by Jeffrey I. Richman
New York: The Green-Wood Historic Fund, 2016. Pp. 168.
Illus., map, stemma, index. $25.00 paper. ISBN: 0966343557
A Tale “Embodying Combined Qualities of Pathos and Romance”
Richman, historian of Brooklyn’s famous Green-Wood Cemetery, gives us the life of Samuel Harris Sims (1829-1864). A native Brooklynite, in 1861 Sims, an artist of some ability, went to war his militia regiment, performing secret service activities for several months in Maryland. Returning home, despite being a widower with three young children, he raised a company for the 51st New York and returned to the war.
Sims fought in 26 battles from Virginia to Mississippi and back. Respected by the men of his company, many of them former comrades from the militia, although he turned down offers of promotion, Sims was well-regarded by his superiors and was often employed on duties well above his rank. He died at the head of the 51st New York in acting command during the Battle of the Crater, the first occasion on which he was injured in the war.
Sims was so well regarded by his comrades that his former militia regiment adopted his daughter and saw her through college, and was later even honored by his erstwhile foes, when a former Confederate officer, calling him a gallant officer, returned his sword to his family.
But that’s only part of the story. Sims’ life and service might today be – like that of most who fought in the war – barely known in outline save for the chance survival of two caches of letters, photographs, documents, drawings, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia, materials that might easily have been lost. These enabled Richman not only to tell Sims’ story, and that of his children and other kinfolk, but also to throw a good deal of light on society, life, and soldiering in the era.
“The Gallant Sims” is a good read for anyone with an interest in the war or in researching about the war.