Bertil Haggman has recently published a review on a new American book on Confederate strategy 1861 – 65.
Lexington Books is to be congratulated on publishing an excellent book by Professor Jeffery J. Rogers of the Gordon State College, Georgia. A Southern Writer and the Civil War – The Confederate Imagination of William Gilmore Simms, 2015, 209 pages) is a fine contribution to the extensive writing during 2011 to 2015 in the United States on the Civil War. It is unfortunate that it is published so late during the celebrations of the sesquicentennial.
Simms was probably the leading novelist and poet of the South when the Civil War started in South Carolina, his home state. Born already in 1806 during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson he survived the war for a number of years. Although destitute (his plantation was burned down) he continued to write after the war.
Although Simms was a Confederate patriot he did not turn a blind eye to the problems of the Confederacy. He was critical of the conduct of the war by the South Carolina and Confederate leaders. Thus his views are of great interest and as a Southern intellectual he made suggestions in the form of strategic and technical advice.
From the start of the war he produced a number of fine poems, of which I would like to mention “The Border Ranger”. It connected to the ongoing conflict but also spoke of brave frontiersmen protecting their families from the dangers of the wilderness. These dangers of the forest were however transported to the invading Union army.
Before the Civil War William Simms had published many books on the American Revolutionary War in South Carolina. His first work, The Partisan: A Tale of the Revolution, was published already in 1835. It was extended into a series of eight novels that were published during thirty-two years. They all featured partisan/guerrilla warfare on the Southern front of the American Revolutionary war. There were also the biographies of Francis Marion and Nathaniel Greene, both central Southern war leaders from 1775 to 1782.
Writing in the Charleston Mercury he took on a role as military adviser. He was critical of the Iron Battery at Cummings Point on the tip of Morris Island:
It presents too long a plane surface to a plunging fire. Besides the rails are not spiked down. I counselled that they should be spiked, but loosely, so as to allow some working of the rail under the shock of shot and shell”.
Simms’ own design featured a protrusion which would in his view have made it so that no shell or shot could without glancing upward & over, or, if striking in front, beneath the angle, the recoiling into the sands, below.” During the summer and fall much of Simms attention was concentrated on the defence of the South Carolina coast. He warned that there was a danger of invasion along the coast.
It should be noted here that before the war Simms had advocated an Indian style of warfare. He had recommended that the Confederate Army should have ten men in every company. They would be assigned to guerrilla operations armed with rifle, bowie knife and hatchet, These guerrillas would cause terror in the ranks of Northern soldiers. During the governorship of Milledge L. Bonham in South Carolina not much was done to implement preparations for partisan warfare. Governor Andrew G. Magrath, who succeeded Bonham at the very end of the war, even offered a proposal to form a South Carolina guerrilla force to resist “the vandal foe” with every weapon. The ambush ought to be an important tactic against the invaders.
Many men in the beginning of the war wrote to military authorities in Richmond and asked to be allowed to form guerrilla companies for partisan warfare.
The debate on guerrilla warfare and partisan ranger units continued but it was not until 1862 that the Confederate Congress acted. On 21 April 1862 the Partisan Ranger Act was passed the CSA congress:
An Act to Organize Bands of Partisan Rangers.
Sec.1. The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the President be, and he is hereby authorized to commission such officers as he may deem proper with authority to form bands of partisan rangers, in companies, battalions or regiments, to be composed of such members as the President may approve.
Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, That such partisan rangers, after being regularly received in the service, shall be entitled to the same pay, rations, and quarters during their term of service, and be subject to the same regulations as other soldiers.
Sec.3. Be it further enacted, That for any arms and munitions of war captured from the enemy by any body of partisan rangers and delivered to any quartermaster at such place or places as may be designated by a commanding general, the rangers shall be paid their full value in such manner as the Secretary of War may prescribe.
Approved April 21, 1862.
It should be noted that in section 3 of the act were laid down special rules as to arms and munitions captured by the Partisan Rangers. Full value was to be paid to weapons and munitions captured and delivered to quartermasters. This was a powerful incentive indeed to enlist in a partisan ranger unit instead of joining the regular Confederate army.
Soon the attraction of the Partisan Ranger Corps was so great that the Confederate authorities had to prohibit transfer from the line to the Partisan Ranger Corps. By mid-September the records of the Adjutant and Inspector General´s Office in Richmond recorded units in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia of in all six regiments and nine battalions. Partisan units of company size existed in Florida and Mississippi.
In the North the Federal General-in-Chief Halleck, asked a university professor, Dr. Francis Lieber, in the summer of 1862 to make public his views on guerrilla warfare. Professor Lieber presented, as a result of his studies, an essay, “Guerrilla Parties Considered with Reference to the Laws and Usages of War”.
In this essay guerrillas were described as bands of armed men engaged in conducting irregular warfare because of their irregular origin. The Partisan Ranger Corps, on the other hand, was an organization which sought to injure the enemy by action separate from that of the own main army, and by operating in the rear of, on the flanks of the enemy, and against his lines of communication. The partisan was thus part of the army and considered entitled to the privileges of the laws of war, so long as he did not transgress them. Therefore the North, at least on paper, was willing to respect the status of the Confederate Partisan Ranger Corps as belligerents. The Partisan Ranger Act was, however, repealed in 1864.
Compared to a number of other Confederate states South Carolina had few guerrilla/partisan units. Simms recommendations from early in the war were not followed in his own home state.
One can only hope that the new book by Professor Rogers will be followed by more studies of Simms writings during the Civil War.