2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
By Sally Tippett Rains, author of “The Making of A Masterpiece, the True Story of Gone With the Wind.”
In this 75th Anniversary year for the movie Gone With the Wind, many events have been planned all over the country, most centering on the making of the movie, but some concentrating on more of the history behind the story– like this one in Jonesboro, Georgia.
The public is invited to attend special events commemorating the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of The Battle of Jonesboro on September 6 and 7, 2014 in Jonesboro, Georgia at Stately Oaks Plantation and the Warren House.
The Battle of Jonesboro is a reminder of all the lives lost and families torn apart by the Civil War. As this author researched her book she was given access to diary entries and scrapbooks from Civil War era residents from Jonesboro, which are copied in the book.
When Margaret Mitchell was writing Gone With the Wind she still had her grandmother and great aunts alive who had experienced the war first-hand and she was told many stories about it.
It is now widely accepted that though she would never acknowledge it during her life, many of the characters and story lines from Gone With the Wind were based on episodes and real-life people from the Jonesboro- Clayton County area.
This author spent almost four years researching the history, with several visits to Clayton County and countless interviews with descendants of those whose lives may have inspired Mitchell. After observing all of the similarities between Mitchell’s book and the real-life people of Clayton County, it is safe to say that when Margaret Mitchell crafted her novel she was inspired by her family’s experiences as well as the people she had heard about.
The great thing about going to Jonesboro-Clayton County area is you can feel the history and for those with a deep love for the book you can see the Flint River and the red Georgia clay and imagine what really happened through the stories handed down to Margaret Mitchell as she was a child.
The story of her great-grandfather Philip Fitzgerald’s farm in Clayton County was a story of determination.
The Fitzgerald farm (called Rural Home by the family) sat on the Flint River, five miles from Jonesboro just as the fictional Tara did. If you go there you can actually find the place it stood, but it is long gone.
Her aunts, who she called Sis and Mamie had lived through the Civil War at Rural Home. Often at family gatherings or just when she went to visit them in the summers they would talk of Sherman’s army marching through Jonesboro, raiding many of the farms. According to reports, Mitchell loved hearing the stories and would often ask for more. During the time she was writing Gone With the Wind, residents of Jonesboro said she would come back and do research.
Philip Fitzgerald, who was sixty-five at the end of the war, had to start over again with no slaves, no food, just his daughters and an ailing wife. Does any of this sound familiar from Gone With The Wind?
Margaret Mitchell never knew Philip Fitzgerald as he had died twenty years before she was born, but on every visit to Rural Home that she and her brother Stephens took, they were greeted by those great-aunts, Sis and Mamie. They loved to tell stories and she loved to listen.
“In the 1800’s when Philip Fitzgerald lived, his property was out in the country south of Jonesboro,” said local historian John Lynch, who runs the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife Museum in Fayetteville. “Highway 19/ 41 is the ‘four-lane’ and Jonesboro is off to the east of it. Running north and south, parallel with the railroad, the highway was built probably in the 1930s. ‘Rural Home’ (the ancestral home of Mitchell’s family) was on Bumblehook Road, which is now Tara Road (off of Tara Boulevard which is Highway 19/41).”
According to Oliver “Sandy” Heely,a descendent of R.H. Harper, who grew up in Jonesboro during the Civil War era, and he (Heely) was also the son of a friend of Margaret Mitchell’s, the Lawrence House was used as one of the Confederate Hospitals in Jonesboro, as was the Warren House. There are several original Civil War era houses still standing in Jonesboro and some will be on display during this event. Margaret Mitchell had researched the hospitals because of the scenes with the make-shift Confederate Hospital in Atlanta.
Heely said Mitchell talked to his mother while doing her research.
“Sandy’s mother, Lou Heely, knew Margaret Mitchell and according to Sandy, Mitchell told his mother that she envisioned the Fitzgerald place as Tara,” said Debbie Whittemore, Heely’s cousin. “The Fitzgerald place was her basis for Tara. Because of the family’s close friendship, Sandy has a Gone With The Wind original novel that Margaret Mitchell autographed for his mom.”
Historical re-enactors in period dress will be participating in a Living History Event both Saturday and Sunday from 10 am through 4 pm at Stately Oaks Plantation, and on Saturday there will be a special stamp cancellation located in the historic one room school-house located on the plantation grounds to commemorate both the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Jonesboro and the 175th Anniversary of Stately Oaks Plantation located at 100 Carriage Lane, Jonesboro, GA 30236.
Stately Oaks built in 1839, is an antebellum house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and since it was located in the town that Mitchell fictionally used for Scarlett to pay the taxes on Tara –and she passed it many times on her visits to Rural Home– residents imagine it gave her inspiration for Tara. In fact, HistoricalJonesboro.com writes:
Just as Scarlett fought to survive the Civil War so did Rebecca McCord who resided at Stately Oaks when the Union Army converged on Jonesboro in August 1864.
Union soldiers will be encamped on the property and will reenact several encounters with members of the McCord family in the house and on the grounds during the time of the Battle of Jonesboro. They will also give several infantry firing demonstrations.
Special demonstrations will be given on period cooking, camp life, and civilian life along with a medical display. Interactive demonstrations of period children’s activities and period dance will also be on sight both days. Public restrooms are available.
Admission to Stately Oaks Plantation of $12 for adults and a discounted rate of $9, which includes students and seniors, will also include a guided tour of the plantation house by costumed docents and access to the one room school-house, plantation’s cook house, tenant farm cabin, well house, Juddy’s country store and a Creek Indian Village all located on the grounds of Historical Jonesboro property.
The Warren House located at 102 W Mimosa Drive, Jonesboro, GA 30236 will then open to the public from 4:30pm to 8pm on Saturday, September 6 for a barbecue dinner.
The Warren House is an old historic house, instrumental in the Battle of Jonesboro. It was built by Guy Warren, a Northerner who ran the railroad. The original depot was across the street from his house.
During the Civil War, Warren left the area and the house was used as a hospital for both the North and the South, as there were so many casualties there. Handwritten poems and prayers from both Confederate and Union soldiers are said to still be visible on the walls.
“There are still some writings on the walls that the troops had written,” Patrick Duncan, who was head of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau at the time The Making of a Masterpiece was being written. “It’s now a private residence but we hope someday to have it available to be toured.”
That day is coming soon as the house will be open for public tours for the first time in over 25 years. Admission is $15.
Another Civil War site to see is across the train tracks from the Warren House –at the corner of McDonough and Johnston Street –is the Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery, where over 600 Confederate soldiers who fought and died in 1864 in the Battle of Jonesboro are laid to rest. The cemetery is open daily until dusk.
Hundreds of unidentified Confederate soldiers who died during the Battle of Jonesboro are buried in the General Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery in Jonesboro, Clayton County, Georgia.
“The Confederate Cemetery still flies the Confederate flag,” said Sandy Heely at the time.
The scene in the Gone With The Wind movie where all of the wounded soldiers were laid out was portrayed as Mitchell would have wanted, because the Civil War was such a devastating war. Many lives had been lost in the Atlanta campaign.
In Atlanta the Union suffered 3,641 casualties, the Confederates a terrible 8,499. The Battle of Jonesboro saw 1,149 Union and 2,200 Confederate soldiers killed. Originally the soldiers were buried where they fell, but later the confederate cemetery was established and is maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
There is a monument at the cemetery, and, interestingly, the inscription was written by Wilbur Kurtz, the friend of Margaret Mitchell’s who went to Hollywood to help with the production.
He was chosen for his knowledge of the history of Atlanta and Clayton County. The monument reads: “To the honored memory of the several hundred unknown Confederate soldiers reposing within this enclosure who fell at the Battle of Jonesboro, August 31-September 1, 1864. These Soldiers were of Hardee’s Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, Lieut. Gen. Stephen D. Lee’s Corps, and a portion of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps. Commanded by Lieut. Gen. William J. Hardee and charged with the defense of Jonesboro― though vastly outnumbered by Federal forces―they gave their lives to parry the final thrust at the heart of the Southern Confederacy.”–Erected by the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association 1934, Inscription by Wilber G. Kurtz
If it seems like this writer is enthusiastic about Jonesboro it is because of all of the amazing historical information that is available both just by a visit and more by prying and researching. A quick review of The Making of A Masterpiece will prepare one for this big event.
There is so much history in Jonesboro regarding the Civil War, and it is a fascinating trip for those who love to explore the real-life aspect of Gone With the Wind.
Sally Tippett Rains is author of The Making of a Masterpiece, the True Story of Gone With the Wind and has written 10 other books. Her book was made into a documentary for the HEC (Higher Education Channel). You can subscribe to this blog and read all of Rains’ articles, and follow her on Facebook: GWTW Book.