As we are now in the midst of the sesquicentennial of the Union Army’s march through South Carolina—the climax being the burning of the city of Columbia on 17 February 1865—I thought it might be interesting to employ a rather unorthodox, but extremely interesting source to broaden the understanding of this infamous event:
Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.
The Narratives were collected by Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, one of many “New Deal” projects created under the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression.
This federally funded project encompassed 17 States and came to comprise over ten thousand typed pages and containing over 2000 interviews. The actual work was directed at the state level and is organised by state. The South Carolina interviews take up 4 volumes of the collected works. I have never seen a complete set, or even a complete set of a single state, in print form, but they are easily accessed online.
Much has been made of purported shortcomings of the Narratives, but a careful review of the narratives and other primary sources of those present when the Union Army made their way across the Palmetto State, it is not difficult to conclude that these “shortcomings” have more to do with the many instances when the interviewed depart from the official Nationalist/Yankee narrative of the events in question than anything else.
While each individual account may be scant and inconclusive in its own right, taken together, the Narratives present a compelling picture of the event.
The patterns that emerge in Narratives cannot easily be explained away, but with an official criticism or two by “experts,” they become easier for “professionals” to ignore. Still, the uniformity of the narratives from account to account provides a strong case, at least in part, for their validity.
A single tile tells us very little about a particular mosaic; however, each one contributes to and is necessary for the construction of the image. In this case, we have a rather incomplete picture. It is my hope that the emerging image will reveal itself as each new “tile” is added.
Of the 285 accounts in the South Carolina Narratives, 114 or 40% of those interviewed have something to say about “when the Yankees come.” I have included every relevant account that I have been able to find and present them without comment. The order of the quotes is alphabetical, exactly as they appear in the collection.
Read More HERE