The Burning of Atlanta in ‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939)

Welcome to CKSA, your premier source for exploring the grandeur of classic cinema. In this article, we embark on a journey back to 1939, a year that brought forth one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history – “The Burning of Atlanta” from the timeless epic, ‘Gone With the Wind.’ Join us as we delve into the historical and cinematic significance of this unforgettable moment that continues to captivate audiences to this day.

Setting the Stage: The Birth of a Nation in Turmoil

Before the fiery inferno of Atlanta’s destruction, we’re transported to a pivotal moment: the birth of Melanie and Ashley’s baby. Scarlett, clutching her newborn, desperately flees the burning Atlanta, seeking refuge from the impending catastrophe with Rhett Butler. As they leave the city with the fragile new life, they step into the chaos that awaits.

Historical Context

“The Burning of Atlanta” unfolds against the backdrop of the American Civil War, a period of immense turmoil and division in the United States. This scene encapsulates the devastating realities of war, particularly the capture and subsequent destruction of the city of Atlanta by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops in 1864. Director Victor Fleming, along with the masterful cinematography of Ernest Haller and the Technicolor expertise of Ray Rennahan, meticulously recreates the historical drama, providing an authentic window into the chaos and destruction of that era.

Cinematic Brilliance

This scene is a testament to the art of cinematography. It showcases the meticulous attention to detail, the grand scale of production, and the use of practical effects that were groundbreaking for its time. The combination of innovative camera work, pyrotechnics, and miniature models creates a spectacle that remains awe-inspiring, even in the context of modern filmmaking.

Impact and Legacy

“The Burning of Atlanta” holds a distinct place in cinematic history. Its visual impact, capturing the horrors of war, and the resilience of a city in turmoil, left an indelible mark on audiences. It’s a testament to the power of film in transporting viewers to different times and places. Beyond its visual impact, this scene also serves as a poignant reminder of the real historical events that shaped the nation. The destruction depicted in this scene reflects the devastation of war, illustrating how entire civilizations can be brought to their knees during times of conflict.

Curious Facts

  • This scene was not originally in the script but was added during production to add drama and visual spectacle.
  • Approximately 10,000 local residents of Selma, Alabama, were used as extras in the scene, making it one of the most massive crowd scenes in cinematic history.
  • To create the smoke-filled battlefield, the crew used a combination of corn shucks, cork, and a smoky chemical mixture.


In the tapestry of cinematic history, “The Burning of Atlanta” in ‘Gone With the Wind’ stands as a masterpiece of visual storytelling. It transports us to a pivotal moment in American history, a time of war and upheaval, with unmatched cinematic brilliance. This unforgettable scene continues to be a testament to the enduring power of film to convey history, emotion, and the grandeur of human storytelling.

As we revisit this cinematic gem, we invite you to experience the grandeur of ‘Gone With the Wind’ and witness the unforgettable “Burning of Atlanta.” Share your thoughts and insights on this monumental scene, and stay tuned for more explorations of classic film moments on CKSA.

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