Stars and Inscriptions on the State House
In 1929, the General Assembly placed these bronze stars and two brass plaques on the State House to denote the damage made to the structure by Union artillery on February 16, 1865, shortly before the city surrendered to General William T. Sherman. The original plaques included inscriptions written by historian Alexander Samuel Salley Jr. in his role as secretary of the Historical Commission of South Carolina. Salley used the term “honorable scars” – the same term employed for the amputations of Confederate veterans – to describe the damage caused by cannon fire as well as fire damage that occurred when the old State House, located to the west of this structure, burned on February 17, 1865. Generations of South Carolinians chose to call attention to the visible results of the siege in order to demonize the federal government for its supposed barbarism and to legitimize the Lost Cause. Another example of this is the plaque installed on the George Washington Monument describing his broken cane, supposedly damaged by Sherman's troops.
Due to being “insecurely fastened” and at risk of theft, the two plaques were removed in 1936. Salley also noted that, due to errors in the description, they should not be remounted, as that “would only perpetuate error.” The following year, the General Assembly passed a new resolution to inscribe the granite where the plaques previously hung. The new inscriptions read:
February 16, 1865. Sherman’s artillery from the hills on the south side of the Congaree got the range on this building then under construction, registering six hits which are separately marked by stars.
The quoin-stones and basement cornice above were crumbled “by the proximity of the fire from the adjacent old State House.”
Salley pulled the latter quotation from a report made by the capitol’s architect to the General Assembly, which was later used by William Gilmore Simms in The Sack and Destruction of Columbia, South Carolina. Notably, neither inscription contained the phrase “honorable scars.” In 1938, one star was replaced.