Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 1) >> ''That Feel and Touch of the Elbow": William Gilmore Simms and the Whig Interpretation of History >> Page 29

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Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription or at the very least not in contradiction with it. Butterfield himself speaks
powerfully to this point, arguing that personal perspective and cautious moral
judgments do not prevent the historian from delivering an accurate story. In fact,
both are essential.

... [T]he historian has the right to make judgments, even though these
might be only a digression; and that we have him unfairly muzzled if we
do not grant him the pleasure of delivering his obiter dicta. He is
entitled to dwell affectionately upon this personality or that episode, if
only for the purpose of producing a fine period; and it is lawful for him
to launch into denunciations, if only for the sake of warming the reader
to his subject. His comments on life or politics or people will be
valuable in proportion to his own insight, and according to their depth
and acuteness we shall adjudge him a more or less profound historian.
..They are not the judgments of history, they are the opinions of the
historian. In other words, they are a personal matter, and one might say
that they are subject to no law.22

Writing on revolutionary events in South Carolina, Simms recognized
heroics and exposed blunder and brutality, irrespective of the side. He
understood what Robert M. Weir has shown, that "both sides were guilty of
atrocities" and the job of "sorting out the various charges and counter charges"
with the purpose of assessing ultimate "blame" proves neither "feasible nor
useful." But Simms did recognize, as Weir further confirmed, that a certain
"calculated severity" characterized tory actions against whigs.23 Thus, it is not
surprising nor is it necessarily an indication of a "whig interpretation" to find in
Simms a clear favoritism for the patriot cause.
Simms sought to carefully adhere to the evidence and avoid conclusions
based on self-interest. Consider the following examples from The History of
South Carolina: Colonel Ferguson "of the seventy-first British regiment" was "a
brave and efficient leader." British officer Majoribanks "highly distinguished
himself" at Eutaw, whereas the Americans failed to complete the victory there by
casting "their wistful eyes" on " the spoils of the enemy," an act.that "proved ...
fatal to their virtue." Even of the notorious Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, Simms
is critical but fair. American officer John Laurens was courageous but foolhardy,
and his untimely death was, as Simms quoted Nathanael Greene, hastened by a
"`love of military glory . . . unworthy his rank.' At Hobkirk Hill the famed first
Maryland regiment, facing "no ordinary adversary in Rawdon," panicked and
"shrunk away from the issue." Even the Carolina troops under Francis Marion
responded to tory brutality and murder "in a spirit not unlike" their enemies.



22 Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, 104-105.
23 Robert M. Weir, "The Violent Spirit": The Reestablishment of Order and the Continuity of
Leadership in Post-Revolutionary South Carolina" in An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry
During the American Revolution, ed. Ronald Hoffman, Thad W. Tate, and Peter J. Albert
(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985), 74.

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