"My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek" (Text Key 240)

short story

Faulkner wrote this story in the late winter, 1942, about four years after the publication of The Unvanquished, a novel made up of seven stories very much like this one: first-person accounts by Bayard Sartoris of his, his Grandmother's and their slaves' lives during the Civil War while his father, Colonel John Sartoris, is away from home fighting. (Chronologically, the events in "My Grandmother Millard" occur just before the earliest of the Unvanquished stories.) When he sent the story to Harold Ober, his agent in New York, Faulkner noted that The Saturday Evening Post had "bought five stories about these characters" back in the mid-1930s, and the Post paid its authors very well. 1942 was also just after the United States had entered into World War II, which explains what Faulkner meant when he told Ober that the story has a "message for the day," about "indomitableness" in the face of difficulties. It is the only story in which Yoknapatawpha is the scene of a "Battle"; and although that battle doesn't really live up to its name, the story also mentions three other American wars: the Revolution, the Mexican, and the Spanish-American. The majority of characters who appear or are mentioned in it are in uniform.

Essentially, however, the story is a comedy about romance - and a sendup of stereotypical romantic fictions like the ones Melisandre reads to Bayard and Ringo. Telling Ober to send it to the Post, Faulkner called it "a good funny story." He worried, however, that that family magazine might reject it "because of the can motif" - the various ways in which privies and backhouses figure. He was right: not only the Post, but seven other magazines rejected it before Ober was finally able to sell it to Story magazine, for $50; it was published there in March, 1943. Faulkner reprinted it in Collected Stories (1950), and it is that text that provides the basis for our representation.

Dating the Story: Over half the story takes place on a single day: 28 April 1862, according to General Forrest's official report (697). Unfortunately, that date cannot be reconciled with the rest of the text. For example, the story's first sentence says the ritual of burying the silver begins only after "the Yankees had taken Memphis," which did not happen until June, 1862 (667). And after the burying begins, at least "eight months" pass (669) - "all winter and all summer too" (671) - before the day of the battle at "Harrykin Creek" (697). There are many other discrepancies, including the suggestion that Philip has been in the Confederate army for "two years," even though the Confederacy did not exist in 1860 (680); or that "Father" - Colonel Sartoris - loses command of his original regiment and organizes "his cavalry troop" in 1861, even though in every other reference to these events in Faulkner's fiction, they happen in 1862 (667). Most of this could be resolved by pushing Forrest's 1862 date forward a year, but the text gives no reason to suspect that the General does not know what year it is. Our dating of the story's events takes 28 April 1862 as a definitive point of reference, and works backward and forward from that: the burying begins about eight months earlier, the marriage occurs four days later, and so on. Bayard is writing the story from at point at least 35 years later, after the Spanish-American War (1898).

First Publisher: 
Story Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
March-April 1943
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Railton, Stephen, and Dorette Sobolewski. "Faulkner's 'My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek.'" Added to the project: 2017.  Additional editing 2018: Johannes H. Burgers, Theresa M. Towner.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu