"Retreat" (Text Key 2081)

short story

"Retreat" was published in The Saturday Evening Post on October 13, 1934, two weeks after the first of Bayard Sartoris' Civil War stories, "Ambuscade," appeared there. One more story in the series - "Raid" - was published in the Post later that year, and subsequently three more, "Skirmish at Sartoris" (1935), "The Unvanquished" and "Vendée" (both 1936) appeared in magazines still later (the last two also in the Post). When Faulkner revised these stories, along with one other, to create the novel The Unvanquished (1938), "Retreat" became the second chapter. Among the more substantive changes Faulkner made was an expansion of Uncle Buck's rant at the courthouse square in order to provide more backstory for the McCaslin plantation. For the book publication Faulkner also divided the story into three numbered sections. The original magazine versions of "Retreat" has since been reprinted in Uncollected Stories (ed. Joseph Blotner), which provides the basis for our edition of the tale.

When Vicksburg, Mississippi, fell to Union troops on July 4, 1863, the area around Yoknapatawpha became a kind of military borderland. Set in that summer (see note below), "Retreat" records the unraveling social order of life in the South during the war. The story centers on the young Bayard, who first appeared as an old man in Flags in the Dust (1929); as a boy in this story traveling with his friend and slave, Ringo, and the adults in his family, he witnesses firsthand his grandmother's grit and his father's valor, as well as the rebellion of one of the family's slaves and the destruction of his family's home by Union troops.

Dating the Story: We know the story takes place in the summer and during the Civil War. However, there is little internal evidence to determine the exact year. Several references to other stories in the series helped us establish a general time line for "Retreat." Throughout the story, Bayard mentions events that happened "last summer," including burying the trunk and seeing his first Yankee. Because these events occur in "Ambuscade," we determined that "Retreat" takes place one year later. While the dating of "Ambuscade" is also uncertain, we follow the lead of James Hinkle and Robert McCoy in their book Reading Faulkner: The Unvanquished (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995) and our peer editors at The Digital Yoknapatwpha Project, who place the events of "Ambuscade" in the summer of 1862.

First Publisher: 
Saturday Evening Post
First Publisher Date: 
October 13, 1934
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Burgers, Johannes H., and Sarah Perkins. "Faulkner's 'Retreat.'" Added to the project: 2015.  Additional editing 2020: Johannes H. Burgers, Theresa M. Towner.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu