Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 1) >> The Sense of Place in The Partisan >> Page 15

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Page 15

Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription family and friends, and that which his imagination depicted as the
probable destiny of the forest? (168)
Though British troops suffer from their ignorance, the major disaster
stemming from a failure to take terrain into account is the battle at Camden,
where troops commanded by General Horatio Gates fell to forces led by Lord
Cornwallis. Having rejected both the advice and the help of General Marion,
Gates moved his troops into a position certain to bring about their defeat.
Watching them in retreat, Gates looked on in dismay:
From the place where he stood he beheld the disaster with
emotions, wild, staggering, humbling in the last degree, and which
almost left him wholly without resource. He had only the native
courage of his heart to fall back upon, he could only seek now to
lead them into the thickest waves of danger. His hair withered to
the very roots as he surveyed the rout. Through the crowd, the
torrent of confusion, with head uncovered and grey locks flying in
the wind, he darted headlong, and his voice hoarsely rose over all
the sounds of battle, as he strove, with incoherent cries, to arrest
the flood, and bring back to order his panic-borne and broken
battalions. (467)
Simms makes it abundantly clear that it was not just a case of military hubris that
led to Gates' humiliation and the slaughter of his troops but instead his faulty
knowledge of the place where the troops clashed. Had he listened to General
Marion, the advantages would not have so solidly fallen to the British, who were
allowed to fight in their accustomed ways on grounds they had thoroughly
Important as the ignorance or knowledge of terrain is militarily, it is not to
Major Singleton, Francis Marion, or any of the many of the other Partisans who
know the swamps and thickets well, that Simms turns to evoke most tellingly the
life of the low country. Rather it is to Lieutenant Porgy. That evocation comes as
much through Porgy's stomach as through his eyes, for in his gluttonous study of
the ways of the terrapin we see, feel, hear, and taste low country terrain.
The terrapins lay basking, black and shining in the starlight, their
heads thrust out, and hanging over the lagune, into which the
slightest alarm of unusual nature would prompt them to plunge
incontinently. Their glossy backs yet seemed to trickle with water
from which they had arisen. Their heads were up and watchful, as