“Last night at 9 o’clock I burnt Legareville”: Confederates torch a town in South Carolina

Yes, that’s right… the Confederates burned one of their own towns on August 20, 1864.  Major John Jenkins, 3rd South Carolina Cavalry reported the following day:

Last night at 9 o’clock I burnt Legareville. The buildings were at almost the same instant set on fire and were in a few minutes a sheet of flames. The battery on Horse Island fired a farewell shot into the picket house before we had left. After a considerable time the battery and gun-boat renewed their fire, throwing their shell into the village and up the peninsula upon which Legareville stood to Bryan’s place, a distance of 3 miles. Some 15 or 20 shots were fired, from which we sustained no injury. When the determination to destroy the village was announced the Stono Scouts, owners of property on the place, volunteered to aid the detachment from Captain Clark’s company ordered for the purpose, 16 such members applying the torches to their own dwellings. To-day, after sixteen months’ duty on this outpost, I turn over the command to Captain Parker, and report to my regiment with regret that my last official act on the island should have been, under an imperative sense of duty, to recommend the destruction of the property of our own people (most of them my relatives and friends), and assisting with my own hands in applying the torch to their dwellings. I am only reconciled by reflection that the property had served useful ends to the enemy, who were removing it for their accommodation to the islands in their possession, and it would have been in any event lost to the owners. Five schooners, 2 brigs, and 1 gun-boat in the Stono and Folly Rivers; 1 gun-boat in the North Edisto River.

Legareville had long been between the lines and a contested point.  The Federals had stripped many dwellings of wood for construction.  Both sides used the buildings as cover for pickets, scouts, and ambush details.  A week earlier, while searching for more escaped prisoners, the Federals landed their “rocket battery” and a detachment of infantry. The destruction of the buildings now left one less lodgement point for the Federals, should they make another move onto John’s Island.  Other than the Federal gunfire noted by Jenkins, there was no other Federal response.

LegarevilleOperationalMap

Rather odd turn of events, which Jenkins related with a trace of emotion.  This was war and such “scorched earth” actions are not uncommon.  The war had reached a state where the combatants had less reservations about destruction of property.  Particularly where that property stood in the path of war.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 268-9.)

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