Come see John Wayne run Saturday

Published 11:56 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thanks to Carrie Lambert and Downtown Development, a movie, made in Natchez and starring John Wayne, will be shown downtown at 7 p.m. Saturday.

A large screen will be erected at the corner of Main and Commerce streets. We urge all fans of the “Duke,” especially those who participated in and/or whee witnesses to the filming of the 1959 movie, to come and cheer for the brave Jefferson Military and Chamberlin Hunt cadets who, as John Wayne later said, were the “only men that ever made me run.”

We invite all in the Miss-Lou to come and see the past come alive on the silver screen. There is no charge thanks to the generous support of The Country Inn & Suites, The Natchez Convention Center, Natchez Ford, First Natchez Radio Group, Charles Feltus, Mossy Oak Properties and Stuart Heflin State Farm Insurance.

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Since the movie will be shown outside, we recommend that you pack picnics and bring chairs for comfort.

The Community Chapel Church of God Youth Group will run a concession stand for your convenience. Carrie also urges folks to come in character and/or in costume appropriate for the time period of the movie.

Here’s a short history reminder. The time is 1863 during the War Between the States. Union General U.S. Grant is in command of federal troops laying siege to Vicksburg.

He orders Col. Benjamin Grierson to lead a task force and raid towns in southern Tennessee and Mississippi that were providing men, arms and supplies in the defense of Vicksburg.

His Union troops, some disguised as Confederate soldiers and others in civilian clothes, cut the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at West Point, destroyed the Vicksburg line, captured the Confederate depot at Newton Station — an event that’s depicted in the movie — and otherwise harassed CSA General Pemberton’s measures to defend Vicksburg.

Some artistic license was taken to involve the cadets in the movie. This is where John Wayne, William Holden, Hoot Gibson and the Hollywood icon, director John Ford, come into the picture.

In the fall of 1959, they came to the campus of Jefferson Military College (JMC had been a high school since the 1920s and now is the Historic Jefferson College in Washington) to film a part of the movie which will be shown on Saturday.

Due to copyright laws, we cannot divulge the name of the movie. In that film, a local military school was the last line of defense against Grierson’s raiders.

Local Confederate militia urged the school’s headmaster to assemble his young charges to surprise (“catch ‘em nappin‘”) and confront the Yankees, who were camped a few miles away.

Marching to a field near campus, the cadets were ordered to form two lines, kneel and fire their weapons. The Yankees refused to counter-attack on a group of “school boys.” John Wayne orders “recall,” and the cadet commander yells, “Charge them Yankees!” This is the place in the film when Mr. Wayne improvises.

The Union troops are in retreat, but he lingers behind, turns his horse toward the charging Rebel yellin’ cadets, then takes off his officers’ hat and waves in salute to the boys.

In the movie, the cadets wore individually tailored replicas of uniforms worn by military school boys before the War. These, in turn, where worn by the Jefferson cadets who danced in the “Soiree” tableau of the Natchez Historic Pageant. Copies of these uniforms are still used today.

Just before the JMC cadets were to be dismissed for the 1959 Christmas holidays, the headmaster (Admiral Dupre) read them a telegram from Hollywood that said, “I send seasons greetings, Gentlemen, to the only men that ever made me run. — John Wayne.”

Michael Gemmell is a Natchez resident and a member of the Jefferson Military College class of 1962.