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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

William Faulkner On The Battle Of Gettysburg

A Union artillery piece sits atop a ridge above the field of Pickett's Charge, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP)

A Union artillery piece sits atop a ridge above the field of Pickett’s Charge, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Some of the most famous words ever written about Gettysburg were penned by the great southern writer William Faulkner.

In his 1948 novel “Intruder In The Dust,” Faulkner wrote about the promise the afternoon of July 3, 1863, held for the southern cause, the moment before the Confederate attack that became known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

William Faulkner works at his typewriter Aug. 12, 1954, in Oxford, Miss. (AP)

William Faulkner works at his typewriter Aug. 12, 1954, in Oxford, Miss. (AP)

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…

Southern author Ron Rash says that passage is about Faulkner himself.

“In that very scene, you sense a man who had grown up in a time when he could actually talk to Confederate veterans. And as a Southerner, growing up in that culture — in a family that considered itself aristocratic — this would be the view of so many of his generation,” Rash told Here & Now.

The Union troops repulsed the charge and denied General Robert E. Lee the crucial victory he needed on northern soil. It was the beginning of the end of the Civil War for the South.

Guest:

  • Ron Rash, poet, short story writer and novelist. His most recent book is a collection of short stories, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
  • Julian McIvor Kotsonis, 11-year-old who won a bet by memorizing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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