|A picture of Camp Asylum drawn by one of the Union prisoners.|
A sifter for sorting through the
dirt. In the background is part
of the 10-foot brick wall that
once surrounded the entire
Over 1,000 Union officers were imprisoned in the camp from October 1864 until General Sherman’s troops attacked the city February 17, 1865. The officers had been held at camps in Richmond, Virginia, Macon, Georgia, then on to Savannah, and Charleston, before arriving in Columbia.
Archeology dig site showing where a tent was with a small
fireplace/oven, and the ditch that was dug around it.
Leading the dig was University of South Carolina archeologist Chester DePratter whose team of about a dozen members were allowed only four months to try to salvage the remains of the camp before development begins on the site.
According to Depratter, when the prisoners were let in through the gates on December 12, 1864, most of them had a single blanket, or two at most, that they could use to wrap around themselves to keep warm. Their only option for shelter, for many of them, was to dig a hole in the ground.
DePratter and his team looked for and uncovered the holes, called “shebangs.”
|A "shebang" that was dug for two prisoners, who|
would sit on the carved "step" during the day and
sleep in the hole during the night.
***Anecdote about Camp Asylum --
Adjutant SMH Byers, an officer in the Fifth Iowa Infantry, escaped from the POW camp on the day General Sherman entered Columbia, SC. He approached the general and handed him a piece of paper. That evening, as was Sherman’s custom, he emptied his pockets and took a closer look at the paper. It proved to be the words to Sherman’s March to the Sea, which Byers composed while a prisoner at Camp Asylum. Sherman was so impressed, he attached Byers to his staff. Byers later became the United States consul to Switzerland. In various diaries several Columbia women recall being entertained by the Camp Asylum glee club, who sang Sherman’s March to the Sea as well as Dixie.
***My historical fiction, A Perfect Tempest, takes place during the six months of the prison camp. The heroine, Deborah Wingard, is the daughter of one of the asylum’s physicians. Deborah, who falls in love with the commandant of the camp, joins a spy ring to free one of the prisoners, her cousin’s fiancé.
Deborah helped load the food onto a mule-drawn cart, slipped a basket ﬁlled with biscuits onto her arm, and then she and Becca guided the mule down the hill. As they neared the camp, they heard singing and stopped to listen. Deborah hummed along with the voices that blended in perfect harmony.
“What’s that tune they’re singing?” Becca asked.
“It’s Stephen Foster’s ‘I Dream of Jeanie’. The glee club sounds better every time I hear them.”
“Yes. Those Yankee boys can sing all right. Sometimes, on real quiet nights I can hear them, and the sound is so sweet, it almost makes me cry.”