Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Booknotes: Writing War and Reunion

New Arrival:
Writing War and Reunion: Selected Civil War and Reconstruction Newspaper Editorials by William Gilmore Simms edited by Jeffery J. Rogers (USC Press, 2020).

South Carolinian novelist, essayist, journalist, editor, and poet William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) was a major American literary figure of the antebellum period. He also delved into history and biography writing, with his 1842 History of South Carolina an influential work in educational circles. Serving a single term in the South Carolina House of Representatives in the 1840s, he was even briefly a politician.

Though Simms's writings on the whole are little read today outside of the academy, most Civil War readers will recognize him for his firsthand contributions to the historiography of the 1865 burning of Columbia. First serialized in the Columbia Phoenix during the months following the state capital's near destruction, Simms's detailed eyewitness accounts of those events were first published together in pamphlet form later that year under the title The Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia, S.C.. Most recently, the material has been edited by historian David Aiken and republished by University of South Carolina Press as A City Laid Waste: The Capture, Sack, and Destruction of the City of Columbia (2005).

According to historian Jeffery Rogers, "(p)erhaps the least considered parts of Simms's overall body of writings are those he did for newspapers, the most interesting of which are from the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction." Rogers's Writing War and Reunion: Selected Civil War and Reconstruction Newspaper Editorials by William Gilmore Simms "offers a selection of the best of those so that we can track Simms's thoughts about, and reactions to, the conflict, from its beginnings through to its conclusion and into the early years of Reconstruction. These works provide a valuable insight into how a prominent southern intellectual interpreted and participated in these momentous events in U.S. history."

More from the description: "In the decades following the Civil War, Simms's reputation suffered a steady decline. Because of his associations with the antebellum South, slavery, and Confederate defeat, as well as changes in literary tastes, Simms came to be regarded as a talented but failed Southern author of a bygone era. Today a robust scholarly literature exists (much of it, as in the case of this book, published by University of South Carolina Press) "that has reexamined Simms, his literary works, and previous scholarly judgments and finds him to have been an important figure in the development of nineteenth-century American literature and worthy of serious study."

In his foreword to Writing War and Reunion, contributor David Moltke-Hansen provides readers with a biographical sketch of Simms's life. The Simms articles are not footnoted in the volume, but Rogers contextualizes them in his general and section introductions. Part 1 of the book consists of Simms's Civil War editorial contributions to the Charleston Mercury, Columbia Phoenix, and Columbia Daily Phoenix newspapers. The Reconstruction period editorials collected in Part 2 were written for the Daily South Carolinian and the Daily Courier between 1865 and 1867.

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