Don't Know Much About the Civil War : Everything You Need to Know About America's Greatest Conflict but Never Learned
Why did Abraham Lincoln sneak into Washington for his inauguration Was The Gettysburg Address written on the back of an envelope Where did the Underground Railroad run
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July 27, 2004
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Excerpt from Don't Know Much About the Civil War by Kenneth C. Davis
"Oh, I'm so interested in the Civil War. I have been ever since I read Gone With the Wind!"
I have lost count of the number of people who told me that while I was writing this book. Unfortunately, it seems that a great many Americans owe their understanding of the central event in our history to a sixty-year-old piece of fiction.
"Frankly, my dear," this notion terrifies me. It suggests that legions of Miss Mitchell's readers know as much about the Civil War as Scarlett O'Hara's slave Prissy knew about "birthing babies." It means that millions of people's notions of the Civil War era and slavery were shaped by a book in which all the white folks speak the King's English and slaves sound like this:
"Runned away No'm, us ain' runned away. Dey done sont an' tuck us, kase us wuz de fo' bigges' an' stronges' han's at Tara ' . Dey specially sont fer me, kase Ah could sing so good."
Perhaps their views of plantation life derive from this Pulitzer Prize-winning description of an idyllic Georgia barbecue: "Over behind the barns there was always another barbecue pit, where the house servants and the coachmen and maids of the guests had their own feast of hoecakes and yams and chitterlings, that dish of hog entrails so dear to negro hearts, and, in season, watermelons enough to satiate."
But maybe it wasn't Margaret Mitchell's prose and views on the war and slaves that did the trick. Perhaps they were among those Americans who learned about the Civil War this way: "Slavery died out in the North because it was expensive and inefficient. The African was too recently removed from his tropical home to endure the harsh winters, and even on a farm his labor did not pay for itself. There was no time to train his primitive fingers to perform all the varied tasks required of a Yankee handyman." (Emphasis added.)
Does that sound like 1859 plantation propaganda It actually comes from a 1959 McGraw-Hill textbook called The War Between the States.
For a long time, I thought that Margaret Mitchell's famous novel was to blame for the obsession that so many Americans have with the Civil War period. I assumed that Gone With the Wind ' still this country's most beloved book and movie ' made us a nation consumed by a devastating war.