Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 12: No 1) >> 'A Scene Which Beggars Art to Portray': Simms and the Writing of The Sack and Destruction of Columbia, S.C. >> Page 26

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Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription by the Power Press the original pamphlet is extremely rare and expensive.5
Salley's is the version familiar to most scholars, though it, too, has become a
sought-after collector's book.6
It is no surprise, then, that The Sack and Destruction has received so little
attention from scholars and historians. An interesting book for a number of
reasons, perhaps its most important aspect is the degree to which Simms
foreshadowed the lingering controversy over the burning of the city, an event
James M. McPherson has called "the greatest outrage" Sherman was accused of in
his bitter campaign. 7 And to Simms scholars, the book and its serial and
manuscript antecedents provide fascinating insights into how he worked, the way
he assembled massive amounts of data and synthesized them into a highly
readable account, carefully structured and organized, drawing on all of his various
and considerable talents as historian, oral historian, narrative writer, and editor.
Some historians have recognized the book's evidentiary value and used it
well. Charles Royster's The Destructive War draws heavily on Simms's narrative
description of the fire, though he amply corroborates that with dozens of other
witnesses, Northern and Southern.8 To a much lesser extent, John G. Barrett's
early but valuable study, Sherman's March Through the Carolinas, also draws



5 No definitive records exist documenting the printing of the pamphlet. The only record is a
mention by A. S. Salley in his "Foreword" to Selby's son's anthology of poetry (see n.4 above):
"Mr. Selby once told me that he printed five thousand copies, with the price of 25¢ printed on the
wrapper and that he sold only one copy." [p.xiii] Given the shortage of paper, the figure of 5,000
copies is unlikely; the price, clearly marked, was $1.00; and the one employee of the press, as
Salley recounts Selby as telling him, would have been unlikely to be able to print, much less bind,
5,000 copies of a 76-page pamphlet. The several copies that have changed hands since that time
would also tend to undercut Selby's dismissal of only one copy sold; the South Caroliniana
Library has three copies, and Marjory Lyle Crandall's bibliography lists copies located in 12 other
major scholarly libraries nationwide (M. L. Crandall, Confederate Imprints: A Check List Based
Principally on the Collection of the Boston Athwieujn [2 vols. Boston: the Boston Ath..neum,
1955], II, p.457). As of Sept. 3, 2003, one dealer, Chapel Hill Rare Books, of Carrboro, NC, listed
one copy for sale at $6,500.00.

6 Several copies were offered for sale on the rare book dealer Internet site, www.abe.com, as of
Sept. 3, 2003, ranging in price from $75—175.00.

7 James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1982), p.474.

8 Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William Tecumpseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and
the Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).

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