*Posted on behalf of Amanda Hlavacek. Please direct your comments to her.*
Despite the numerous times that I have watched Gone With the Wind, it was not until I read the article by Bruce Chadwick that I understood the “political meeting” which Rhett attempted to save Ashley, Frank and Dr. Meade from was a Ku Klux Klan gathering. I became fascinated by the role which Margaret Mitchell assigned the Klan members “as providing needed protection against blacks and white agitators.”* However, when I tried to research the topic, I was unable to come up with anything to support her suggestion.
I was also fascinated by Rhett proclaiming that he had made his fortune from blockade running, supported by Dr. Meade’s statement at the Atlanta ball that Rhett was responsible for providing the material for the women’s dresses. From my basic understanding of blockade running, cotton was exchanged for war materiel, not clothing items. Historian Alice Strickland explains that in addition to those items many “luxury items such as fans, parasols, cloaks, childrens toys, ladies shoes, and other commodities” were carried on the blockade running ships.** Strickland further states that cotton was in high demand in Nassau in the Bahamas, where blockade runners would sell it for a high price as well as to exchange it for desperately needed medical supplies.***
While blockade running was extremely dangerous, it yielded high personal profit in addition to supporting the Confederate war effort. For Rhett to say that he made his money from running would be accurate. Economic historian Stanley Lebergott asserts that for cotton, “[t]he English and Europeans paid about $500,000. The North spent over $700,000.”**** The profits could have been exorbitant. One Charleston company grossed nearly $20 million.***** However, if this was to be Rhett Butler’s sole income during the war, it is unlikely that he made his fortune from it unless he was extraordinarily successful. Strickland asserts that blockade runners were typically able to make three trips before being captured, and only those lucky few were able to make eighteen trips.****** If Rhett was able to make multiple runs, the potential exists for him to have cleared as much as $85,000 per trip (one-way).*******
Since GWTW focuses more on Scarlett’s story and that of the O’Hara’s experiences, it is impossible to fully grasp the extent of Rhett’s blockade running unless one was to read Donald McCaig’s Rhett Butler’s People in which the story of GWTW is told from Rhett Butler’s perspective. It is a compelling read, and I would suggest it is much more historically accurate than Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.
*Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (Alfred Knopf: New York, 2001), 195.
**Alice Strickland, “Blockade Runners,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 36 (October, 1957): 87.