The retreat from Columbia
was decided on, and to our brigade was assigned the position of rear guard.
Our gallant, and brilliant divison commander, General Butler
, personally superintended our operations, which were necessarily of a delicate nature.
The retreat is sometimes termed an evacuation, but I should suppose, incorrectly so, as the place was unfortified, and no troops had been operated from, or quartered in it; they had simply been manoeuvered in its neighborhood, not from it, and had merely passed through its streets in retreating, when it was necessary to do so. Only non combatants had occupied the city.
The final withdrawal took place on February 17th, but on the previous day, or during the night all troops had been brought across the river.
It was on this day or the previous day, I think, that Sherman
shelled this city of women and children without the slightest military or moral justification or excuse, and without the smallest chance, or purpose of injuring any one but non-combatants.
I happened to witness the scene, as I had been dispatched through the town with an order.
The new State-house, then incomplete, but an imposing structure, was being used as a target apparently, for the shells were striking about that neighborhood to the infinite peril of many whose sex or tender years should have proved a secure aegis from violence.
On the morning of the retreat, our brigade, which, as already mentioned, was the last body of Confederate troops to leave the town, marched out at an early hour.
At some distance behind the main body followed a small detachment of ten or twelve men, which halted just outside of the town and took up a position on the crest of a bill beyond the Charlotte depot
, over-looking the city.
I was one of that detachment.
The object of thus posting us, was, I suppose, to observe the enemy and to prevent the rear guard from being surprised.
This body was, at the time, covering the retreat of a portion of our wagon-train, and would have been obliged, if necessary, to skirmish for its protection, but this would have occurred at some little distance from the town.
From the lower level of the streets our appearance must have been that of the front of a column of some size, and not merely a handful of men which would discourage small detachments from ascending the hill to molest us, and was, no doubt, so intended.
We had been strictly ordered to fire no shots under any circumstances, relying upon our sabres alone, as no excuse was to be given to the enemy for inaugurating violence in the streets.
Below this little eminence stretched out the city, plainly to be seen from where we were.
The road which we occupied ran at right angles to the street down which Sherman
's column entered, and, before long, we saw the line of blue pouring steadily like a river