No Mercy: Sherman's Fury | Mary Long's Yesteryear (1989)


The rampage of William Tecumseh Sherman through South Carolina near the end of the Civil War is examined.

After burning Atlanta on November 14, 1864, Gen. Sherman moved through Georgia, completing his March to the Sea. Capturing Savannah in late December, he then turned toward South Carolina. Sherman was a Southern sympathizer and did not oppose slavery. However, he did oppose secession. He had difficulty maintaining discipline over his troops,who were constantly accused of looting, pillaging and plundering. The laws of Congress made these acts punishable by death, but Sherman seemed to lack the will or the desire to enforce this proclamation. Many of the men were from the middle West and bore hatred and prejudice for Southerners and blacks alike, and had joined for the plunder to be found in the South. 

Although they had cut a swath 60 miles wide through Georgia, the soldiers saved their pent-up fury for South Carolina. In January 1865, Sherman divided his Army and the invasion of South Carolina had begun, 60,000 strong. The right flank, under Gen. Oliver Howard, proceeded into Beaufort, and the left flank, under Gen. Henry Slocum, crossed the Savannah River 30 miles up river. Governor Andrew McGrath sought aid from everywhere, even Robert E. Lee, who was having his own problems in Richmond with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Lee sent a detachment of cavalry under Wade Hampton but questioned how it would help the Confederacy to have both Sherman and Grant in South Carolina.

Blaming South Carolina for leading nullification and secession, Sherman wrote that the whole Army was, "burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate but.feel that she deserves all that is in store for her. I look upon Columbia as quite as bad as Charleston." Entering South Carolina, houses and churches were burned to the ground. Sherman veered to the right toward Charleston and to the left toward Augusta, so the Confederate commanders had no idea where he intended to go. They spread what troops they had thinly across the Lowcountry, deciding that Sherman's goal was Charleston. Valuables were sent to Columbia for safe-keeping. Refugees crowded the roads to Columbia, trying to escape.

The city of Columbia lay defenseless. On February 17, 1865, Sherman and his troops entered Columbia, virtually unopposed. Watching the lines of blue uniforms as they moved into the city, Gen. Wade Hampton realized that resistance was useless and moved his troops to a hill overlooking Columbia and watched helplessly as Columbia fell. A distillery was broken into, and within a short time, 10,000 drunken soldiers were scattered throughout the streets of Columbia. Union officers were appalled by the actions of some of their troops, who were committing grievous offenses against women, and many died as a result. Troops were sent to destroy the homes of prominent South Carolinians, one of which was Millwood, the home of Wade Hampton. At dusk, fire broke out. Over three-fourths of the city was destroyed by fire. Today, stars on the State House remain, marking the places where cannon fire struck.

Sherman's well-known quotation that ends with, "War is hell," is provided near the end of the program.