindness.
Also, Union Gen. John W. Geary forced-marched his men to Winnsboro to run out undisciplined elements of the Union army and put out the fires there, preventing another Columbia.
Union and Confederate medical personnel worked together to put out the burning embers that were threatening the wooden roofs of the buildings on the Horseshoe, which were housing wounded from both sides. Their action helped saved the college’s historic campus.
Enslaved people: Hundreds of small acts of compassion went unrecorded, carried out by enslaved people who refrained from exploiting their former masters. Some protected their property, hid valuables, and shielded women and children from intimidation.
Family lore says Cecilia Mann of Mann-Simmons Cottage fame, a formerly enslaved midwife from Charleston, hid white families in the basement of her house and buried their valuables in her yard.
Mansion saved: After the Ursuline Convent burned — it was located where the Tapp’s Building is today on Main — Sherman offered Mother Superior Mary Batista the opportunity to choose some property to replace her destroyed convent. She chose the Hampton-Preston Mansion, which Union Gen. John A Logan had used as his headquarters, then prepared to burn it.
After Batista selected it as the refuge for her nuns and their orphan charges, the mansion was saved. It can be toured today as part of Historic Columbia Historic Homes museums.
Fire truck donation and reciprocation: Much of the city’s firefighting equipment as well as its downtown fire station were destroyed in the blaze that consumed much of the city.
Two years after the fire, even though tremendous animosity remained between North and South, New York firefighters raised money to buy a carriage and other equipment. They also built a new fire station, which now houses Villa Tronco restaurant, from the chimney brick of burned Columbia buildings.
Former Confederate Col. Samuel Melton told New Yorkers that “should misfortune ever be yours,” he hoped Columbia would “obey that Golden Rule by which you have been prompted in the performance of this most munificent kindness to a people in distress.”
Nearly a century and a half later, the favor was returned.
Just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, students at Lexington County’s White Knoll Middle School made news around the world, leading an effort to raise $540,000 to buy a new ladder truck for a Brooklyn firehouse that lost its truck and a seven-member crew when the World Trade Center’s North Tower collapsed.
Historians and authors Tom Elmore, Joe Long and John Sherrer contributed heavily to this report.