Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms: Speaking English with a Charleston Accent >> Page 4

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription Simms: Speaking English with a Charleston Accent

Dr. David Aiken

On 25 June 1865 at the end of the Confederate War, a father-in-law wrote
a lengthy letter to his only son-in-law. Near the end of the letter, the over-
worked, famous senior citizen shared an interesting bit of information: "On
Saturday," he wrote, "I was on the eve of being arrested for an article in the paper.
The article of arrest was made out; but, cited to appear before the General in
Command, I satisfied him that his arrest [of me] would be an error."
This successful elder had just suffered a series of losses, including the
complete destruction of his Barnwell plantation. Eighteen of his horses and mules
had been carried off. His main house, his carriage house and gin house, machine
house, threshing house, kitchen, barns, stables, ploughs, wagons and farming tools
had all been destroyed, along with his cattle, hogs and poultry. His fine furniture
and magnificent art collection had suffered the same fate. And, not one of the
10,700 books in his home library had been spared. His motherless children were
scattered some living with relatives, others with friends. He and two of his
daughters were stranded in what remained of Columbia, South Carolina, after
Sherman had burned the city.
To make ends meet and to leave a record of what he had observed, he was
writing editorials and news items for the Columbia Phoenix, a small newspaper
hastily established in the aftermath of Columbia's destruction. As the paper's
editor, he was in charge during the absence of its publisher Julian Selby, who
forty years later would write an account of his editor's arrest and subsequent
release.
According to Selby, his editor had "ventilated" General Alfred S. Hartwell
and "warmed him up pretty thoroughly." The offended General in Command sent
a corporal and a squad of soldiers with a summons ordering the newspaper editor
to appear immediately before the General. The room where military law was
dispensed afforded the elderly editor no sitting space in which to wait. So he
requested that he be allowed to seat himself since he was well advanced in years.
A chair was provided; his turn came, and his trial before the General was begun.
Shortly thereafter the charge against him was dropped, and he was invited to share
the General's elaborate luncheon in an adjoining room. He was returned to his

1 This address was delivered before the English Speaking Union on 8 October 2002, Gibbes
Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.