By May of 1864, General Sherman’s Yankee army has fought its way into Georgia and is dangerously close to Atlanta. Rhett infuriates Dr. Meade by declaring that the Confederacy will not hold the Yankees back. Everyone in Atlanta clings to a faith in the Confederacy. As the war creeps closer, the trains deliver wounded and dying soldiers by the thousands. Scarlett feels that she can no longer bear her work and sneaks away from the hospital. She encounters Rhett, who is impeccably dressed despite the wartime scarcity. He drives her back to Peachtree Street. On the way, they encounter a group of marching slaves, and Scarlett recognizes Big Sam, the old foreman at Tara. He tells her proudly that the slaves are being sent to dig trenches for the gentlemen and women to hide in when the Yankees come. Scarlett knows that they are really digging the trenches for the Confederate army to fight off the Yankees. Rhett drives on and teases Scarlett about how she must secretly want him to kiss her. He says he does not make advances toward her because she childishly clings to her love for Ashley. Scarlett becomes so angry that she makes Rhett stop the carriage and let her out.
Atlanta is under siege, and even old men and young boys are called upon to fight. John Wilkes, Ashley’s elderly father, joins the militia. Gerald stays home only because of his bad knee. The Yankees outnumber the Confederates, and dying soldiers pour into the city, collapsing on lawns and crowding into houses. The citizens of Atlanta begin to flee in panic, and Pittypat joins the exodus to Macon. Scarlett longs to go home to Tara, but she must remain with Melanie, who is too pregnant to relocate. Scarlett knows nothing about childbirth, but Prissy says that she has helped with many deliveries.
The Yankees sever all rail lines but one. Shells hammer Atlanta. Scarlett is frantic and Melanie lies in bed sick. Uncle Henry stops by on a leave of absence to tell Scarlett that John Wilkes has been killed. Rhett finds Scarlett crying on her porch. He tells her that he likes her but does not love her and asks if she will become his mistress. Scarlett storms upstairs furiously.
After thirty days of siege, quiet falls. The Yankees move to capture the Jonesboro rail line, which lies very near Tara. Scarlett’s terror grows when she receives a letter from Gerald saying that Ellen and both of Scarlett’s sisters have typhoid fever. By the first of September, Scarlett does not know whether the Yankees are at Tara or whether her family is still alive. She longs to go home, but she will not break her promise to Ashley by leaving Melanie. Melanie tells Scarlett the baby will come very soon and makes Scarlett promise to take the baby if Melanie dies.
Throughout Part Two, Mitchell builds suspense by focusing on the war as it inches closer to Atlanta. She describes every new development in the war, which begins to take on central importance in the lives of the characters. When the battle at Gettysburg begins, the characters and the narrator start paying closer attention to news of the war. Nearly every family Scarlett knows loses a relative, and she herself knows many of the boys who die. After the battle of Gettysburg, the war takes a decisive turn in favor of the Yankees, and the old carefree optimism fades from Atlanta. The city runs short on food and clothing. Scarlett, once so blithely ignorant about the war, now feels surrounded by its effects. Ashley is captured, and masses of injured men fill the hospital where Scarlett works—she cannot escape the war’s horrors. Mitchell shows us the war as Scarlett sees it, describing the progress of the conflict but never depicting a single battle scene.
In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union army, dispatched General William Tecumseh Sherman with a force of 100,000 men to topple the last stronghold of the Confederacy, the relatively untouched states of Georgia and the Carolinas. After conquering Atlanta, Sherman set out on his famous march “from Atlanta to the sea.” During his march, Sherman broke the backbone of Confederate resistance and paved the way for Northern victory. Sherman, who is also credited with the saying “War is hell,” considered it his duty not merely to defeat the Confederate army but to crush the South beyond repair. As a result, his troops waged economic warfare against the people they conquered, destroying property, confiscating food and livestock, burning crops and houses, and damaging railroad systems. This scorched-earth campaign won Sherman a fearsome reputation throughout the South. The characters in Gone with the Wind circulate many horror stories about Yankees, accusing them of rape, dismemberment, and burning. Their stories reflect the ravages wrought by Sherman’s commitment to all-out destruction.
Even though Rhett insists that he does not love Scarlett, his romantic interest in her becomes increasingly evident. Rhett realizes that Scarlett is stuck in Atlanta looking after a woman she despises, and he teases her about this morbidly humorous situation. Rhett’s nonchalance and mockery infuriate Scarlett and wound her pride, but Rhett intrigues her. She and Rhett share many of the same shockingly unconventional views, although only Rhett admits them. Rhett belittles prominent Atlanta figures whom Scarlett secretly despises, and he speaks frankly about the lack of Southern patriotism, a lack that Scarlett notices as well. Rhett sees through Scarlett’s artifice and knows she shares his unpopular opinions. Rhett knows that Scarlett’s girlish flirtations hide a selfish heart, a perception that leaves Scarlett powerless to control him as she controls other men. She despises him, but she also wants to win him. Mitchell shows us Rhett’s confidence, sense of humor, and intelligence, and we begin to wonder whether Rhett is the evil tempter everyone thinks him or the perfect match for Scarlett.