CW & Pop Culture: Gettysburg Meets Gone With The Wind, Part 1

For this entire series, I’ve been contemplating what I should write about Gone With The Wind. There’s a lot I’d still like to say that didn’t make it in the essay in Entertaining History. There’s a lot I’m still thinking about even a few years after doing that research writing.

How about the moment when Gettysburg is addressed in Gone With The Wind? That seems like an interesting thought to ponder. We’ll start with the book text, then the movie clip, followed by some thoughts in a second blog post this evening.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, excerpts from Chapter 14

The tide of the Confederacy’s fortune was running strong and full now, sweeping the people jubilantly along on its flood. True, the Yankees under Grant had been besieging Vicksburg since the middle of May. True, the South had suffered a sickening loss when Stonewall Jackson had been fatally wounded at Chancellorsville. True, Georgia had lost one of her bravest and most brilliant sons when General T.R.R. Cobb had been killed at Fredericksburg. But the Yankees just couldn’t stand any more defeats like Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. They’d have to give in, and then this cruel war would be over.

The first days of July came and with them the rumor, later confirmed by dispatches, that Lee was marching into Pennsylvania. Lee in the enemy’s territory! Lee forcing battle! This was the last fight of the war.

Atlanta was wild with excitement, pleasure and a hot thirst for vengeance. No, the Yankees would know what it meant to have the war carried into their own country. . . .

. . . The army was in Pennsylvania—that was all that mattered. One more victory and the war would be over. . . and the boys would come marching home and everybody would be happy again. Mrs. Meade’s eyes grew wet as she pictured her soldier son home at last, home to stay.

On the third of July, a sudden silence fell on the wires from the north, a silence that lasted till midday of the fourth when fragmentary and garbled reports began to trickle into headquarters in Atlanta. There had been hard fighting in Pennsylvania, near a little town called Gettysburg, a great battle with all Lee’s army massed. The news was uncertain, slow in coming, for the battle had been fought in the enemy’s territory and the reports came first through Maryland, were relayed to Richmond, and then to Atlanta.

Suspense grew and the beginnings of dread slowly crawled over the town. Nothing was so bad as not knowing what was happening. Families with sons at the front prayed fervently that their boys were not in Pennsylvania, but those who knew their relatives were in the same regiment with Darcy Meade clamped their teeth and said it was an honor for them to be in the big fight that would lick the Yankees for good and all.

In Aunt Pitty’s house, the three women [Aunt Pitty, Melanie, Scarlett] looked into one another’s eyes with fear they could not conceal. Ashley was in Darcy’s regiment.

On the fifth came evil tidings, not from the North but from the West. Vicksburg had fallen, fallen after a long and bitter siege, and practically all the Mississippi River, from St. Louis to New Orleans was in the hands of the Yankees. The Confederacy had been cut in two. At any other time, the news of this disaster would have brought fear and lamentation to Atlanta. But now they could give little thought to Vicksburg. They were thinking of Lee in Pennsylvania, forcing battle. Vicksburg’s loss would be no catastrophe if Lee won in the East. There lay Philadelphia, New York, Washington. Their capture would paralyze the North and more than cancel off the defeat on the Mississippi.

The hours dragged by and the black shadow of calamity brooded over the town, obscuring the hot sun until people looked up startled into the sky as if incredulous that it was clear and blue instead of murky and heavy with scudding clouds. Everywhere, women gathered in knots, huddled in groups on front porches, on sidewalks, even in the middle of the streets, telling each other that no news is good news, trying to comfort each other, trying to present a brave appearance. But hideous rumors that Lee was killed, the battle lost, and enormous casualty lists coming in, fled up and down the quiet streets like darting bats. Though they tried not to believe, whole neighborhoods, swayed by panic, rushed to town, to the newspapers, to headquarters, pleading for news, any news, even bad news.

Crowds formed at the depot, hoping for news from incoming trains, at the telegraph office, in front of the harried headquarters, before the locked doors of the newspapers. They were oddly still crowds, crowds that quietly grew larger and larger. There was no talking. Occasionally an old man’s treble begged for news, and instead of inciting the crowd to babbling it only intensified the hush as they head the oft-repeated: “Nothing on the wires yet from the North except that there’s been fighting.” The fringe of women on foot and in carriages grew greater and greater, and the heat of close-packed bodies and dust rising from restless feet were suffocating. The women did not speak, but their pale set faces pleased with a mute eloquence that was louder than wailing.

There was hardly a house in town that had not sent away a son, a brother, a father, a lover, a husband, to this battle. They all waited to hear the news that death had come to their homes. They expected death. They did not expect defeat. That thought they dismissed. Their men might be dying, even now, on the sun-parched grass of the Pennsylvania hills. . . .

The rest of the chapter plays out similar to the movie clip (see below) with Melanie and Scarlett waiting for news, read the casualty lists, and then observing the reactions of the crowd.

Now, that we’ve re-familiarized ourselves with the original book and movie scenes involving Gettysburg, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening on the page and screen and how both are influenced by and, in turn, influenced, pop culture ideas about Gettysburg and the homefront.

To Be Continued…

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