Update: The Case of George Washington’s Broken Cane

A while back I blogged about the damaged statue of George Washington that currently sits in front of the State House in Columbia, S.C. The post had something to do with a Facebook post on the SHPG’s group page that highlighted “Yankee atrocities.” As someone usually skeptical about such atrocities, mainly because so many of them are falsely attributed to Sherman’s Army, I decided to research the statue a bit for myself. I quickly found that there were two opposing explanations for how the statue was originally damaged. I signed off on the post asking for readers to provide any information they had. I moved on, and forgot about the whole thing. Then, two years later, I received a comment.

This comment comes from first time poster, Greg Ballentine:

Please refer to the drawing in Frank Leslie Illustrated December 23, 1876. It depicts federal troops occupying the statehouse during the election of 1876. The drawing is of the statue, with the broken cane, BEFORE it was moved from inside.

I’d post the drawing, but your site doesn’t have a way for me to attach it.

Nice try, but the US troops behaved despicably in South Carolina. Even the soldiers confessed as much, including the scoundrel Sherman, that war criminal.

 

I want to address the last part of his comment first. In my post, I merely questioned the opposing explanations. The fact that both explanations came form the same source caused even greater skepticism. I didn’t “try” anything, nor did I attempt to argue against the fact that vandalism might have occurred. I’m not sure why someone who adds so much to a conversation has to diminish the character of their own argument by adding “Lost Cause” rhetoric to the fray. I digress.

In my original post, I noted that the statue (left) is missing the lower part of Washington’s cane. A plaque on the front of the statue states that “soldiers (Union) brick-batted the statue” which left it in its current state. While researching the incident, I came across an education website for students, owned and operated by the South Carolina government, which stated that movers damaged the statue when moving it from inside the State House to its current location outside.

Greg’s comment, and the information he provides, proves one of those explanations wrong. He cited a December 23, 1876 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated NewspaperA drawing in this paper entitled, “The State Capitol Occupied By United States Troops,” clearly depicts the George Washington statue inside of the State House with a broken cane. This tells us that the statue was damaged prior to that publication date. According to the Art Inventories Catalog of the American Smithsonian Art Museum, the George Washington statue in question was not relocated until 1884, and then again in 1907. All of this information together sort of trumps the explanation on South Carolina’s educational website that the statue was damaged by movers.

Although this new information does not definitively answer what happened to the statue, it does provide sufficient enough information to deduce that the statue was probably damaged during the war, and likely during Union attack and/or occupation. I’m not ready to jump on board and concede that Union soldiers “brick-batted” the statue just yet though. I’ll wait for more evidence. 😉

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6 thoughts on “Update: The Case of George Washington’s Broken Cane

    1. Precisely. I can understand “boys will be boys” as an argument, but there are stories of Yankees sparing objects because the object had national roots. It leaves a lot to wonder.

  1. The answer to your mystery was reported in The Columbia Phoenix, 11 April 1865.

    “They [the barbarian] seem to have found considerable sport in their practice, with brick-bats, or fragments of rocks, as sharp-shooters; and making the fine bronze statue of Washington their mark, they won various successes against his face, breast and legs. Sundry bruises and abrasions are to be found upon the head and front, and a part of his cane has been carried away among their spolia opima.”

    The full article can be read at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84027006/1865-04-11/ed-1/seq-2/

    It would seem the plaque is an accurate description as reported in the period newspaper. Corroboration by an independent source would be more definitive given the anti-Union sentiment of the paper.

    1. Thanks for the link Sam. I would definitely like to find a more independent paper. I’ve just come across too many accounts of “Unruly Yankees” burning down courthouses, farmhouses, etc. etc. that turned out to be fabrications. Not that I doubt such an event could have happened in Columbia .

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