So where are the orders, or do you only have the word of a Lost Causer?
I was one of Hampton's rear guard, and was probably the very last Confederate to leave the city, yet I saw no cotton burning in the streets of Columbia, nor did I hear any order from any one to fire the cotton, but I did hear one just the reverse. It was given to a detachment, three companies, from the 9th Kentucky Cavalry that was ordered back to Columbia as a provost guard after the Confederates had evacuated the place and before Sherman entered it.
I asked and obtained of Col. Breckinridge, the Brigade Commander, permission to accompany the detachment, and was present and heard this order given the officer commanding: "It is Gen. Hampton's order that you return to Columbia, bring out any straggling Confederates you may find, and see that no cotton is fired." Having no time to lose, the detachment immediately proceeded on its mission, passing down in front of Sherman's skirmish line, which was in plain view, and entering the city in advance of him.
In the suburbs we met Mayor Goodwyn and other municipal officers in carriages, with a white flag, going out to surrender the city. During the parley, which, however, was a brief one, we hastily visited different streets in search of straggling Confederate soldiers, but found none, neither did we find any cotton burning. Falling back as the Federals advanced along the street, the detachment passed out toward the east.
I remained in the city after the detachment had gone, just keeping out of the enemy's reach by falling back from street to street till pushed out by the advancing infantry (they had no mounted men in the city at that time), yet I saw no cotton burning in Columbia. Basing my conclusions on what I saw (the Federals, in possession of the city), on what I failed to see (any cotton burning in the street), and on what I heard (the order to see that no cotton was fired), I can safely say that the Confederates had no hand in the burning of Columbia, Gen. Sherman's official report to the contrary notwithstanding."