Nearly 20,000 people were crowded into Columbia when Sherman's army approached, and its streets were crowded with cotton bales. Whether Sherman's advance forces, panicky Confederate deserters camped on Columbia streets, or an accident started the blaze is still a matter of debate. Sherman did little to stop it, and the fire destroyed much of the city, including the old State House and much of the unfinished work of the new (see South Carolina State House, 1790's and South Carolina State House, 1850 ). This view of the ruins of the city is from the State House grounds.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.