Sherman’s Spoils: Thousands of Civil War Relics Found On South Carolina Riverbed

imrs-1.phpimrs.phpAs some of you know, I am a military history nut and collect (on a small level) military historical items. That is why this story caught my eye . . . and my greedy imagination. Sitting at the muddy bottom of the Congaree River in Columbia, South Carolina appears to be the long lost munitions booty of General William T. Sherman from his Carolinas campaign. If retrieved, the find could yield thousands of saves, cartridges, scabbards and other items that would thrill civil war buffs — and flood the market for such items. In a curious way, the river find shows history repeating itself. It was the dumping of pollutants by a gas-producing plant that led to the discovery of Sherman dumping his munitions in the river.


The gas-producing plant closed in 1954 but not before dumping roughly 40,000 tons of “taffy-like” black tar in the river. The tar has to be removed in the Congaree by SCANA Corp but that will expose 15 acres of riverbed that turns out to have a two foot layer of Civil War artifacts. It was dumped there By Sherman after capturing Columbia on Feb. 17, 1865 from the Confederacy. It includes, but it not limited to 1.2 million ball cartridges, 100,000 percussion caps, 4,000 bayonet scabbards, 3,100 sabers, and 1,100 knapsacks.

What would be poetic justice is for South Carolina to hold an auction for the equipment for nerds like me and use the money for historical preservation of the area. It would be equally interesting to see the elasticity of prices in Civil War artifacts and whether the price of things like sabers plummets with the infusion of so many new items.

350px-The_burning_of_Columbia,_South_Carolina,_February_17,_1865The battle was not the proudest moment for the North. After a failed attempt to hold off the right wing of Sherman’s forces at the crossing of the Salkehatchie River, Union Maj. Gen. Francis P. Blair (Howard’s army) crossed the river and slammed into the flank of Confederate Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws. It forced McLaws to withdrew to Branchville and, on February 17, 1865, Columbia surrendered to Sherman. That should have spared the historic city, which was a critical political and transportation center. However, the city was soon overrun by freed Union prisoners, emancipated slaves, and Union troopers. The Union troops soon found large supplies of booze and turned into a drunken mass. Fires soon appeared all over the city and most of the city was burned to the ground. The citizens always insisted that it was intentional, but at a minimum Sherman and his commanders should shoulder the blame for an army that turned into a mob.

It turns out that this river and this area has been much abused both in war and in peace. Sherman proved prophetic when he wrote to Gen. Henry W. Halleck: “The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.”

Source: Washington Post

14 thoughts on “Sherman’s Spoils: Thousands of Civil War Relics Found On South Carolina Riverbed

  1. Richard Faust you are right. You are out. & to barking dog you need to brush up a little on your history. I find some of what you wrote very interesting. However, if you don’t know why General Lee fought at Gettysburg please read more about the “eyes” of Lees Army & shoes. Those 2 things led to the battle of Gettysburg. There are a couple of diaries that I have read that mention “other ” things happening behind the scenes as well. Like a dispatch that was intercepted from Lee asking for reinforcements. (& knowing all along there would be none). Chess moves put this battle in play well before Lee anticipated it. He left southern soil to suppress some of the infliction put on the south from the war. He knew the odds.

    • TY, my civil war guest…Sherman did what need it to be done. When McClellan decided to run against Abe in 1864, no matter what Gettysburg and Vicksburg were victories, until Sherman announced that Mr. Lincoln, “Atlanta is ours” the war was over.

  2. Another thought. If Obama closes Gitmo, where are we putting POW’s from ISIS? Are there any being held by anybody? We really are uneducated about what’s going on there. Even FOX doesn’t give us much. From 5-8 PST it’s politics. They may lose me if it’s 2016 day after day. Free us for the rest of this year. Let the Republicans get things in order before you hammer everybody all the time. Their job isn’t talking to you.

  3. The killing of the enemy by our armies is a lesson the Middle East should pay attention to. That was due to how they saw people treated. I can’t imagine walking into concentration camps and seeing the evil man is capable of. Now it’s centered in the Middle East. They won’t be beheaded because that’s not who we are. But any sympathy we had is gone.

  4. If the state is smart, it should only sell it in portions over time. Don’t flood the market. Keep the carrot on the stick. The state will get more money that way which is good for the taxpayers. Especially the families of people living in South Carolina during and after the war.

  5. I love posts like this. I know they appeal only to us history buffs but so be it. An auction as suggested would be the common sense and positive way to handle these artifacts. Vegas has it 50-1 the govt. will abide common sense,

  6. Tar in the river for half a century. Not good.

    What an interesting find. Professor Turley proposes a good solution, financing preservation with the find.

  7. Wow, I love the idea of all these relics coming to market. What a fascinating find. What I fear, though, is government stepping in and for “preservation sake” confiscates the find and sends the entire booty to the Smithsonian Museum where they are hoarded in a backroom closet somewhere and forgotten.

  8. What’s the condition of the stuff found after all these years at the bottom of a river? A nice civil-war era sword would be cool to have and display. A rusty hunk of metal, not so much.

  9. There is nothing they found that I found interesting. I guess I am just not enough of a Civil War nerd. 🙂

  10. randyjet – the actions of your Uncle Bob and his comrades is why the perpetrators of Malmedy were let off. They were going to try them until film showed US troops gunning down unarmed surrendering guards at concentration camps. German defense attorneys learned of the film.

  11. Lincoln does not get enough credit for being a good Commander in Chief. He had a slew of mediocre generals and then decided to bring Grant, Sherman, and two other guys east right after Vicksburg. No more weeny, weeny bo beanie like McClellan and the others.
    What many don’t know is that before the War McClellan was head of the Illinois Central RR. They had a case in the Illinois Supreme Court which they won. That case meant that they did not have to pay some tax which was substantial and meant millions of dollars down the road for the railroad. McClellan was a dork and balked at paying Lincoln and Herndon a fee of something like twelve hundred dollars. Herndon got pissed and talked Lincoln to resubmit it as $2500. The dork McClellan went back into the Army when the war started and was the worst. There is a book out by Herndon which is titled Lincoln and Herndon. Great book.
    On another note. Bobby Lee gets all this praise by historians and the southern Shelby Footes of the world. Why did he go to Gettysburg instead of New Bern. The North was occupying New Bern and the coast and preventing the export of cotton. Why not take the North on in the South were things mattered? Sherman knew where things mattered. Lee would not take him on and the South was tore up.

  12. While I agree that Sherman was derelict in not keeping his troops under control and disciplined, the moral case is weak since South Carolina was the prime instigator of the war. Sherman took care to not have a repeat performance as he moved into North Carolina as he reminded his troops that the state was only a reluctant rebel state in which a slim majority had voted to join in treason, and he issued orders to not have a repeat.

    This also brings up the question as to how to treat POWs of a criminal organization in wartime, the SS. I personally knew two GIs who fought in the ETO who admitted executing SS members. My Uncle Bob stated that after his unit learned of the mass murder at Malmedy, his unit swore to round up and kill any SS troops they came across. NO prisoners. The Wehrmacht troops were treated as required. Another friend of mine liberated Dachau, and he admitted to killing the guards that they caught he was so outraged at what he found. So while their actions may have been technically illegal, I think that their moral case for their actions was better. Neither of them suffered any repercussion for their actions.

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