Columbia, South Carolina in the American Civil War

Ruins, as seen from the State House, 1865

The Southern United States city of Columbia, South Carolina, was an important political and supply center for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Much of the town was destroyed during occupation by Union forces under Major General William T. Sherman during the Carolinas Campaign in the last months of the war, although who caused the destructive fire is controversial.[1]

Early Civil War history

Columbia became chartered as a city in 1786 and soon grew at a rapid pace, and throughout the 1850s and 1860s it was the largest inland city in the Carolinas.[2] Railroad transportation served as a significant cause of population expansion in Columbia during this time. Rail lines that reached the city in the 1840s were first and foremost interested in transporting cotton bales, not passengers. Cotton was the lifeblood of the Columbia community, as before the Civil War, directly or indirectly, virtually all of the city's commercial and economic activity was related to cotton.[3]

Columbia's First Baptist Church hosted the South Carolina Secession Convention on December 17, 1860, with delegates selected a month earlier at Secession Hill. The delegates drafted a resolution in favor of secession without dissent, 159-0, creating the short-lived Republic of South Carolina.[4] Columbia's location made it an ideal spot for other conventions and meetings within the Confederacy. During the ensuing Civil War, bankers, railroad executives, teachers, and theologians from several states met in the city from time to time to discuss certain matters.

Castle Sorghum was a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp established in 1862 in Columbia. It consisted of a 5-acre (20,000 m2) tract of open field, without walls, fences, buildings or any other facilities. A "deadline" was established by laying wood planks 10 feet (3.0 m) inside the camp's boundaries. The rations consisted of cornmeal and sorghum molasses as the main staple in the diet; thus the camp became known as "Camp Sorghum." Due to the lack of any security features, escapes were common. Conditions were terrible, with little food, clothing or medicine, and disease claimed a number of lives among both the prisoners and their guards.[5]

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