Letter from Mayor Thomas J. Goodwyn to Governor Andrew G. Magrath following Sherman's March through the Carolinas, 2 March 1865

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This letter comes from the papers of South Carolina Governor Andrew G. Magrath (1813-1893). He served as governor from 1864 to 1865 in the closing months of the American Civil War. As the last Confederate governor, his papers document the frustrations, anxieities, fears, and hopes of South Carolinians.

Two weeks have passed since Sherman’s visitation and the burning of Columbia. Goodwyn, Columbia’s mayor, writes Magrath a “hurried and nervous letter.” Magrath fled the capital before the burning, taking the state government with him to Spartanburg.

What Goodwyn describes is chaos, a city in ruins. “At least four-fifths of our city is in ashes, very little of the valuable part left,” he reports. In reality, about one-third of the city was consumed, yet accurate mathematical percentages were the least of Goodwyn’s worries. Sherman has left him nothing to feed his people except 500 head of cattle, but even that is no charity. The cattle is so poor, Goodwyn says, that Sherman—a “lying and savage foe”—would not take them with his army. Only one mill still stands to grind “what wheat that was left.” He has no food and patients of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum will soon need to draw rations as well. More trouble: slaves—who recognize the power of their masters has been broken—refuse to work. Goodwyn asks for reinforcements: not to stop Sherman, who is gone, but to stop slaves from sensing too much freedom—“we want a cavalry force to scour through this district and shoot a few negroes and put them work on some plantations.”

Note what Goodwyn calls the “nervous” character of the letter. It appears in subtle ways. The hurried penmanship. The errors of style and grammar. Poor punctuation, run-on-sentence, incoherent modifiers and parenthetic references. He has lost authority and mastery in more ways than is obvious. We might see in this letter the beginning of Reconstruction, for behind it is a silent question: what do we do now? --Dr. Paul Anderson, Clemson University


Mayor Thomas J. Goodwyn to Governor Andrew G. Magrath. 2 March 1865. Series 513004. Governor Andrew Gordon Magrath, Letters received and sent, 1864-1865. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3-4.4 Outline the course of the Civil War and South Carolina’s role in significant events, including the Secession Convention, the firing on Fort Sumter, the Union blockade of Charleston, and Sherman’s march through South Carolina.

Indicator 3-4.5 Summarize the effects of the Civil War on the daily lives of people of different classes in South Carolina, including the lack of food, clothing, and living essentials and the continuing racial tensions.

Indicator 3-4.6 Explain how the Civil War affected South Carolina’s economy, including destruction of plantations, towns, factories, and transportation systems.

Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

Indicator 4-6.6 Explain the impact of the Civil War on the nation, including its effects on the physical environment and on the people—soldiers, women, African Americans, and the civilian population of the nation as a whole.

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

Indicator 8-3.5 Compare the military strategies of the North and South with regard to specific events and geographic locations in South Carolina, including the capture of Port Royal, the Union blockade of Charleston, and Sherman’s march through the state.

Indicator 8-3.6 Compare the effects of the Civil War on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, women, Confederate and Union soldiers, African Americans, and children.

Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

Indicator 8-4.1 Explain the purposes of Reconstruction with attention to the economic, social, political, and geographic problems facing the South, including reconstruction of towns, factories, farms, and transportation systems; the effects of emancipation; racial tension; tension between social classes; and disagreement over voting rights.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.3 Outline the course and outcome of the Civil War, including the role of African American military units; the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation; and the geographic, political, and economic factors involved in the defeat of the Confederacy.

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Mayor Goodwynn Letter Mayor Goodwynn Letter

Related Virtual Tour and Resources:

Virtual Tour: Governor Andrew G. Magrath And The Box They Buried The State In

Governor Andrew G. Magrath Papers



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