Introduction to The Burning of Columbia

The Burning of Columbia is an interactive map and timeline of the destruction of South Carolina's capital city in the waning days of the Civil War. The narrative it presents is based on two sources: William Gilmore Simms's late-1865 pamphlet Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia, S.C., and the second edition of Marion B. Lucas's scholarly history, Sherman and the Burning of Columbia. The destruction of Columbia is controversial, and this project does not attempt to make an argument about culpability for the fire. Rather, it does three things. First, this project provides background information about the circumstances surrounding the beginning of Sherman's "Carolinas Campaign," including his troop movements and the placement of Confederate forces. Second, it describes and illustrates the battle for control of the city, the chaos surrounding its evacuation and occupation, and the extent of the resulting destruction. Finally, the project superimposes the extent of the destruction from those few days in February 1865 over three maps from later in the nineteenth century--1869, 1872, and 1895--illustrating how the burning of Columbia may have affected the city's later development. Our hope is that this project will provide a powerful resource for understanding, discussing, and teaching this important moment in South Carolina's history.

Upon opening the site, users will see four different means for navigating through the narrative:

  1. Map Canvas. This is the main view, in the center of the screen. Users can pan and zoom to different places on the map, and can click on the markers placed on the map. These will bring up boxes with detailed information about that point, and sometimes images or other multimedia entities. In many cases, points on the map canvas are associated with portions of the Simms narrative, seen on the left-hand side of the screen. Clicking on those points will center and highlight a portion of Simms's text.
  2. Waypoints. On the right side of the screen are waypoints. These are markers which step through the story of the burning. Clicking on them in order will take users through the events of each day, re-center the map canvas as appropriate, highlight portions of Simms's narrative, and provide specific details about the events.
  3. Timeline. At the bottom of the screen is the timeline. The periods have been given names that broadly describe what occurs during that time frame. Double-clicking on these names will re-center the timeline, bringing up a new collection of waypoints.
  4. Simms's Narrative. Finally, on the left side of the screen is Simms's narrative. This is the complete text of his 1865 pamphlet Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia S.C., minus the appendix. Highlighted portions can be clicked on, and will connect Simms's text with various points on the map canvas and certain waypoints, and sometimes move the timeline. Users wishing to read the narrative in its entirety are encouraged to see its page on the Simms Initiatives website.

Users are free to engage the project however they see fit. However, a user wanting a linear presentation of the narrative should click through the waypoints sequentially, advancing the timeline when the last waypoint has been reached.

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