[The following is from the fourth book of Charles F. Nelson’s Diary, and it appears that this was written after his return home at the end of the war.]
In regard to the fire at Columbia, S. C.
Feb 17, 1865 – were met by the Mayor of the City with a flag of truce to surrender the City which was done about 10 A.M. After this the 2nd Brig. crossed on the bridge and marched into the city with our regt in advance, all the flags being unfurled and amid the cheers of the darkies.
The 3rd Brigade were left in the city to do provo duty until about 9 at night. We were ordered into the city to relieve them and help stay the great conflagration caused by the drunken soldiers firing some buildings on Main street.
The fire raged with great fury all night, notwithstanding the efforts of our brigade to stay it. The fire spread all along Main street for 2 miles in length consuming everything in its way until 2/3 of the city was laid in ashes. Many of the buildings of the city were destroyed, the storehouses and warehouses along Main street had more or less shell and powder and many of them had liquors stored away in the cellars which added to the fury of the fire.
The market house on Main street with the town clock in the cupola, all destroyed in spite of the efforts to save it. Also the Catholic Convent, a spacious building, the old State House and many fine private residences. What was only that morning a fine city the next morning nothing but distress and ruin.
Groups of men,women and children could be seen standing on the corners lamenting their sad fate, those but a few hours previous were among the wealthiest in the city and now had only enough left to cover their bodies.
One of the consequences of the rebellion.
Feb. 18 – From this date up to the morning of the 20th we remained in the city doing provo duty.