In one of Margaret Mitchell’s letters she is asked about the melodramatic nature of her book and she responds, “in that time period everyone was melodramatic”. Melodrama is known for “many exciting things happening and the characters having very strong and exaggerated opinions and actions”. I believe it is easy to see that in the situation (the Civil War) and the characters actions which led them to it and continued them in it. Margaret’s book is a war story with a love story in it.
But it wasn’t just any war, it was the American Civil War (or War Between the States) which lasted four years and cost over 750,000 casualties. And while Margaret speaks of other battles in other areas of the country, it is General Sherman’s campaign in Georgia, and his march to the Sea that most affected her characters in her book. Her family lived through it and spoke of it often to the next generations until their granddaughter (Margaret) posted the families story in her book, and thinly disguised them as the O’Hara’s and their neighbors.
With the anniversary of the Battle of Jonesboro just a few days away I want to share a few of those stories from Atlanta and Jonesboro so you can get a feel for the time in which Margaret’s family lived and the great moment of melodrama that filled her book,…and thus the movie….and today still buttress’s the doors and windows of the Tara façade that stands on ground bloodied from the conflict.
In 1864, when President Lincoln sat down with Generals Grant and Sherman he was searching for a way to break the stalemate with the south and provide a ray of hope, for the northern armies, and his political campaign. You see Lincoln was NOT going to be reelected if things did not go better. There were calls for peace at any cost and riots had broken out among the people of the north over the draft and the long lists of the dead. Lincolns former General, McClellan was running against him on the platform of separation and two countries. So Lincoln’s hope was in his Generals plans that called for Grant to “stay after Lee” (Petersburg) and Sherman to move south to Atlanta and hopefully split Georgia (the Deep South in two).
In the Spring of 1864 Sherman would move out of Chattanooga toward Atlanta and fight battle after battle on the way south. One of his men wrote that during the campaign, “you would have breakfast with a man who was dead by lunchtime”. The battles continued southward until on July 22 the Southern army commanded by General Hood would attack the Northern troops in what is known as the Battle of Atlanta. While both sides fought hard and the casualties mounted, at the end of the day the southerners were still entrenched with their backs to the homes of the people of Atlanta and the Union troops looking on from just a short distance away.
General Sherman was not interested in another blood bath and so he sent his cavalry under Judson Kilpatrick to the south side of town to cut the remaining rail lines bring supplies into Atlanta. In mid-August Kilpatrick and his cavalry attacked the town of Jonesboro and had a running gun battle in the streets with the local militia. The Yankees destroyed four miles of track and blew up the railroad depot and any rolling stock they could find. Troopers rode into the house of the postmaster and carried off his wife’s calling card case, the family Bible and a flag that had been made by the ladies of Jonesboro (a Confederate first national style with the words, “strike for your homes and your altars” in the top left corner in gold leaf). Both the card case and family Bible were returned to the family and the aforementioned flag is now in the state archives in Atlanta.
It took but one night for the Reb’s to rebuild the tracks. Sherman said that after hearing the trains arriving in Atlanta from Jonesboro while eating his breakfast, he knew his next move was to pull out a large portion of his army and head to the south side of town to cut the last supply line himself.
But that’s another melodramatic story for another day (tomorrow).