When I was a child growing up in Kirkwood Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, I was fascinated by three works of Atlanta public art:
The Cyclorama [and Civil War Museum at Grant Park] next to the Atlanta Zoo, is a 358 foot wide and 42 foot tall painting of the Battle of Atlanta, July 1864, the largest painting in the world – longer than a football field and taller than a four-story building. German artists painted it in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1886, but in my lifetime it was permanently located in Atlanta. I was told a diorama was added in 1936, giving it a three-dimensional foreground. I remember it being restored in 1979 – 1982. It is the single most impressive painting I have ever seen, and I have seen hundreds of great paintings.
I grew up near Stone Mountain, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, much larger than Mount Rushmore, and the most popular tourist spot in Georgia. It is 90 by 190 feet, recessed 42 feet into the mountain. In 1916, it was conceived by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and officially completed in 1972. Since it is carved in granite, it will last longer than any other achievement by human beings. In other words, when all the buildings, bridges, dams and engineering feats of the human race fall into ruin and dust, the granite carvings of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson will endure. It is fitting, I think, that the greatest ideas and the noblest heroism should be remembered in the most enduring monuments.
I learned early in my childhood that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to preserve the values of men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – who created a culture of the soil based on inalienable rights and true learning. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson led in the fight for the American Republic of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson: for self-government and fair taxation among free and independent states. They fought with bullets.
I understood that I would have to fight not with bullets, but with books in the classroom and in the minds of people. Lacking a sound knowledge of the South, of our history and literature, we are inadequately armed when conflict arises. I learned that knowledge of key Southern authors and books is as good as musket and shot. One of the first great insights of my life is that people are enslaved with the sword and with government and private debt, but with true knowledge people are liberated.
I grew up with Gone with the Wind — the 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell. I always knew that Gone with the Wind is about the Yankee invasion of Georgia and the burning and destruction of Atlanta. Gone with the Wind would become the most popular American novel of the 20th century, surpassing standard academic novels like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby, and all the other novels which are currently required reading in almost every classroom in the country. Gone with the Wind inspired the 1939 David O. Selznick film, which has been viewed by more people than any of the other 300,000 Hollywood films. Today it is recognized as the biggest box office hit of all time, and the pinnacle of the Hollywood system.
I should add that it also has the most quotable line in all those movies.
By the time I graduated from Murphy High School, I had read all 1,037 pages of Gone With the Wind, seen the movie six times, been to the Cyclorama at least 20 times, and had climbed, visited or driven by Stone Mountain hundreds of times — back in the days before the Mountain became a Georgia state park. As a youth, I lived my life around these tributes to the Southern Confederacy, without embarrassment or shame. They were at the heart of my Atlanta. I can remember buying Confederate Battle Flags at Stone Mountain, and attending the Cyclorama with my school mates.
I also knew that Gone With the Wind and the extraordinary film it inspired were favorites of my mother.
I vividly remember a particular scene in the middle of Gone With the Wind. As a child, I would catch the # 18 bus from my house in Kirkwood to the downtown Loews Grand or Paramount theaters at Five Points. I would sit there enthralled, watching and learning. At one point in the long four-hour movie, many of the people in those theaters jumped up out of their seats and cheered.
We in the theater had watched young Scarlett as a courted and pampered sixteen year old; we had seen her as a seventeen year old widow in Atlanta during the war; we had seen her nursing wounded and dying Confederate soldiers; we had seen her escape the burning city to return home to Tara where – at the age of twenty-one – she had to become the head of her surviving family and to manage the plantation of her grieving and demented father. Then we see Scarlett do something extraordinary.
A Yankee straggler rides up to the door of the big house at Tara. He enters to pillage, rape and murder. We the audience see Scarlett take the pistol Rhett Butler had given her and shoot the invader in the face. Many of the young people of Atlanta in the 1940s and 1950s would clap, and often stand up and cheer. Even as a child in elementary school, and then as a high school student, I understood.
I had learned that invaders were people who raped, burned, tortured, plundered and murdered the good people of Atlanta – my people, who went to church on Sundays; my people who worked hard, who were courteous, well-mannered, loving and loyal; my people who paid their taxes and who tried to be virtuous and fair; my people who took care of me and tried to bring me up to be responsible and respectful; my people who were deeply Southern and devoutly Christian.
To this day, when I see Scarlett shoot that Yankee criminal, coming up the stairs to steal what little remained in that looted household and to do Scarlett and Melanie physical and emotional harm, I applaud. Why? Because I learned early how to recognize a monster when I saw one. I had learned that Gone With the Wind is not about slavery or racism. It is not about Southern indolence or decadence, nor is the novel just a romance or a saga of the Old South. Gone With the Wind, rather, is about a self-righteous and greedy minority of northern Americans who captured the government and invaded, burned, looted, raped and murdered another group of better Americans.
Liberal academic critics have whined, what does Margaret Mitchell know about the destruction of Atlanta. She was born in 1900, almost half a century after the Lincoln Administration invaded the South. What did the 1940s and 1950s youth of Atlanta know, almost a whole century after Sherman marched To the Sea in Georgia, and From the Sea in Carolina? Margaret Mitchell is not a primary source, critics shout; she is a romancer, a novelist, although she was a careful historian who went to great lengths to check her facts.
Having been a college and university professor for thirty-six years, I understand the importance of primary sources. What I needed for my students was an eyewitness account, by someone who was a careful observer, who interviewed people and preserved their personal accounts in a readable narrative. What I needed was a dedicated writer, an experienced journalist and a proven historian.
I have discovered many compelling historical documents about the horrors of invasion, written by persuasive Southern authors – most of them women, or men too old, too sick, or too disabled to fight. Some of them were written by teenagers. They all talk about the human face of war waged not on the battlefield, but in undefended houses, in undefended homes, in undefended villages and plantations, and in undefended cities of civilians.
One of these historical documents is more important than all the rest. It was written by William Gilmore Simms from Charleston, the Father of Southern Literature: the South’s most prolific antebellum author. Before the war Simms was an international celebrity. His books were well received and reviewed in England. Some were translated into German. One was published in Aberdeen, Scotland. Others were reviewed and collected in the last place an American would think to look for a Simms volume today. That place was Russia where works by Simms were reviewed in the mid-1800s and can still be found on display in rare book collections in both St. Petersburg and Moscow libraries.
It was actually a rather cruel twist of fate that placed Simms in Columbia shortly before Sherman’s troops reached the city. Simms did not go there as a war journalist. He had no desire to become a war correspondent. All he wanted to do was find a safe place to shelter what was left of his family. His wife of twenty-seven years had just died, and his oldest son was a Confederate soldier, fighting at the front. But his youngest son was just a toddler. Simms also had a son of nine and two daughters who were still in their teens and in need of protection which Simms felt he could not provide at his Woodlands Plantation in the Barnwell District. The state capital seemed to be the safest place for them. And so it was that Simms found himself an eyewitness to the destruction of the city where years earlier he had lived and served as a state representative.
Simms’s letters have been collected into six volumes. Approximately 150 of the 1,775 collected letters of William Gilmore Simms were written during the War for Southern Independence. They occupy over 300 of the 643 pages in volume IV. This fact alone speaks to the devotion of Simms as a writer, because during the war paper was hard to come by. Stamps were difficult to obtain. Simms had to make his own ink and candles. The mail was often carried from one area to another by traveling friends or family members. Near the end Simms entrusted his letters northward into the hands of soldiers returning to their homes.
Early in the war Simms wrote letters to friends in high places in the Confederate government, advising on everything from policy to fortifications of the Charleston area. He also made a valiant attempt to maintain a correspondence with close friends in the North, but as he points out mailing anything North was difficult because mail required both Confederate and Union stamps. Union stamps were almost impossible to find in the Carolina Lowcountry.
Almost thirty years of correspondence with James Lawson of New York ceases in 1861 and is not resumed until 1865, when it continues to the end of Simms’s life. In the letters written to Lawson between 1860 and 1861, Simms tells us much about the way South Carolina prepared for an invasion she was certain would come.
Simms is quite eloquent in listing the misrepresentations of the South in Northern newspapers, especially in the New York Times:
We crave peace. But prepare for the war that is threatened. If we are let go in peace, we shall not discriminate against the North and our trade will still be accessible to her industry and enterprise. Mr. Lincoln has spoken. And we are to have war.
I knew that in Gone With the Wind, the war starts – not with the bombardment of Fort Sumter — but when Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South and coerce it back into the Union. The war began on April 15, 1861, when Lincoln calls for an army of volunteers, not on April 12 at Fort Sumter when South Carolina was reclaiming control of the fort recently invaded and stolen in the Charleston Harbor.
Simms is quite clear that the South did not want a war, and certainly did not start it:
Let us not declare it. Hostilities may exist without war. Let us simply meet the issues as they arise. The consequences [of starting a war] be upon the heads of those who would not suffer us to be at peace in the Confederacy, nor leave us in peace when we withdraw from it; whose consciences made them wretched at an alliance with us, yet when we relieve their consciences of all responsibility, are unwilling to be relieved, and resolve that the victims whom they have so long robbed and reviled shall not escape them.
In one letter Simms says that he has been writing every night for six weeks until three o’clock in the morning. In addition to advising political and government leaders, he was contributing heavily to the Charleston Mercury. Some of his submissions were on public affairs and domestic resources. He also published poetry in this paper.
Speaking of people in his own profession, Simms says:
I have been astonished to find that the Literary men are generally almost wholly ignorant of politics, the Constitution, the debates at the formation of the Confederation, and briefly of all the principles and issues which were involved in the establishment of the Confederacy.
He is talking about Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Melville – the major literary men taught to our young students today.
In his letters Simms gives us recipes for making Cherry Bounce and Poor Man’s Soup. He tells us that May Weed can be substituted for spinach, and Cassia for tea. He tells us that cane can be worked into mats and baskets. When it came to collecting ideas for beating the blockade by using native plants and resources, Simms was knowledgeable and resourceful.
Simms’s son Gilmore was a seventeen year old cadet at The Citadel, where cartridges, cannons, and percussion caps were being made. The Cadets drilled daily. Even women and the elderly were armed and practicing to perfect their marksmanship. In a touching letter, Simms gives his son Gilmore step-by-step guidance on how to shave, carry his equipment, and conduct himself in combat. His most often repeated advice is to trust God and pray.
In reading these letters, we observe wealth and pride turning to poverty and pain. In addition to the death of his wife, four of his children die. Gilmore is wounded several times in combat and loses a finger. Yellow fever rages through Charleston. Beloved cities are reduced to ruins. Woodlands, his once grand plantation home, is burned to the ground by Sherman’s men. 10,700 books in the library wing he built to house them at Woodlands are destroyed or carried off, along with over fifty original paintings.
At war’s end, Simms lives in a garret. His remaining children are divided, some living in Columbia with him, some living in Bamberg with the Rivers family.
One of Simms’s letters is particularly important. From Woodlands on December 12, 1860, on the eve of South Carolina seceding (December 20, 1860), Simms wrote a long letter to a Northern critic. On January 17, 1861, the Charleston Mercury published an expanded version of the letter. In it Simms justified secession on the grounds of the broken friendship between North and South: “Many Northerners,” he says, “hate the South and vilify it as worthless, wanting in moral and energy; unprosperous, grossly ignorant, brutal; uneducated, wanting literature, art, statesmanship, wisdom – every element of intellect and manners.” (IV, 301)
He opens this letter by stating that the people of South Carolina are not safe in this Union:
Our safety is . . . more important to us than any Union; and, in the event of our future union with other parties, we shall certainly look to our safety, with . . . more circumspection than our fathers did, though they strove to guard their people, with all their vigilance, against the danger equally of a majority and of Federal usurpation.
Simms interprets the American Constitution framed in 1787, adopted in 1789, by the victorious Colonies as one based on friendship. He did not believe that government should promote a proposition of any kind. Instead, government should be founded on convivial order. A true Federation is based on separate and distinct states which have a compact with each other. A political order based on friendship pursues no good, no purpose. Rather, it exists for its own sake: a bond of friendship and sympathy. Friendships have no mission, no purpose. We stay in government because we are friends, not because we have some idealized world mission to accomplish, and certainly not because one section of the country becomes wealthy at the expense of other areas.
To Simms, selfish elements in the North have broken that friendship. As he says, “They [powerful and influential Northerners] have committed the greatest political and social suicide that history has ever recorded.”
Employing the image of the South as feminine, Simms compares the cutting of the bonds to a woman leaving a selfish, and abusive man: She “pleaded, even while she warned! She was [ever] reluctant to proceed to extreme measures.”
For thirty years now, Simms says, the South has had to put up with political and economic exploitation. Speaking for South Carolina, he continues:
She will secede as surely as the sun shines in heaven. She will rely upon the justice of her cause and the virtue of her people. She will invade nobody. She will aggress upon no rights of others. She has never done so. The South has never been the aggressor! But we will no longer suffer aggression under the mask of “this blessed Union.” We shall tear off the mask, and show the hideous faithlessness, cupidity, lying and selfishness that lurk beneath. And we shall do this, regardless of all consequences. For these we shall prepare ourselves as well as we can. . . . And on our own ground, in defense of our firesides, and in the assertion of ancestral rights, we shall deliver no blow in vain.
To Simms, the struggle against Northern aggression would ultimately be an issue of freedom: political freedom and economic freedom, self-government and free trade.
Simms was convinced that the South would thrive if freed from the jealousy, hatred and abuse of Northern aggressors:
We, in the South, have all the essential elements for establishing the greatest and most prosperous, and longest lived of all the republics of the earth! We shall declare our ports free to the industrial energies and productions of all the world, we subject Northern manufactures, for the first time, to that wholesome competition with the industry of other countries, the absence of which has made her bloated in prosperity.
The Father of Southern Literature was in Columbia on February 17, 18, 19, and 20, 1865, when Sherman marched into the capital of South Carolina where some 20,000 inhabitants were living and seeking refuge. He was there when Sherman’s men began to rape and to torture and to murder innocent civilians, and to plunder and to burn one of the most beautiful cities in North America. During the conflagration, Simms walked the streets, observing and remembering. Afterwards, he would interview more than sixty people, when all the horrors were still fresh in their minds.
One month later, in March 1865, Simms led the effort to publish a newspaper which included his 90-page historical narrative entitled The Capture, Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia – a primary historical document on the burning and destruction of a prosperous American city. Simms listed names of Carolina people and the addresses of their destroyed property. His account is a memorial to civilian casualties. It is also the story of corruption inside American government, and a report of American violence and crime against other Americans. This important primary source almost disappeared. In 2005 (140 years after 1865) I brought it out in a book I entitled A City Laid Waste.
Some of this will be shocking, because I am going to let Simms speak for himself and for the people of Columbia, and the people of the Confederate South. I know of six newspaper accounts of the destruction of Columbia, but by far the most detailed, the most extensive, the most inclusive and the most important is Simms’s. His account of American atrocities cannot be refuted, so lovers of Lincoln and lovers of Sherman have tried not only to discredit and repress it, but also to destroy it. The invaders became obsessed with turning their view of the war into historical record. In their determination, they ignored and then destroyed testimony which contradicted their claims.
As a result, the Jeffersonian view of America, the original vision of America dominant among the people of the founding generation up to 1861, as an experiment in justice and prosperity, has been removed from public record. International imperialism, instead, Lincoln’s view of America, dominates today. Lincoln’s America is currently the regnant view of American history and culture, and all Americans are consequently the poorer for the loss.
As a Revolutionary War historian, Simms sees America in terms of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the founding generation. He opens his historical narrative with an allusion to the Declaration of Independence and an implied question: are the human rights which our forefathers won from the British Crown being preserved or destroyed? Simms’s answer is that Lincoln and his Administration are undermining the great American principle stated in the Declaration of Independence: that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This war, this invasion, unlawful and unconstitutional – Simms says — is a death blow to American inalienable rights. How can anyone say that Americans have the right to govern themselves when you destroy our places of government? How can anyone say that Americans have freedom of religion when you destroy our churches? How can anyone say that Americans have freedom of expression when you destroy our presses and burn our newspapers? How can anyone say that Americans have the right to pursue happiness when you destroy our homes and personal property? The “cruel and malignant enemy,” led by Sherman, is the antithesis of the America that the Founding Fathers envisioned and fought to establish.
We should remember that the youthful Simms studied law and passed the bar to become a practicing attorney. Throughout his life, Simms revered the rule of law. One of the people who reviewed A City Laid Waste said that every cadet at West Point should not only read but also study Simms’s account of the burning of Columbia.
Simms’s document The Capture, Sack and Destruction of the City of Columbia can be summarized in a word– INVASION. Simms states the subject matter in his title, but the meaning of this important narrative is expressed in four words – Simms’s four words: the invasion of South Carolina and particularly the destruction of Columbia was committed by “monsters of virtuous pretension.” Monsters of Virtuous Pretension. The invasion of the South, culminating in the conflagration of Columbia, was committed by criminals who loudly proclaimed simultaneously both their innocence and their alleged pure and lofty intentions.
We should never forget that Sherman began immediately denying that he had burned Columbia. He willfully and arrogantly blamed the destruction on Wade Hampton. Simms records what he observed as well as what he received in sworn testimonies:
Newly made graves were opened, the coffins taken out, broken open, in search of buried treasure, and the corpses left exposed. Every spot in grave yard or garden, which seemed to have been recently disturbed, was sounded with sword, or bayonet, or ramrod, in their desperate search after spoil. These monsters of virtuous pretension [bold italics, mine], with their banner of streaks and spangles overhead, and sworn to the Constitution, which they neither understand nor read, never once forget the greed of appetite which has distinguished Puritanic New England for three hundred years; and, lest they might forget, the appetite is kept lively by their women – letters found upon their dead, or upon prisoners, almost invariable appealing to them to bring home the gauds and jewelry, even the dresses of the Southern women, to deck the fond feminine expectants at home, whom we may suppose to be all the while at their devotions, assailing Heaven with prayer in behalf of their thrice blessed cause and country.
Subsequently, the whole of American history and American literature has been dedicated to defending monsters, to sanitizing, to whitewashing, to glorifying criminals. In my lifetime, American higher educated has been slavishly committed to the outrageous premise that the invasion of the South was a good thing, and the people who perpetrated that invasion were virtuous people. Lincoln and his Administration along with Sherman, and all the officers, sergeants and privates who were active in that enormity are heroes, so we teach American students today. And anybody who disagrees with this imperial bias, anybody who questions the fundamental premise, is called names – racist, ignorant, unqualified, out of date, imbalanced, unprogressive, un-American and domestic terrorists.
Any historical document that disagrees is ignored, or destroyed. That’s why Simms’s account of invading “monsters of virtuous pretension” was neglected for 140 years, and almost destroyed, resulting not in a fair and historical report, but in unexamined and unconfirmed assertions of northern righteousness and Southern degeneracy, as if Americans are not supposed to know any history, as if knowing the past makes Americans incapable of seeing grand universal principles.
More importantly, though, eyewitness sources contradict American romantic myths about Lincoln and Mr. Lincoln’s War. Listen to Simms’s detailed account of some of the sufferings of the people of Carolina:
The march of the enemy into our State was characterized by such scenes of brutality, license, plunder and general conflagration, as very soon showed that the threat of the Northern press, and of their soldiery, were not to be regarded as mere brutum fulmen. Day by day, brought to the people of Columbia tidings of newer atrocities committed, and a wider and more extended progress. Daily did long trains of fugitives line the roads, with wives and children, and horses and stock and cattle, seeking refuge from the wolfish fury which pursued. Long lines of wagons covered the highways. Half naked people cowered from the winter under bush tents in the thickets, under the eaves of houses, under the railroad sheds, and in old cars left there along the route. All these repeated the same story of brutal outrage and great suffering, violence, poverty and nakedness. Habitation after habitation, village after village – one sending up its signal flames to the other, presaging for it the same fate – lighted the winter and midnight sky with crimson horrors. . . . Where the families still ventured to remain, they were, in most instances, so tortured by insult, violence, robbery and all manner of brutality, that flight became necessary, and the burning of the dwelling soon followed the flight of the owner. No language can describe the sufferings of these fugitives, or the demonic horrors by which they were pursued; nor can any catalogue furnish an adequate detail of the wide-spread destruction of homes and property. Granaries were emptied, and where the grain was not carried off, it was strewn to waste under the feet of their cavalry or consigned to the fire which consumed the dwelling. The negroes were robbed equally with the whites of food and clothing. The roads were covered with butchered cattle, hogs, mules and the costliest furniture. Nothing was permitted to escape. Valuable cabinets, rich pianos, were not only hewn to pieces, but bottles of ink, turpentine, oil, whatever could efface or destroy, upon which they could conveniently lay hands, was employed to defile and ruin. Horses were ridden into the houses. Sick people were forced from their beds, to permit the search after hidden treasures. In pursuit of these, the most diabolic ingenuity was exercised, and the cunning of the Yankee, in robbing, proved far superior to that of the negro for concealment. The beautiful homesteads of the parish country, with their wonderful tropical gardens, were ruined; ancient dwellings of black cypress, one hundred years old, which had been reared by the fathers of the republic – men whose names were famous in Revolutionary history – were given to the torch as recklessly as were the rudest hovels; the ancient furniture was hewn to pieces; the costly collections of China were crushed wantonly under foot; choice pictures of works of art, from Europe; select and numerous libraries, objects of peace wholly, were all destroyed. The summer retreats, simple cottages of slight and unpretending structure, were equally devoted to the flames, and, where the dwellings were not destroyed – and they were only spared while the inhabitants resolutely remained in them – they were robbed of all their portable contents, and what the plunderer could not bear away, was ruthlessly hewn to pieces. The inhabitants, black no less than white, were left to starve, compelled to feed only upon the garbage to be found in the abandoned camps of the enemy. The corn scraped up from the spots where the horses fed, has been the only means of life left to thousands but lately in affluence. It was the avowed policy of the enemy to reach our armies through the sufferings of their women and children – to starve out the families of those gallant soldiers whom they had failed to subdue in battle.
An under-reported fact is that when Sherman left Columbia, he commanded 248 wagons filled with Southern treasure.
Simms reports more atrocities committed by the invading monsters:
We have been told of successful outrages of this unmentionable character being practiced upon women [rapes] . . . . Many are understood to have taken place in remote country settlements, and two cases are described where young negresses were brutally forced by the wretches and afterwards murdered – one of them being thrust, when half dead, head down, into a mud puddle, and there held until she was suffocated. . . . We need, for the sake of truth and humanity, to put on record, in the fullest types and columns, the horrid deeds of these marauders upon all that is pure and precious – all that is sweet and innocent – all that is good, gentle, gracious, dear and ennobling – within the regards of . . . Christian civilization.
And then there was the killing:
[Mayor Goodwyn] while walking with the Yankee General, heard the report of a gun. Both heard it, and immediately proceeded to the spot. There they found a group of soldiers, with a stalwart young negro fellow lying dead before them on the street, the body yet warm and bleeding. Pushing it with his feet, Sherman said, in his quick, hasty manner, “What does this mean, boys?” The reply was sufficiently cool and careless. “The d___d black rascal gave us his impudence, and we shot him.” “Well, bury him at once! Get him out of sight!” As they passed on, one of the party remarked, “Is that the way, General, you treat such a case?” “Oh!” said he, “we have no time for courts-martial and things of that sort!”
“Should you capture Charleston, I hope by some accident the place may be destroyed. And if a little salt should be sown upon the site, it may prevent the growth of future crops of nullification and secession.” These words advocating the centralization of American government along with the destruction of Charleston came in 1865 from Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, Major General Henry Halleck. The message was addressed to Sherman, whose mode of warfare was hailed in Northern papers as genius and decried in the South as barbaric.
Today, our children are taught not to question or to doubt, but to praise and to glorify the so-called great democratic achievements of Sherman in his notorious march through Georgia and South Carolina.
Simms exposes the popular glorification of Sherman, his men, and their march, falsely represented as an army of noble Americans on a democratic adventure, performing a great military feat. In the process of saving this Sacred Union, the romantic myth goes, American soldiers were outraged by haughty Southern aristocracy and by the oppression of black people, whom the invaders heartily embraced, so on and on the romantic myths go. As a result, the righteous invaders resolved to destroy Southern society once and for all, and thereby bestow on the planet a new birth of freedom.
These absurd pretensions of virtue and self-righteous justifications for criminal acts are easily contradicted by hundreds of Southern sources, chief among them is Simms’s account of Sherman in Columbia. Simms reveals Sherman’s invasion as evil, as rationalized by a deformed Christianity, as a fatal violation of the Constitution and core American values, and as carried out by a pretentious army of plundering criminals.
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing. Silence is the greatest shame. We must speak up, no matter how difficult.
To protect the Constitution and the freedom and well-being of the people of the South, the Southern states affirmed the right to disobey the American central government: a right affirmed and established by the founding generation, although labelled treason by Lincoln and his Administration.
As a result of defending the values of the American founders and the rights made explicit in the Declaration of Independence, the South was wrongfully, criminally, and brutally invaded – not by those warring for Christ and Christian morality, not by those building an exceptional civilization in the Western Hemisphere, not by those defending humanity or human rights. The South was invaded, brutalized, and conquered by “monsters of virtuous pretension.” As eyewitnesses like Simms said over and over again, by felons and brutes – who not only broke the rules of warfare by attacking, raping and murdering innocent civilians, but who also broke the rules of decency and Christian morality. I remind you that Simms addresses his historical narrative of the destruction of Columbia to Christians, everywhere.
Simms was present throughout this American enormity, when he recorded the horrors of invasion, and Sherman’s repeated denials – denials Sherman himself would eventually acknowledge. Simms not only exposes Sherman, but he also rebukes the invaders’ virtuous pretensions to defend and to justify their monstrous behavior.
Those who attempted to destroy the South did not succeed (although some are still trying today), because the ideas and ideals of the South are preserved, along with the malignant cruelty of the invaders — preserved in Simms’s writings as well as in the writings of many others. Southern ideals are also preserved in the Atlanta art that influenced my youth. What kind of civilization could inspire the Cyclorama, the carvings on Stone Mountain, and the American classic Gone With the Wind? These works of art spoke to me as an Atlanta youth, as well as to millions of others. The meaning of great Southern art points to the ideals of the American South.
The ideas and ideals of Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers were both the inspiration and the model of the Southern Confederacy. I was taught that Confederate ideals include the goal of the responsible, sovereign individual, tempered by family, community, church and state. I knew that the Southern Confederacy was intended to protect the Southern land and the rights of the people on that land to be free from arbitrary executive power, entangling alliances, destructive wars, and unfair regional exploitation to benefit sectional elites.
If our teachings are false, if our art like the Cyclorama, Stone Mountain, and Gone With the Wind is inferior and irrelevant, and if our literary and historical sources like Simms are wrong, then they will not withstand the onslaught of globalism, secularism, and empire building. But if they are true, then they will sustain us in all manner of dark and threatening times, because we have faith in the final justice of the Good Lord Above and in His ultimate victory. Like our Revolutionary War forefathers, we have faith that freedom will eventually triumph over all forms of tyranny and usurpation. Like our Confederate heroes, we have faith that the courage, sacrifices and patriotism of men like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and William Gilmore Simms will not only endure but will finally prevail.