Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Page 49

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription War Poetry of the South:
Notes Toward A Reconsideration

Sean R. Busick


It is somewhat surprising that War Poetry of the South has not
received more scholarly attention than it has over the years. The Civil
War is a perennially popular subject with both academic and lay audi-
ences. Therefore we might reasonably expect the two books about the
War written by the South's greatest man-of-letters of the mid-nineteenth
century to attract a fair bit of attention. While Simms's wartime writings
have received attention, especially Sack and Destruction of the City of
Columbia, S.C., the same can not be said of War Poetry of the South.1 In
view of this relative neglect, there are a few lines of inquiry that illumi-
nate Simms's achievement with the volume and outline its contribution
to our understanding of Simms as a poet, editor, and public intellectual
following the Civil War.
Part of the reason for War Poetry's relative obscurity is probably
due to the nature of the book. The book is a collection of poems written
by Southerners during the war, edited by Simms. Simms scholars have
been more interested in Simms's poems in the collection than they have
been in his editorship of it or in the book as a whole. Historians are more
comfortable studying narrative than poetry. Textual problems complicate
its study as well: many of the poems in the volume were written by
authors who are anonymous or who wrote under pseudonyms, and no
modern edition of the book is in print. First published in 1866, the book's
true first edition remained a topic of debate as late as 1995 (Meriwether,
"War Poetry"; Aiken).
Among the few scholars who have studied War Poetry in depth
are Civil War historian Daniel Sutherland and literary scholar David
Aiken. Both emphasize the martial character of Simms's wartime poetry.
In his new book, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in
the American Civil War, Sutherland argues that Simms, inspired by the
example of Francis Marion and the Southern partisans of the Revolution,
used poetry to promote guerrilla warfare against the North during the
Civil War (185). Aiken sees some of Simms's poems included in the col-
lection as "a second call to battle" sounded during Radical Reconstruction
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