Civil War Profiles — The Civil War in Columbia, S.C.


This last in a series of articles about American cities and towns during the Civil War features Columbia, S.C.

In early 1865, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman caused havoc in South Carolina in general, and Columbia in particular, when the state capital went up in flames.

Northern troops added fuel to the fires begun by retreating Confederate soldiers in an effort to deny the town’s resources to the Yankees, causing more than half of the city to be destroyed. My visit to Columbia in 2008, however, was to learn about one of its leading citizens in the 19th century — Wade Hampton III, who served during the Civil War as one of the Confederacy’s most capable cavalry leaders.

Hampton, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, lived in Columbia and controlled extensive holdings in land and slaves. The primary Hampton residence was a mansion at Millwood Plantation, located at that time on the outskirts of Columbia.

The mansion at Millwood fell victim to the marauding army of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in 1865 and was burned to the ground — only portions of the mansion’s giant pillars survive. Still in existence and open to the public, however, is the Hampton-Preston Mansion, located in the center of town, a few blocks from the capitol building.

Wade Hampton’s grandfather, reportedly the wealthiest man in the United States at that time, bought the property in 1823. His wife, Mary Cantey Hampton, designed elaborate gardens around the mansion.

Wade’s aunt and her husband, Caroline and John Preston, later moved into the house and doubled its size. In February 1865, the mansion served as Union Army Maj. Gen. John Logan’s headquarters.

The Hampton-Preston house would have many lives, as a governor’s mansion, a women’s college, and the site of apartments and businesses. The mansion was restored and reopened to the public in 1970 as a museum that epitomized the lives of the planter elite in ante-bellum South Carolina.

Directly across the street from the capitol building are Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and its cemetery, where Wade Hampton III is buried, along with several family members. Other Confederate generals are buried there, including one with the distinctive name of States Rights Gist — killed during the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., in 1864.

The cathedral was constructed in 1846, and during the Civil War, iron spikes on top of the church were melted to make cannonballs for the Confederacy. The parsonage and school buildings were destroyed during the war, but the main church was not seriously damaged.

An equestrian statue of Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton is located directly across the street from the cathedral, on the capitol grounds. This imposing monument stands 17 feet high and sits on a 16-foot-long base.

The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum displays Hampton artifacts, including a glass goblet from Hampton’s Millwood plantation that was looted by a Union soldier in 1865 but returned by him after the war, an engraved revolver presented to Hampton by the citizens of Lynchburg, Va., in 1864, and dried flowers from his grave.

Also on display is Hampton’s sword — a straight, double-edged Prussian heavy-dragoon blade bearing the legend “Draw (or ‘Flourish’) Me Not Without Reason, Sheathe Me Not Without Honor” in Spanish. The blade shows the marks of his frequent hand-to-hand combat during the Civil War.

The Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism programmed my tour of Hampton sites in Columbia. The Historic Columbia Foundation personnel arranged and conducted a tour of the Hampton-Preston Mansion. Staff of the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum conducted a tour of that facility.

To learn more about South Carolina’s capital city during this period, see “Sherman & the Burning of Columbia,” by Marion B. Lucas, “Trinity Cathedral” by Georgia Herbert Hart and a pamphlet titled “Our History in Stone: Trinity Cathedral Cemetery.” For Hampton’s biography, see “Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer” by Rod Andrew Jr.

In addition to the Hampton sites in Columbia, there are other Civil War-related places to visit there. For further information, call the Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau at (803) 545-0000.

Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War,” of which signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.

By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point