Reminiscences of John Baylis Lewis
The South Carolina Military Academy
The Arsenal

From Charleston, we were transferred to Columbia, taking quarters at the Arsenal Barracks, and under the command of John Peyre Thomas, Superintendent, with Lieutenants J. B. [John Bellinger ] Patrick, A. J. [ Alfred Junius ] Norris and R. O. [ Robert Oswald ] Sams, the corps of Professors at the school.

Very few of those boys who had been in service and were transferred direct from the fields were in condition to present a very respectable appearance, for the want of suitable clothing, and at that time it was impossible to communicate with Our homes and people, and no clothing could be bought in the stores.

I was fortunate in having access to a partial supply of garments from a trunk left by a former cadet of the Class of 1864, he having stored his trunk with the bursar, and I in possession of the key. I will mention here that the Winter of 1864-1865 was one of the most severe I had ever experienced and it was hard work for the cadets to keep comfortable in badly worn clothes, and only a scant amount of bed clothes.

This was about the latter part of December 1864. Christmas was drawing near. No trains were being operated on the railroads, owing to the excessive floods of rain that washed the roadbeds and trestles and bridges beyond repair. The boxes of good things from Home, Sweet Home were conspicuous by their absence, and our Christmas turkey and cake were only an imaginative hope that perished with the thought. Let me give you the menu for our dinner on Christmas Day, 1864:
Soup a la Ox Bones -- No Salt
Bread a la Maize -- Ditto
Drinks aqua pura, a la tin cups
Can you beat that?

The year 1864 ended with Saturday, December 31st. On that morning, our chapel service was conducted by Lieutenant J. B. Patrick. He was a good man, and a Christian, and in his remarks to the Battalion he stressed the subject, "The Last Day."

This was a sad and memorable occasion to the boys, for we were then apprised of the serious condition of the armies of Lee and Johnston and fully aware of the steady advancement of the Federal Army of Sherman towards Columbia, and the gradual closing in of Grant's Army around Richmond.

Many of the boys were anxious to withdraw from the Arsenal Cadets and make an effort to join Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi Department, who was reported to be determined to continue activities in that region. This effort on our part was finally abandoned when it was known that Sherman was covering the territory lying west of South Carolina.

A state of uncertainty settled down on us that prevented our putting any thought upon our studies as we had intended to do, and very early in the month of February 1865, we found that something unusual was soon to occur, and finally on February 15th, 1865, we awoke to a realization of the fact that Sherman's Army was gathering on the hills of old Lexington District, just west of Columbia.

The day was bright, a coating of snow, sleet and ice was rapidly disappearing from the grounds around Arsenal Hill, while in full view of us the blue-coated lines were plainly discerned. Their bayonets flashed brightly in the sunlight, and the Cavalry and Artillery were plainly seen as they came dashing to the front of their lines on splendid spirited horses.

We were convinced that we were in for a fight, or evacuation of the City. The choice, however, was decided for us, when on the night of February 16, 1865, we were ordered to prepare to leave the Arsenal Building, which we did in perfect order, and with strict military discipline.

Filing out and beyond the Quadrangle at midnight on the 16th of February, we marched to North Main Street, thence South to the intersection of Gervais Street at the Capitol, where we halted for orders. The troops of other commands were forming on Gervais Street, with the front of the column on East Gervais Street, while a detachment of Hampton's Cavalry was formed on the West end of the street for the protection of the rear of the column.

There were very few citizens to be seen on the streets. Except for an occasional light from the buildings along Lower Main Street, one could not tell that preparations were being made to evacuate and leave the City to her fate.

One column then moved east along Gervais Street, about 2 o'clock A.M., of the morning of Februwy 17, 1865, at which time, and as long as we were in sight of Columbia, no sign of fire could be discerned.

Our route was in the direction of Winnsboro, S. C., and along the line of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad. Arriving at Winnsboro, we continued to move towards Lancaster, at which place the Regiment of Reserves, composed of old men of sixty or more years of age, was disbanded by order of Adjutant General A. C. Garlington and were instructed to return to their homes, as they were not able to stand the hardships of the march.

This Regiment was composed of not more than one hundred old men who had been on duty in Columbia as guards at the Government Buildings, who proceeded to stack their arms in front of the Court House at the town of Lancaster, and there we left them to make their weary way homeward.

Our Battalion of Cadets numbered about 125 boys; in addition there was a squad of militia boys of 16 years of age who had joined with us, and under the command of Sergeant G. W. [George Washington] Lee of Sumter, S.C., who was a Non- Commissioned Officer of the Cadet Battalion.

From Lancaster, our route was to Chesterfield, S.C., and from that town to Elizabeth Church where we halted, our intentions being to join Johnston's Army at Cheraw; but learning that Sherman was advancing very near us, we turned our course towards Wadesboro, N.C., and reaching that point, we were splendidly entertained by the good ladies of that town, who served us with the only real spread of good things to eat that we had enjoyed since leaving Columbia.

Our rations along the march had been scant indeed, being mostly corn meal without meat of any kind, and often cooked in the ashes in regular "Ash Cake Style", without salt. When we were lucky enough to draw rations, we often cooked and ate three days rations at one time, and we were glad to get even that.

Marching through a strange part of the country, off the line of railroad, we were forced to depend on chance opportunity for our meagre [sic] supply. After leaving Wadesboro, we took a circuitous route through Union, Anson, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties of North Carolina to Charlotte, N.C. where we rested one day, after which we made our way back into South Carolina at Chester, marching thence to Union, S. C., and to Spartanburg, S. C., where we arrived about March 10, 1865.

Governor Magrath met us there and, after reviewing our battalion, those of us that could reach their homes were furloughed for 15 days, at the expiration of which time we reported for duty at Spartanburg, S. C., about March 20, 1865. We were then ordered to Greenville, S. C. and pitched our camp about three miles north of that city, erecting tents of pine poles in the shape of a letter "A." This was the first real camp that we had occupied since leaving Columbia two months previous.

We employed ourselves in the usual camp activities of daily drills, guard mounting and guard duty with reveille and retreat, morn and night. A tiresome grind for a hungry, footsore boy who realized that there was nothing in it but to keep us busy and out of the way of temptation to get into real mischief.

Our rations were more plentiful and regular and, in addition to our corn meal, we had an occasional allowance of wheat flour with beef that was salty, but not a bit greasy or tender, but we were still soldiers and had learned our lessons of obedience to orders, without question or complaint, realizing that our Country was in her death throes.

About the first days of April 1865, a report reached us that the heartless General Stoneman, with his band Of robbers and thieves in the uniform of the United States Government, was making his way through the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia for the purpose of accomplishing in upper South Carolina the ruin that Sherman had already done from Columbia to the coast.

His object was to capture Greenville, S.C. and deploy his raiders along the line of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, laying everything in waste, as that part of the State had not suffered from fire and pillage at that time.

When we had advanced to a point near the South Carolina line, the authorities at Greenville, S. C. sent out a flag of truce, expecting to meet him near the North Carolina line above Greenville. The raiders were then at Marietta, S. C. and when our party reached that place, they were fired upon by the raiders, refusing to have any communication whatever.

On the night of Sunday, April 30, 1865, our party returned to the Town of Greenville, giving to Captain J. P. Thomas the information that is above stated, advising him to make his escape with the Battalion of cadets. This was about midnight on Sunday, April 30th. Our battalion was ordered to break camp and prepare to move, which we did in short order, observing a strict military formation.

Our route was along the line of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, and Columbia, S. C. was our objective point. Arriving at the present town of Piedmont, we followed the dirt road to Williamston, S. C. but before reaching that place, we halted for water and a rest, for we had marched rapidly, and with nothing to eat besides. While resting at a farm house, our slumber was broken by the sound of clanking sabres, and a volley from the carbines of the raiders.

Jumping to our feet, and in obedience to the command "Fall In", we were ready to reply to the assault, with our leaden compliments. After a few rounds had been exchanged and the raiders came into full sight, they realized that we were prepared for them and soon scampered out of the range of our muskets.

After the smoke of battle had cleared sufficiently, we found that the casualties on our side consisted of one man named James Spearman of Newberry, who had received a slight wound in his right hand from a slug shot, the gun being fired by a negro who was piloting the raiders through the country for the purpose of robbery and pillage along the road.

We were satisfied that our fire had been more deadly, as one of the younger boys, named Coffin, who had been with us more for protection than otherwise, had taken aim with his gun on a rail fence for a rest and when he fired he saw his man fall down from his horse, and he called out in his shrill boyish voice: "I got him all right," which was confirmed by some reliable parties who were hiding nearby the road, and also by ladies of the Way-Side Inn at Greenville, who had afterwards taken the wounded soldier to the hospital at Greenville and nursed him until he recovered sufficiently to go to his home, and for several years following, he would make a pilgrimage to visit his fair friends that had saved his life.

Following this little episode, we continued our march to Williamston, S. C. and found on our arrival that the raiders had done their work by burning the railroad depot and the Government warehouses that had been used to store supplies of grain for our troops, and in addition they had burned a freight train and a passenger train that was at the station.

The citizens of Williamston were much excited over the work of destruction committed by the raiders and, as we approached the town, they naturally thought we were United States troops, also. The Mayor of the town came out to meet us with a flag of truce, imploring us to spare the homes as there were only women and children in the place, whereupon our Commander assured him that we were not Federal troops but friends and Southern Soldiers, which was a great relief to them.

Continuing our march in the direction of Belton, S. C., we arrived at that town about dark and went into Camp in a nearby wood, where we remained until the morning of May 2, 1865. From Belton, we soon reached the Town of Honea Path where we secured some rations from the Quarter-Master stores and made a hasty breakfast of cornmeal and bacon, the first we had enjoyed since leaving Greenville.

Later in the day we arrived at Cokesbury and thence at Greenwood, where we were given a real satisfying meal, provided by Dr. Maxwell and other good hospitable citizens of that town. Our route finally ended at Ninety-Six, where we pitched camp in a body of woods, and remained several days.

While resting here, Captain Thomas sent Lieut. R. O. Sams to Columbia with the hope of getting into communication with Governor Magrath. Finding the Governor under arrest by the United States forces, with some difficulty he secured permission to see him, and obtained orders to Captain Thomas to furlough the cadets for sixty days, allowing them to retain their arms and accoutrements and return to their homes, holding themselves in readiness to re-assemble at the Arsenal Academy in Columbia to assume academic duties when called to do so.

This order was never issued and the boys of the Class of 1865 wended their way homeward. This was on the afternoon of May 9, 1865, and our breaking camp marked forever the dissolution of the Cadet Corps of the Arsenal Academy of Columbia, S. C. Here allow me to say that the Federal Troops of Sherman's Army had destroyed the buildings of the Academy along with their other deeds of fiendish revenge.

I will also add that Captain Thomas in his History of the South Carolina Military Academy, at page 202, had this to say:
"It is a pleasing reflection that the Commanding Officer was permitted by the attending conditions, to bring his command to an orderly and systematic close. In this last Cadet movement from Greenville to Newberry, while the Confederacy was dissolving, and the State was disorganized, there was no abatement of discipline, and Officers and Cadets remained loyal to South Carolina, although then in dis-crowned sovereignty, and overpowered by the force of overwhelming arms."

It was thus at Newberry, S. C., on May 9, 1865, that the last scene in the drama was enacted that brought to a close the old South Carolina Military Academy that dated from 1842 to 1865.

In concluding this sketch, it is with pardonable pride that we make the statement that no greater number of students were ever graduated from any educational institution in the United States than were the graduates of the Citadel at Charleston, S.C., of which the Arsenal at Columbia was the preparatory department.

Their names are to be found among the lists of all the walks of life, and their heroic deeds and loyalty to the Cause of the South proves the assertion.

In further proof of this statement, allow me to suggest the careful perusal of The History of the South Carolina Military Academy by J. Peyre Thomas, of Columbia, S.C., and published by Walker, Evans and Cogswell Company of Charleston, S. C., 1893.

It is with many misgivings that I offer to you this hurriedly written sketch, as I am not a writer, historian, nor even a paragrapher, and have given you, from memory alone, my military experience during the War for States Rights in South Carolina from 1861 to 1865.

If this serves the purpose, and you will exercise the patience in employing your time to read it, I will be more than well satisfied for the time consumed in the effort to gratify you and fulfill my promise.

Elloree Chapter
United Daughters of the Confederacy
Elloree, S. C.

SC Divison, UDC
Pages 27 - 35

The Arsenal, Columbia, SC Regimental Page

If you have any information about these troops or these units, please contact

Bil Brasington