In February 1865, Confederate troops burned down the old State Road Bridge, a covered bridge crossing the Saluda River, in a futile attempt to keep General William T. Sherman’s army from entering the city of Columbia. Sherman countered the effort by immediately ordering the construction of a temporary bridge. It is believed that this pontoon, or floating, bridge may have been made out of lumber from the Saluda mill.
The old State Road Bridge was located near Camp Sorghum, roughly five acres of open field turned prisoner-of-war “camp,” where Confederate troops attempted to detain nearly 1,300 Union soldiers in 1864. There were no secure boundaries surrounding the area, however, so escapes and attempts were recurrent. The camp’s name symbolized the prisoners’ restricted diet of cornbread and sorghum (a cereal grass). When word came of Sherman’s advance on Columbia, any remaining prisoners were temporarily moved to a more secure location, the state mental institution. They were later transferred to Charlotte, NC, when the Confederate surrender became imminent in February 1865.
Riverbanks’ visitors can now see the remains of the covered bridge just east of the new Saluda River Bridge connecting the Zoo and Garden properties. Onlookers walking across the footbridge can view the original large granite abutments on opposite banks of the river, as well as the supporting pier foundations at the base of two small river islands.