About the author: Elizabeth Otis Marshall Dannelly (1838-1896), a native of Madison, Georgia, was a published poet significant enough to be included in the book Living Writers of the South (1869). During the War Between the States, she lived in Columbia, South Carolina, where her husband Dr. Francis Olin Dannelly (1823-1880) was on duty as Chief Surgeon. Mrs. Dannelly was present in Columbia in February 1865 when the city was sacked and burned by the forces under the command of General William T. Sherman, and her poem about the terrible event was published as a pamphlet in 1866. In it she noted: “We are indebted for the facts herein contained to WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, L. L. D., having merely versified some of the incidents which he so graphically portrayed in prose.”
DESTRUCTION OF COLUMBIA
METHINKS there’ll be emblazoned on the dismal walls of Hell,
A record base, whose fiery words of fiendish deeds will tell,
Through ages of eternal woe, to demons black with crime,
How once on earth degraded men o’erleaped the bounds of time,
And though they dwelt in human flesh, incarnate devils turned,
When maddened by infernal hate, they plundered, killed and burned,
Methinks the “Prince of Darkness” with a wild sardonic grin,
Will point exultant to a crime that won the prize from sin,
And glory in a monument that tells his direful sway,
O’er Northmen, who with burning torch swept happy homes away.
They came a motley multitude, a God forsaken band,
With vengeance rankling in each heart, and blood upon each hand,
And as they stood with glittering steel on Carolina’s banks,
“Vae victis!” was the fiendish shout that sounded through their ranks.
They looked across Savannah’s stream with fury glaring eyes,
And trembled in their eagerness to pounce upon their prize.
In muttered curses mingled with “the howlings of delight,”
They longed to strike with bloody hand the stunning blow of might,
And as they neared with dashing speed Columbia so fair,
The heavy tramp, and cannon’s roar that thundered on the air,
Gave warning to her people that a conflict had begun,
Whose deadly stroke would do its work before another sun.
A carriage then was seen to leave which bore a flag of white,
And men, within whose bosoms burned the consciousness of right;
The Army reached, in proper form, a noble hearted Mayor
Surrendered all, and begged the foe their lovely city spare.
The sacred promise sought was given, but soon a shout arose,
Which told, alas! of pledges broke, and treachery of foes.
Behind them desolation told the fury of their wrath;
The light of burning homesteads threw a glimmer o’er their path;
The smiling fields all trampled lay beneath the horseman’s tread;
And cattle o’er a thousand hills lay mangled, bleeding, dead.
Half naked people cowered under bushes from the blast,
And shivered as the midnight wind with icy breathings past;
Fair maidens whose luxurious lives had known before no blight,
With faces pale as marble stood, beneath the pall of night;
While “crimson horrors” lighted up the wintry midnight sky,
As on ebon wings of smoke their burning homesteads fly;
Till village after village, by ascending flames were traced,
And rising on the mourning clouds, with fiery arms embraced.
The treasured stores of art, and taste, defiled and ruined lay,
Rare paintings which had long withstood the touch of Time’s decay,
Rich tapestry of velvet soft, besmeared with ink and oil,
Where dainty feet once lightly tread, is now among the spoil;
Rare furniture, superbly carved, pianos grand in tone,
Beneath the ruffian’s crushing stroke, sent up an echoing moan;
The gardens, types of Paradise, in tropic verdure dressed,
And trampled by the vandal’s steed, lay ruined with the rest;
The cries of starving children rose upon the smoky air,
And wild ascended piteous screams of women in despair;
As far as human eye could reach a blackened desert lay,
And o’er a stricken people hung the shadows of dismay.
On, on, they dashed, with mad’ning speed, “woe to the conquered” cried,
“We’ll crush rebellion’s spirit now and Carolina’s pride;
We’ll burn her cherished capital; we’ll rob her of her gain,
And woman’s prayers, or piteous cries shall reach our ears in vain.””
No summons for surrender came, but thick and rapid fell,
Into Columbia’s very heart the treacherous bursting shell;
The flying fragments bearing death to innocence and mirth;
To children sporting, free from care, around the social hearth;
To helpless women, feeble age, and victims of disease,
Who fell with terror, stricken down upon their bended knees.
An aged sire, with wrinkled brow, and silken locks of white,
Was wounded by a missile sent which took away his sight.
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