Columbia Civil War Landmarks
By Tom Elmore
(June 2011 Civil War News - Web Exclusive)

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Illustrated, photos, bibliography, index, 144 pp., 2011, History Press, www.historypress.net $19.99 softcover.    

This historic guidebook offers an informed tour with driving directions to 70 sites in and around South Carolina’s capital. The text is complemented by 50 photographs and illustrations of the featured sites and the people associated with them.

I would have liked a map showing all these attractions, but the author’s instructions are clear and concise. Besides, a half-century after Alice Cromie’s groundbreaking Tour Guide to the Civil War (1964), I guess we’ve all got GPS.

Columbia’s war history centers on the arrival of Sherman’s army on Feb. 17, 1865. The Yankees had already been punishing the state in their march from Savannah because, as author Tom Elmore himself says, “South Carolina started the Civil War.” So a lot of Sherman’s men already had it in for Columbia as they entered the city.

The burning of cotton by retreating Confederates, a prevailing high wind, Yankee vengeance, and discovery of stores of liquor were the chief causes of the downtown fires of Feb. 17-18. I would add that many of the Federals had already witnessed — and taken part in — the destruction of a major American city; Sherman’s men had burned a good part of Atlanta three months before.

When it was all over, South Carolina historian William Gilmore Simms counted 800 structures demolished in the conflagration.

In his site-list Elmore hits all the highlights. In addition to some two dozen antebellum buildings (e.g., the McCord-Jones house, which served as Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s headquarters), he includes monuments ranging from the Women of the Confederacy (1912) to African Americans (2001).

Churches and church-sites are numerous. The Yankees burned some (only a cornerstone is left of Christ Episcopal Church) but spared others, including First Baptist on Hampton Street, where the South Carolina secession convention first met. Union soldiers wanted to torch it but apparently were confused about its location.

The author also helpfully includes Columbia’s several museums and libraries, which will attract researchers. The South Carolina Relic Room on Gervais Street alone holds four dozen Confederate flags.

In truth, a lot of Elmore’s attractions aren’t there anymore or stand in dramatically altered conditions. A pile of stones marks the site of Wade Hampton’s plantation mansion. The author provides a photograph and a vignette. Phil Sheridan, smarting after his defeat by Hampton at Trevilian Station, reportedly told Sherman, “when you get to Columbia, be sure to burn that damn Hampton’s house.”

Millwood, a spectacular mansion outside the city, is today marked by six stone columns. A historic marker stands where Dr. Robert Gibbes once lived; he was state surgeon general during the war. The building that once housed the printing firm of Evans & Cogswell, which turned out Confederate currency, is now a Publix grocery store and condo complex.

For many of his entries Elmore attaches a little narrative, as he does for the homesite of Marie Boozer near City Hall. The Boozers were Union sympathizers; Marie, her mother and sister followed Sherman’s armies in their march out of Columbia.

“Thanks to their feminine charms, the ladies became popular with any soldier with whom they came into contact,” Elmore explains, although I can’t figure out why he doesn’t mention that one of Marie’s consorts was no less than Union Brig. (soon Maj.) Gen. Judson Kilpatrick (see Samuel Martin’s biography of Kilpatrick [2000]).

Similarly, in counting the Confederate generals buried in Trinity Episcopal Churchyard, who include Hampton, Ellison Capers and States Rights Gist, he fails to mention Brigadier John S. Preston. (But who knows everything?)

With the Sesquicentennial promising to get Americans out on the road to see war sites, Elmore’s Columbia Civil War Landmarks is a welcome aid for active buffs. We hope to see more of these guides.

Reviewer: Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis studied under Bell Wiley at Emory University where his doctoral dissertation topic was “Johnny Reb in Perspective: The Confederate Soldier’s Image in the Southern Arts.” He was book review editor for Blue & Gray magazine for more than 20 years. His next book, What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta, will be published by Mercer University Press.