At a late hour in the day our little detachment was withdrawn from the hill; we halted that night seven or eight miles from the town.
As three of the regiments in our division had been raised in South Carolina
, of course very many of the officers and men were leaving behind them in Columbia
, near and dear relatives of the tender sex. As we retreated through the streets that morning we had encountered from many a window sad pleading looks and tearful eyes.
For any one with a spark of manhood in his composition to leave under such circumstances was a hard trial, but to those thus compulsorily deserting their families it was painful in the extreme.
At first the greatest anxiety was felt as to how the entering army would behave, but after we had seen it for several hours in peaceful possession, the worst danger was supposed to be over, and the poor dejected fellows cheered up a little.
By night, from a reaction of feeling, the men were quite bright and jolly.
Chatting and smoking over the camp fires we all came to the conclusion that the devil was not so black as he was painted after all. My mess discussed the Madeira which I had brought with great satisfaction, the wine shaken into such a muddy condition, as to be unrecognizable, and drunk from tin cups.
Oh! outraged Bacchus
Soon the men were all peacefully sleeping on that soil for whose freedom they were struggling, all dangers and anxieties for the time forgotten, but they were booted and dressed ready to mount at a moment's notice.
A chilly wintry night was succeeded by a gloomy leaden gray dawn.
As the cavalrymen aroused themselves a strange sight met their half-blinded eyes.
Great clouds of heavy black smoke were drifting through the camp, and their horses in alarm were straining uneasily at their halters.
At first it was supposed, that the woods in the neighborhood were on fire, but investigation soon proved that this was not the cause.
Then the solution of the phenomenon broke upon the men in a horrible revelation; it was the smoke from burnt Columbia
. Heart-rending and baffling description was the scene then witnessed.
The poor fellows realized that thousands of women and children, among them their nearest and dearest, were crouching, roofless and foodless, in the pitiless winter air, or had met a worse fate.
Groans were extorted from strong men, and tears wet the cheeks of grim veterans.
The scene is too painful to recall and the theme too sickening to pursue further.
Such had been the fate of Columbia
A deed had been consumated shocking to the public conscience of christendom, unparrelleled since the savage red man had raged in unchecked violence through our primeval forests.