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SHERMAN, William Tecumseh, General. Autograph letter signed ("W.T. Sherman General"), to John A. Lynch, Headquarters, Army of the United States, Washington, D.C., 12 July 1873. 3 pages, large 8vo, on Headquarters stationery, one tiny tear at fold, otherwise fine.

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SHERMAN, William Tecumseh, General. Autograph letter signed ("W.T. Sherman General"), to John A. Lynch, Headquarters, Army of the United States, Washington, D.C., 12 July 1873. 3 pages, large 8vo, on Headquarters stationery, one tiny tear at fold, otherwise fine.

WHO ORDERED THE BURNING OF COLUMBIA, S.C.? SHERMAN DENIES HE IS TO BLAME

A fine letter--the only one we have handled dealing with this affair--giving the Union general's own explanation of the still hotly debated wartime destruction of Columbia, South Carolina. Sherman's powerful army entered Columbia on 17 February 1865, driving out a Confederate rearguard. Around midnight a fire began near the market house square. Fanned by a strong wind, and fed by abundant cotton piled on streets and in warehouses, it spread rapidly in spite of the Union soldiers' attempts to control it. Much of the city's central district was reduced to ash by morning. The rebel press accused Sherman of deliberate arson. Wade Hampton said Sherman acted "deliberately, systematically and atrociously."

Sherman writes: "I thank you for the interest manifested in the letter....& have no doubt there is much in what you relate. The only interest I have in the burning of Columbia is in its true history. The recent revival of the question grows out of the Cottom Claims owned by English subjects and sent...before the Joint Commission [to reconcile war claims between Britain and the U.S.]. Judge Hale the Agent of the U.S. seems to be satisfied that he has enough positive testimony, and would not receive mere conjectural explanations. It is enough...that the firing was not done by the Authority of the U. S. The fire once begun the prevailing wind accounts satisfactorily for its spread. There were enough causes for the beginning of the fire in the Acts of the Enemy in firing Cotton in the Streets, in the burning of the bridges & depots all of which is known to have occurred before we entered the town. After we entered there remained one escaped prisoner who hated the town worse than the Army did. Also the Negroes [freed slaves], whose angry feelings were manifest and...the Public whipping Post near the Market house...may have been the real cause...." Sherman gave a different accountin his memoirs, omitting some of the explanations offered here (Memoirs, Library of America edn., 1990, pp. 758-62 and appendices).
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