Editor's note: This story ran previously in The Bluffton Packet.
On June 4, 1863, Union soldiers burned down the town of Bluffton, destroying the homes of many local planters and confederate soldiers. In its wake, only 15 home and two churches were left, devastating the town for years to come.
"There wasn't really any strategic plan as to which homes were burned; (the soldiers) just shot from the river," said Maureen Richards, executive director of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society. "The smoke probably blocked their view, and they missed some."
Today, eight of the houses and both churches still remain and are in Bluffton's historic district. One structure -- the Heyward House -- will play host to a commemoration marking the anniversary of the burning from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. The event will offer free tours and storytelling. A Lowcountry boil and entertainment at the Colcock-Teel House is scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m.
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The celebration also will include a burning ceremony, people in costume, the reading of letters, a historical commemoration and singing around the campfire.
In 1863, Union forces had control of Hilton Head Island, while Confederates were in nearby Bluffton. The Union army often burned towns to gain control of them. Since Bluffton was a strategic location, it was set ablaze.
"I think they knew that the men who had homes in Bluffton were significant planters in the area," Richards said.
The Historical Preservation Society recently presented a letter to the Bluffton Town Council dated June 5, 1863, detailing the burning. It was discovered in an antiques store in Chattanooga, Tenn.
It describes how Confederate troops drove Union soldiers back to their gunboats on the May River as most of the town was in flames.
"The enemy on yesterday made a raid on Bluffton," the letter states. "I had just assumed command here and proceeded immediately with all my force to some place eight miles distant. When I reached them, I found the enemy in the town; and by 2 a.m. it was in flames."