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 33

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 33

Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription feeling and immediate reactions much better." 28 Lastly, Simms changed the
structure of the narrative, rearranging and combining the Phoenix's 35 chapters
into 27 in the book.

Perhaps the central responsibility of a new edition, however, must be to
correct the deficiencies of the 1937 volume edited by A. S. Salley. First and
foremost, of course, are the errors that must be eliminated; a few 'typographical
errors were introduced by the 1937 edition, including a name in the property list
and a few in the text of the narrative. And there are some errors Simms himself
introduced when revising the Phoenix edition, including misquoting his own title,
that are preserved. There are greater problems, though. Despite the editor's
intentions, the 1937 version contributed to the problem of the book's reception,
which is that its subject has obscured its literary merits and documentary value.
Simms's editing of the newspaper version for the book produced a much more
restrained and refined account; the 1937 annotations and introduction achieved
the reverse. Few scholars today would feel comfortable with some of the language
and tone; for example, the annotation for Gen. Howard reads:
Men of the intelligence of General Howard did not believe the
Southern states were engaged in rebellion. They knew that they
themselves were engaged in a war of conquest, which was but a
more vigorous method of robbing the Southern States of their
political and property rights than had been practiced theretofore.
Rebellion was a term that enabled many cowards to vent the pent
up hatred that had rankled in their blood and that of their ancestors
for nearly two centuries.29
In another note, an error ascribed to Simms should be ascribed to one of his
sources, whom Simms makes clear he is quoting. Some of the footnotes, of
course, are good but all need to be carefully vetted, revised, and in several
instances, eliminated. Most of all, of course, the annotations need to be
significantly expanded. All names referred to in the text should be explained, and
if possible, verified as primary informants; that, too, is vital seeing how many o
those informants we can positively identify. The biggest job would be to place the
book in the historiography of the Civil War, identifying not only who has used
and misused it, but also how its arguments and evidence fit with the voluminous
material that has accumulated on the subject, both primary and secondary.
What, then, will this achieve? For Civil War scholars, it will reintroduce
an important witness and chronicler of this contentious event. For Simms
scholars, the rewards are much greater: such an edition will add useful details to
the sketchy biographical information we have for this time in Simms's life

28 Kibler, "Simms' Editorship of the Columbia Phoenix of 1865," p.70.

29 Salley, p.48, n.4.

33