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Civil War presentation at the Kershaw County Library on Feb. 10

Posted: January 29, 2015 2:05 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Pat McNeely

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As part of his campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas, Gen. William T. Sherman created a psychological war on civilians that is the focus of a presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Kershaw County Library, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10 at the Kershaw County Library, 1304 Broad St., Camden.

"In addition to physical and economic assaults, Sherman designed a massive psychological strategy of disinformation and deception designed to cripple the Confederacy, to destroy the faith of civilians in their leaders and their government, and to kill the will of the people to fight," said USC Professor Emerita Pat Gantt McNeely.

Sherman’s strategy was simple, she said. "Sherman issued orders when he left Atlanta that prohibited destruction of private property but provided leeway for his foragers to pillage, rob and burn while simultaneously blaming the atrocities on the nearest Confederate."

The strategy is tied together in McNeely’s book: "Sherman’s Flame and Blame Campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas … and the Burning of Columbia."

"In the case of Columbia," McNeely said, "Sherman first blamed the governor and then the mayor for leaving liquor in the city, but since that meant blaming his own troops, he quickly shifted into his ‘flame and blame’ mode and accused General Wade Hampton, who had been out of the city for more than eight hours."

The flame and blame strategy accounts for the reason that so many people still believe Sherman’s disinformation about Columbia catching on fire from cotton that he said Hampton left burning in the streets.

"For starters, Hampton didn’t leave cotton burning in the streets and he was camped several miles outside Columbia toward Ridgeway when the holocaust started on a 3-rocket signal at about 8 p.m. on Friday, February 17," McNeely said. "The cotton fires were started by Sherman’s troops, which was attested to by dozens of Columbians who saw Sherman’s troops rob and pillage their houses and set fire to their homes in the evening, long after Hampton was out of the city. If Sherman were around today, he would be vastly amused that so many people still believe the disinformation he spread during his campaign."

Sherman said he would not believe any oath of any one who saw a fire kindled by his men in a house or shed. "I would not believe it, unless it were confirmed by some of my own people," he said. When confronted in later years about some of the destruction described by witnesses in South Carolina, he said, "Well, they would have to state the names of the officers, and if the officers denied it, I would accept their denial rather than any evidence of people in South Carolina."

Sherman finally recanted his charges against Hampton in 1875 when he wrote his memoirs, saying, "In my official report of this conflagration, I distinctly charged it to General Wade Hampton, and confess I did so pointedly, to shake the faith of his people in him, for he was in my opinion boastful, and professed to be the special champion of South Carolina."

By then, Sherman’s disinformation on his campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas had taken root and has continued to spread for almost 150 years. For more information, e-mail McNeely at or call the library at 427-6420.


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