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Columbia

At the South Carolina Statehouse, you’ll pass a marker placed there in 1938 commemorating the naming of this section of Route 1 the Robert E. Lee Memorial Highway. A few blocks farther, you’ll come across another sign, which names this stretch of Route 1 the Blue Star Highway. This dates from the early 1950s, when a coalition of garden clubs lobbied to name highways around the nation “Blue Star” in honor of the country’s armed forces and their service in World War II. Much of Columbia was destroyed in a fire that swept through it as Union General William T. Sherman and his forces entered the city in the last months of the Civil War. Each side blamed the other for starting the fire. Whatever happened, there was no doubt that Union troops considered South Carolina, even more than Virginia, as the instigator of secession and, from a Union perspective, cause of the most terrible war in American history. The fire consumed much of the city. Today, tourists can trace Sherman’s trail through Columbia by the older structures that were not burned. The South Carolina Statehouse was a case in point. In 1860, shortly before the beginning of the Civil War, the state’s leaders decided to replace the existing wooden statehouse with a Greek-Revival style stone building. The start of the war in 1861 postponed its completion. Union troops in 1865 burned the wooden capitol building and shelled the hell out of its partially completed replacement, then raised the American flag over the ruins. The second, newer statehouse wasn’t completed until 1907, forty-two years after the end of the Civil War.