I Think the Union Army Had Something To Do With It

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago….

William Faulkner, “Intruder in the Dust”

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8 thoughts on “I Think the Union Army Had Something To Do With It

  1. GDBrasher

    I know the headline of this post was Pickett’s famous quote, and that you are likely posting this for the 149th anniversary of the charge. But when I read the headline, I couldn’t help but think about emancipation. :-)

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  2. Andy Hall

    Others may read it differently, but I’ve never understood that passage to reflect Faulkner’s own views so much as to encapsulate (and very well) the “High Water Mark” mythos of the Lost Cause he and so many other white Southerners embraced in the decades following the war. In Faulkner’s framing, it’s explicitly an adolescent fantasy. Your thoughts?

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  3. Dudley Bokoski

    The quote comes from an interview with a Richmond newspaper in 1904 by Captain Robert A. Bright of Pickett’s staff. It came to the movie most likely by way of the Southern Historical Society Papers and D. S. Freeman’s biography of Lee.

    The movie uses only a part of the quote for dramatic event. The complete quote was “General Lee, I have no division now, Armistead is down, Garnett is down, and Kemper is mortally wounded.” To which Lee replied (according to Bright), “Come, General Pickett, this has been my fight and upon my shoulders rests the blame. The men and officers of your command have written the name of Virginia as high to-day as it has ever been written before.”

    On the one hand, Freeman was a careful fellow and the Bright quote gains some stature based on his inclusion of it. But it was a quote from 1904 without contemporary support, and the response sounds like Bright may have been kissing the blarney stone to shine up the reputation of Pickett’s Division. And he definitely is trying, in the article, to defend Pickett and his staff from charges of being far to the rear during the fighting.

    It makes me wonder if Bright had heard of Mosby’s account of Pickett’s supposed post-war remark about Lee getting his division ruined at Gettysburg and just put it into the context of the day of the charge. There again, it may have happened exactly as Bright described it with Lee trying to buck up Pickett. But I think there is just as much chance the entire quote started as part truth/part invention and by the time to movie makers got through with it, less than that.

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