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 27

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Page 27

Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription on and corroborates much of what Simms recounts.9 By far, though, the
historian who relied on Simms's account most heavily is Marion Lucas, whose
Sherman and the Burning of Columbia cemented the controversy in Civil War
historiography with the bulk of its contradictions, accusations, and counter-
charges intact.10 Despite the fact that Lucas's conclusion the firing was "an
accident of war"11 —was later refuted by Royster's chapter on Columbia's
occupation, as the only full-length monograph on the subject (and recently
reissued with an updated bibliography but only cosmetic emendations to the text),
Lucas's account is still considered the final word by most historians. Recent
Sherman biographies tend to cite Lucas as exonerating their subject from
culpability for the fire.12 What makes this so interesting for Simms scholars is the
detailed use that Lucas makes of Simms's account, especially his description of
the properties burned. Lucas notes that Simms's list is what he used in the
preparation of his maps and since Lucas is taken as the final word on the subject
by almost all Civil War historians and Sherman biographers, Simms's account has
thus already been taken as the de facto last word on the extent of the destruction.
Why a witness stating to Simms that his house or store had been burned
constitutes acceptable evidence, but that same witness describing a scene of
pillage, arson or violence is suspect, is a question Lucas does not address.
Lucas does not accept Simms's list without reservation, noting that the
account as a whole "was not without its controversial points."13 Referring to the
list specifically, he notes: "One difficulty was that he often repeated names of
property owners several times, while failing to clarify the purpose for such

9 John G. Barrett, Sherman's March Through the Carolinas (Chapel Hill: The University of
North Carolina Press, 1956), pp.77, 88.

10 Marion Brunson Lucas, Sherman and the Burning of Columbia (College Station and London:
Texas A&M University Press, 1976). A new edition, with minor emendations, was brought out in
paperback by the University of South Carolina Press in 2000. All further references to this work
are to this later edition.

11 Ibid., p.165.

12 See, for example, John F. Marszalek, Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order (New York:
The Free Press, 1993), p.325, and Stanley P. Hirshson, The White Tecumseh (New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 1997), p.284. For dissenting views, see Michael Fellman's Citizen Sherman: A Life
of William Tecumpseh Sherman (New York: Random House, 1995), pp.228-3 1 and especially
p.449, and Lee Kennett, Sherman: A Soldier's Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), pp.268-69.

13 Lucas, Sherman and the Burning of Columbia, p.125. All other quotations in this paragraph
are from this page.