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 30

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Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription hundred and fifty of the drunken creatures perished miserably
among the flames kindled by their own comrades, and from which
they were unable to escape. The estimate will not be thought
extravagant by those who saw the condition of hundreds after 1
o'clock A. M. By others, however, the estimate is reduced to
thirty; but the numbers will never be known. Sherman's officer's
themselves are reported to have said that they lost more men in the
sack and burning of the city (including certain -explosions) than in
all their fights while approaching it. It is also suggested that the
orders which Sherman issued at daylight, on Saturday morning, for
the arrest of the fire, were issued in consequence of the loss of
men which he had thus sustained.19

This is representative of the way Simms handles his evidence throughout the
Phoenix edition and becomes even clearer in the book version: he makes obvious
the facts that he himself has witnessed and that he has corroborated, and provides
many careful touches to distinguish these from hearsay and otherwise
unsubstantiated evidence. One source states that two people were killed when the
city was shelled before Union troops entered; Simms does not present this as a
fact, instead saying "yet we hear of only two persons killed," noting the exact
places where the deaths are alleged to have occurred, but distancing himself from
an absolute statement.20 This is the kind of care that defines Simms's historical
research, and it characterizes his work throughout his final edition of The Sack
and Destruction as well.
The serial version ran continuously starting with the first issue, ending on
April 10. When the book came out in October, it had numerous changes; these can
be grouped into several categories, the first of which is factual. Even as the serial
edition was being published, Simms continued to solicit evidence and accounts
from witnesses with an announcement in the second issue.21 Some of this resulted
in minor corrections being published alongside the serial installments, such as the
qualification that one citizen had not been "knocked down" by Union soldiers, but

19 Alexander S. Salley, ed., Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia, S.C. By William
Gilmore Simms (Oglethorpe University, GA: Oglethorpe University Press, 1937), p.43. The report
of Union troops being burned alive is corroborated by Gen. Howard in his Autobiography (Vol. IL
Facsimile reprint of the original 1907 edition. Harrisburg, PA: The Archive Society, 1997), p.122;
the report of dozens of troops being shot in the attempt to arrest the riot is echoed by Thomas W.
Osborn, The Fiery Trail: A Union Officer's Account of Sherman's Last Campaigns, ed. Richard
Harwell and Philip N. Racine (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1986), p.129.

20 Salley, ed., The Sack and Destruction of Columbia, SC, p.33.

21 "To Correspondents," The Columbia Phoenix, v.1, n.2 (Mar. 23, 1965), p..5.