Ancestors of Two Twentieth-Century Hollywood Influences Clash in Antietam’s Cornfield

Some of the most popular movies portraying the Civil War appeared on the big screen in the era before and during the centennial anniversary of the conflict. Two of those films include Gone with the Wind (1939), based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel published three years earlier, and Shenandoah (1965), starring Jimmy Stewart. Both films portray Southern families caught up in the Civil War and how the war affected immensely affected their lives. It should come as no surprise that two of the leading hands in these films, which shaped people’s perceptions of the Civil War for years to come, likely drew inspiration from their grandfathers, both of whom served in the war.

Sgt. Russell Crawford Mitchell (left) and his granddaughter Margaret Mitchell (right)

While filmmakers adapted Mitchell’s literature into a film, by creating the story she did, Mitchell’s fingerprints are all over the screen version of Gone with the Wind. Mitchell grew up hearing and feeling war stories from her grandfather, Sgt. Russell Crawford Mitchell of the 1st Texas Infantry. Russell was born and raised in Georgia but moved to Texas a couple of years prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Mitchell supported secession and raised a company of Texans to fight in the war. His company voted to enter the scene of war in Missouri. Mitchell, however, “believed the big fighting would be” in Virginia and so resigned his command and joined Company I of the 1st Texas.(1)

Actor Jimmy Stewart’s grandfather, Samuel McCartney Jackson, grew up in Apollo, Pennsylvania and joined the state militia as 12-year-old drummer boy. In August 1861, Jackson was commissioned Captain of Company G, 11th Pennsylvania Reserves. He quickly rose to lieutenant colonel of the regiment by October and commanded the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves at Antietam.(2)

Lt. Col. Samuel McCartney Jackson (left) and his grandson Jimmy Stewart (right)

In the early morning’s action of September 17, 1862, the 1st Texas Infantry plunged headlong unsupported into David Miller’s 24-acre cornfield. When Sgt. Mitchell and in the Texans approached within 30 yards of the northern fence of the cornfield, a volley ripped into their ranks. That sheet of fire came mostly from the Federals directly in their front, Pennsylvanians led by Samuel M. Jackson. Those Pennsylvanians, resting their rifles on the fence rails in their front, decimated the 1st Texas, which staggered to the rear having suffered over 80% casualties.

The 7:20 a.m. Carman-Cope map shows the 1st Texas facing off directly against
the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves.

One of those Texas casualties was Russell Mitchell, “his skull broken in by two minie balls,” recalled his granddaughter Margaret. Mitchell was carried from the field and taken to an aid station near the Dunker Church. There, a surgeon examined his grisly wound and “declared there wasn’t any use in wasting time on him when he would only live a few hours.” However, Sgt. Mitchell incredibly survived. Margaret Mitchell remembered visiting her grandfather years later. During these family visits, “his children and grandchildren loved to put their fingers in the depressions in his skull.” Sgt. Mitchell lived over four decades after receiving his supposedly mortal wound and died in Atlanta in 1905.(3)
On the other side of the field, Lt. Col. Jackson survived. In his diary entry of September 17, 1862, Jackson succinctly penned, “Terrific fighting… Our little Regiment badly cut up.”(4) After the war, Jackson became a member of Pennsylvania’s legislature and state senate. He died not long after Sgt. Mitchell, breathing his last in 1906.(5) Jimmy Stewart was born two years after the death of his grandfather but it is possible he grew up listening to the stories of Samuel M. Jackson during the Civil War.
It is interesting to think that the Civil War ancestors of Margaret Mitchell when she wrote her book that soon became a national hit on the silver screen and Jimmy Stewart when he portrayed Charlie Anderson in Shenandoah influenced their grandchildren in their roles of shaping popular perceptions of the Civil War.

1. Owen, McBride, and Allport, Texans at Antietam, 47-49.
2. Carman, Clemens ed., The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, vol. 3, 239.
3. Owen, McBride, and Allport, Texans at Antietam, 49-51.
4. Jackson, Diary of General S. M. Jackson for the year 1862, 47.
5. Carman, Clemens ed., The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, vol. 3, 239.

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