Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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South-Carolina in the Revolutionary War

Reviews/Essays | Walker & James, Publishers | 1853

           Throughout his life, William Gilmore Simms was deeply invested in researching and interpreting the history of the American Revolution and was particularly concerned with promoting the participation of his native South Carolina in that conflict.  As evidenced by his biographies of Francis Marion and Nathanael Greene, his series of epic romances of the Revolution largely set in South Carolina, and his emphasis on the Revolution in his The History of South Carolina, Simms’s understanding of South Carolina’s role in the conflict was one of patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice.  Predictably, then, the author was appalled at the 1847 publication of Lorenzo Sabine’s The American Loyalists, a book that argues that the South, and particularly South Carolina, was a hotbed of Tory sentiment during the Revolution—and thus that it was New Englanders, and not southerners, who were the true American patriots.  Simms produced a scathing reply and argument against this thesis in two essays published in the Southern Quarterly Review in 1848:  “South-Carolina in the Revolution,” published in the July issue, and “The Siege of Charleston in the American Revolution,” published in October.  In 1853, Simms, under the pseudonym “A Southron,” published these two essays in a slim volume titled South-Carolina in the Revolutionary War, issued by Walker and James of Charleston.[1]  Situated between these two essays was an excerpt from Simms’s 1852 review of John Pendleton Kennedy’s Horse-Shoe Robinson, where he deals with similar issues of the representation of South Carolina’s role in the Revolution.

           Historian Sean Busick provides a general framework for considering both Simms’s and Sabine’s very different understandings of Revolutionary history:  “Like the first generation of historians of the Revolution, Simms was a strong nationalist.  This is not to say, however, that his history was not colored by local prejudices […]as national politics became more poisoned by sectionalism, so too did history.”[2]  Sabine’s history and Simms’s response to it were thus representative of larger tensions in mid-nineteenth century America.  This is also illustrated by a September 1856 letter Simms wrote to Sabine, in which the South Carolinian succinctly illustrated what, exactly, needed correcting in the other writer’s account of the Revolution:  “You have your ways of thinking, I have mine; yet we both, certainly, may aim at right objects […] You assailed my country, as I thought, & still think, unjustly, and in a bad temper; I defended her, as well as I could, according to my poor endowments […] It was [the book’s] tone and temper with which I found fault: its abuse of partial facts; and the evident purpose which it betrayed, rather to goad, sting, wound, & disparage, rather than to be historically just & true.”[3]  While the letter, written some years after the initial controversy, is generally cordial and conciliatory, Simms’s passion for “his country” and native state are clear.[4]

           While Simms’s correspondence contains several brief mentions of the two essays he wrote for the Southern Quarterly Review, the author is quiet on their collection and publication in South Carolina in the Revolutionary War.  The author’s advertisement of that volume does, however, provide a clear rationale for collecting the essays together, as well as noting their limitations: “It has been thought by many that their publication, in a compact form, would be of use and interest.  Some slight attempts have been made to revise them; but the subject is one which deserves much more labour  than the compiler is at present able to bestow upon it.”  Upon its publication, the book was seemingly unnoticed.[5]  Nevertheless, it is an important volume, as it collects the material that informed Simms’s lectures during his disastrous 1856 tour of the North; prominent on this tour was a version of the opening essay from South Carolina in the Revolutionary War, titled “South Carolina in the Revolution.”  This essay, alongside “The Siege of Charleston in the American Revolution,” elucidates Simms’s understanding of his native state’s role in the birth of the republic.  Further, the second piece collected in this volume, the excerpt from Simms’s review of Horse-Shoe Robinson, illustrates Simms’s understanding of the relationship between imaginative literature and historical scholarship, one of the most significant concerns in his oeuvre.  Thus, South Carolina in the Revolutionary War proves a valuable resource for the Simms scholar, providing a succinct, yet thorough, examination of the multifaceted ways in which the author understood history—both the particular history of South Carolina in the Revolution, as well as the process of narrating history.

           South Carolina in the Revolutionary War features blue boards stamped with ornate ovular pattern inside triple frame.  Blue spine with gilt lettering:  SOUTH | CAROLINA | IN THE | REVOLUTION surrounded by plain stamped double rules over the spine's entirety.  Its title page features SOUTH-CAROLINA | IN THE | REVOLUTIONARY WAR:  | BEING A REPLY TO | CERTAIN MISREPRESENTATIONS AND MISTAKES | OF RECENT WRITERS, IN RELATION TO | THE COURSE AND CONDUCT OF | THIS STATE. | BY A SOUTHRON. | [rule] | CHARLESTON: | WALKER AND JAMES. | 1853.


W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] Guilds notes that the book was “issued both by both Walker and James and by Courtenay.”  See John Caldwell Guilds, Simms:  A Literary Life (Fayetteville:  The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 218.  However, in an 1856 letter to William Gowans, Simms notes that the book, “a duodecimo of something less than 200 pages […] was published in Charleston, and copies of it may still be found (I fancy) at the Bookstore of ‘S.G. Courtenay and Co.’ of that city.” See Letters (3:418).  In interpreting Guilds’s claim, it is not clear if the bookstore had an in-house publication of the same volume, if there was a publisher in the city named Courtenay, or some other scenario. 

[2] Sean Busick, A Sober Desire for History:  William Gilmore Simms as a Historian (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 81.

[3] Letters, 6:328.

[4] This 1856 letter, as well as attempts to reconcile the two men, are preceded by Simms’s favorable review of Sabine’s Notes on Duels and Dueling; in a letter to James Henry Hammond written the day before the aforementioned letter to Sabine, Simms notes that he has “just got a long letter from Lorenzo Sabine, apologetic and complimentary, who invites me to visit him!” See Letters (3:447) and (3:447n).

[5] Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler, Jr.’s William Gilmore Simms:  A Reference Guide does not list a single review for South Carolina in the Revolutionary War.  Butterworth and Kibler do, however, list several stinging reviews of the controversial lecture that Simms gave in his tour of the North, “South Carolina in the Revolution,” a lecture based in the material collected in this volume.