Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Scholarship | 2005
Transcription A City Laid Waste

The Capture, Sack, and Destruction

of the City of Columbia

William Gilmore Simms

Edited with an Introduction by David Aiken

In the first reissue of these documents since 1865, A City Laid Waste captures in rivet-
ing detail the destruction of South Carolina's capital city as Gen. William T. Sherman

brought his scorched-earth campaign to a hotbed of secession. William Gilmore Simms,
a native South Carolinian and one of the nation's foremost men of letters, was in

Columbia and witnessed firsthand the city's capture and destruction. A renowned
novelist and poet who was also an experienced journalist and historian, Simms deftly
recorded the events of February 1865 in a series of eyewitness accounts published in
the first ten issues of the Columbia Phoenix. Later that year, he edited the Phoenix text,
curbing some of his immediate outrage, and published the material as a pamphlet, Sack
and•Destruction of the City of Columbia, S .C. Reprinted here in its entirety and illus-
trated with a collection of drawings and photographs, the newspaper version of Simms's
account offers an unparalleled view into the horrors of invasion on American soil.

Simms walked the fire-ravaged streets, interviewing Columbia residents and Union
troops. His record of burned buildings constitutes the most authoritative information
available on the extent of the damage. In addition he cataloged widespread looting,
atrocities committed against women, the brutal treatment of former slaves by Union

soldiers, and the destruction of historically significant documents, works of art,
artifacts, and relics.
Describing the account as a Southern'masterpiece, Simms historian David Aiken
provides both a historical and literary context for Simrris's reportage. In his introduction
Aiken clarifies the significance of Simms's articles and draws attention to important
factors for understanding the occupation's impact—the cultural prosperity enjoyed in

Columbia prior to Sherman's arrival, the enormity of the invasion itself, the sufferings
of the city's residents, and the efforts to cover up crimes and discredit witnesses such as

Simms who dared to report atrocities.