After the Union’s capture of Atlanta and subsequent March to the Sea, Major General William T Sherman turned north with a vengeance on the state that started the US Civil War, South Carolina. In January 1865, he laid siege to the Charleston and Fort Sumter in the harbor. On 17 February, the rebels had had enough and abandoned the fort and city in the middle of the night. On their way out of the city, the Confederates set fire to the stores of cotton bales to keep them out of Sherman’s hands.
By the next morning, the fire spread and engulfed most of the city. The mayor of Charleston asked Sherman for help fighting the fires and stopping the looters, but Sherman politely declined. When he saw the fire was not affecting the one building in Charleston he wanted to destroy, the US Arsenal, Sherman had his men set fire to it too. He left some troops to occupy Fort Sumter, and took the rest to pursue the retreating rebels.
It was the first time the Stars and Stripes flew over Fort Sumter since the start of the US Civil War three years prior.