Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 1) >> The Pen as Sword: Simms and the Beginning of the War — Rediscovered Writings from 1861 >> Page 7

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 7

Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription which afforded a potential U.S. invasion fleet an appealing target. The other
editorials in this series were published in the Mercury on 16 July, 20 July, 31
August and 13 November. A common theme throughout these editorials is
the state's vulnerability to an amphibious assault upon her coast. Simms
offered the .Mercury's readers compelling reasons why an assault upon South
Carolina was likely. He also presented a political assessment as well as a
brief geographic and historical survey of the State's coastline to support his
argument. He provided suggestions for elaborate defenses he believed
needed to be implemented immediately if disaster was to be prevented. He
even took his idea of using railroad iron for the construction of fixed artillery
emplacements and applied it to ships. While successful experiments with
ironclad warships had already been performed by France and Great Britain,
and the CSS Virginia was, probably unbeknown to Sinuns, under
construction at the Gosport Navy Yard near Portsmouth, Virginia, Simms's
idea of how the iron should be used was novel. Instead of using plates of iron
for shielding, Simms believed railroad iron was superior because it was
arched and thus stronger. Moreover, if applied at an angle, incoming fire
would not strike the ship's shielding directly but at the angle, diminishing its
force and ricocheting into the water. In many respects, however, Simms's
military imagination outran state and Confederate logistics at the time, but
his fears were fully justified.
With the South Carolina coast as its target, the largest U.S. naval force
ever assembled to that time left New York City on 17 October under the
command of Samuel DuPont. On 7 November it began its assault on Port
Royal. The next day Union troops occupied Hilton Head Island. In his final
editorial in the series, Simms gave what amounted to an `after action report'
and explained why this had happened. This included a discussion of how
steam power had changed naval warfare and how this fact had to be taken
into consideration in the construction of future naval defenses. Still, for
Simms this marked the end of his short career as military advisor. Now that
Union forces occupied parts of the state, he was frustrated and somewhat
embittered that state and Confederate authorities had not taken his advice.
Also, by this time the Robert Barnwell Rhett-owned Charleston Mercury had
begun an extended editorial campaign against the administration of Jefferson
Davis. Simms, like many South Carolinians, disagreed with Rhett's
criticisms and found the tone of the Mercury's attacks distasteful. Writing to
James Henry Hammond on 18 November 1861, Simms said, "the Mercury
has been making itself very odious every where in S. C. in consequence of
its course towards Davis & the Gov. I scarcely write for it now. The last
article was one on our coast defences, about a week ago. I wrote nearly all
that they have published on this subject, for the last 8 months."18 Simms was

18 Letters, IV, 385.