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 29

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Page 29

Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription scholarly assessment of the book against its manuscript and serial antecedents.
Despite his poor health and the desperate straits he faced in that ruined city, a
sketch of those comparisons shows Simms to be working and writing well, if not
at the height of his powers then certainly at a peak; and most of all, it reveals so
much of what made him a careful, insightful, eloquent historian.

There are three draft versions of parts of The Sack and Destruction,
comprising twenty manuscript pages, in the Caroliniana Library. One appears to
be the final draft used to set the type of the first few chapters of the Phoenix
version. Several pages suggest that Simms approached witnesses and specifically
solicited certain facts the text of Mayor Goodwyn's letter to Sherman, for
example. Most importantly, these pages show Simms working as a careful
historian: in numerous instances, the version in the Phoenix departs from what is
presented as fact in the manuscripts. He also tracks down. details not specified in
the drafts: Goodwyn is accompanied by two unnamed Aldermen when he
surrenders the city in the manuscript; this becomes three named Aldermen in the
Details are not the best of these differences. Kibler has noted that the book
"toned down greatly"17 some of the more inflammatory statements made in the
Phoenix, but what is interesting is that this process begins here: one manuscript
page records a scathing parenthetical aside about Col. Stone, the Federal officer to
whom Mayor Goodwyn surrenders the city: "And before General Sherman
arrived in the city, the man who had pledged his word to protect persons and
property, was in a state of almost beastly intoxication, and the troops pillaging on
all sides."18 Much of this draft appears in the Phoenix, verbatim but not this
aside. Given his trenchant criticism of other high ranking officers, we may
conclude that Simms either checked this story out and found it false, or else
uncovered contrary evidence.
When Simms does incorporate those manuscript sources, it provides
additional insight into a careful historian at work. One source writes, "Gen.
Sherman's officers themselves admitted that they lost more men in the pillaging
and burning of the City than in all their skirmishes while approaching it." This
finally appeared as:
... and we are not to wonder, when told that no less than one

17 James E. Kibler, "Simms' Editorship of the Columbia Phoenix of 1865," in James B.
Meriwether, ed., South Carolina Journals and Journalists: Proceedings of the Reynolds
Conference, May 17—18, 1974 (Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, for the Southern Studies
Program of the University of South Carolina, 1975), p.70.

18 The William Gilmore Simms Collection of the South Carolinana Library, University of South
Carolina, Columbia, SC, in the folder, "Simms, William Gilmore. 10 MSS, 13 Oct. 1851—26 June
1865" in Papers, 13 Dec. 1735--I Nov. 1946, and n.d., Legal-sized Box.