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John Brown Gordon

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Title: John Brown Gordon  
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Subject: Joseph E. Brown, John Forsyth (Georgia), Wilson Lumpkin, James Jackson (politician), Thomas W. Hardwick
Collection: 1832 Births, 1904 Deaths, American Memoirists, American People of Scottish Descent, Confederate States Army Generals, Confederate States Army Major Generals, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Democratic Party United States Senators, Georgia (U.S. State) Democrats, Governors of Georgia (U.S. State), History of Atlanta, Georgia, People from Upson County, Georgia, People of Georgia (U.S. State) in the American Civil War, Politicians from Atlanta, Georgia, United States Senators from Georgia (U.S. State), University of Georgia People
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John Brown Gordon

John Brown Gordon
Gen. J.B. Gordon
Born February 6, 1832
Upson County, Georgia
Died January 9, 1904(1904-01-09) (aged 71)
Miami, Florida
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Lieutenant General (CSA)
Commands held Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia

American Civil War

Spouse(s) Rebecca (Fanny) Haralson
Other work U.S. Senator from Georgia, Governor of Georgia

John Brown Gordon (February 6, 1832 – January 9, 1904) was one of 53rd Governor of Georgia from 1886 to 1890.


  • Early life 1
  • Civil War 2
  • Postbellum career 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Quotations 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Gordon was descended from an ancient Hugh Anderson Haralson, in 1854, and they had a long and happy marriage.

Civil War

Although lacking military education or experience, Gordon was elected captain of a company of mountaineers and quickly climbed from captain to brigadier general (November 1, 1862), to major general (May 14, 1864). Though Gordon himself often claimed he was promoted to lieutenant general, there is no official record of this occurring.[3] Gordon was an aggressive general. In 1864, Gordon was described by General Robert E. Lee in a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis as being one of his best brigadiers, "characterized by splendid audacity".

Gordon was a brigadier general and brigade commander in D.H. Hill's division in the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. During the subsequent Seven Days Battles, as Gordon strode fearlessly among his men, enemy bullets shattered the handle of his pistol, pierced his canteen, and tore away part of the front of his coat. He was wounded in the eyes during the assault on Malvern Hill.

Gordon portrait by Mathew Brady.

Assigned by General Lee to hold the vital sunken road, or "Bloody Lane", during the Battle of Antietam, Gordon's propensity for being wounded reached new heights. First, a Minié ball passed through his calf. Then, a second ball hit him higher in the same leg. A third ball went through his left arm. He continued to lead his men despite the fact that the muscles and tendons in his arm were mangled, and a small artery was severed by this ball. A fourth ball hit him in his shoulder. Despite pleas that he go to the rear, he continued to lead his men. He was finally stopped by a ball that hit him in the face, passing through his left cheek and out his jaw. He fell with his face in his cap and might have drowned in his own blood if it had not drained out through a bullet hole in the cap. A Confederate surgeon thought he would not survive but after he was returned to Virginia, he was nursed back to health by his wife.[4]

After months of recuperation, in June 1863 Gordon led a brigade of Georgians in militia under Col. Jacob G. Frick burned the mile-and-a-quarter-long covered wooden bridge to prevent Gordon from crossing the river, and the fire soon spread to parts of Wrightsville. Gordon's troops formed a bucket brigade and managed to prevent the further destruction of the town.

At the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, Gordon's brigade smashed into the XI Corps on Barlow's Knoll. There, he aided the wounded opposing division commander Francis Barlow. This incident led to a story (which many people consider apocryphal) about the two officers meeting later in Washington, D.C., unaware that Barlow had survived the battle. The story was told by Barlow and by Gordon and was published in newspapers and in Gordon's book.

Some historians choose to discount this story, despite contemporary accounts and the testimony of both men, because of Gordon's purported tendency to exaggerate in post-war writings and because it is inconceivable to them that Gordon did not know that Barlow subsequently fought against him in the Battle of the Wilderness.

At the start of the 1864 Overland Campaign, in the Battle of the Wilderness, Gordon proposed a flanking attack against the Union right that might have had a decisive effect on the battle, had General Early allowed him freedom to launch it before late in the day. On May 8, 1864, Gordon was given command of Early's division in Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell's (later Early's) corps. Gordon's success in turning back the massive Union assault in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (the Bloody Angle) prevented a Confederate rout. He left with Early for the Valley Campaigns of 1864 and was wounded August 25, 1864, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. After having a wound over his right eye dressed, he returned to the battle.[4] Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss's official report of the incident stated, "Quite a lively skirmish ensued, in which Gordon was wounded in the head, but he gallantly dashed on, the blood streaming over him." His wife Fanny, accompanying her husband on the campaign as general's wives sometimes did, rushed out into the street at the Third Battle of Winchester to urge Gordon's retreating troops to go back and face the enemy. Gordon was horrified to find her in the street with shells and balls flying about her.

Returning to Lee's army after Early's defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Gordon led the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia until the end of the war. In this role, he defended the line in the Siege of Petersburg and commanded the attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 (where he was wounded again, in the leg). At Appomattox Court House, he led his men in the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, capturing the entrenchments and several pieces of artillery in his front just before the surrender. On April 12, 1865, Gordon's Confederate troops officially surrendered to Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, acting for Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, recorded in moving detail by Chamberlain:

Postbellum engraving by Campbell Brothers, New York
Caroline Gordon Brown, of Berlin, New Hampshire, was Gordon's daughter

It is exceedingly difficult to determine Gordon's exact role in the Klan, but given the nature of his testimony, his almost constant travel throughout Georgia and the South, and his desire to maintain peace, social order, and white supremacy, one can conclude with reasonable certainty that he was at least titular head of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan. Even so, he probably had little knowledge of and little control over the local klaverns, as this terrorist association was never fully organized. Although it is remotely possible that Gordon was unaware of the threats and violence southern whites so often employed against southern blacks, it seems more plausible that Gordon simply "looked the other way" and countenanced such excesses as the price that had to be paid if social peace—a peace determined and defined exclusively by southern whites—was to be regained and preserved. Gordon may not have condoned the violence employed by Klan members, but he did not question or oppose it when he felt it was justified. In this sense, Gordon typified the upper levels of Southern society: he would do what had to be done to assure a white-controlled social order, but he hoped it could be accomplished without violence.

Ralph Lowell Eckert, John Brown Gordon: Soldier, Southerner, American, p. 149.

Postbellum career

As the government of the State of Georgia was being reconstituted for readmission to the Union, Gordon ran for governor in 1868, but was defeated. He was a firm opponent of [5]

Gordon was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1873, and in 1879 became the first ex-Confederate to preside over the Senate. He was a strong supporter of the "New South" and industrialization. The next day he obtained a promise from President Ulysses S. Grant to remove Federal officials in Georgia who had gained their positions through fraud or corruption.

Gordon resigned in May 1880 to promote a venture for the Georgia Pacific Railway. He was elected Governor of Georgia in 1886 and returned to the U.S. Senate from 1891 to 1897. In 1903 Gordon published an account of his Civil War service entitled Reminiscences of the Civil War. He engaged in a series of popular speaking engagements throughout the country.

General Gordon was the first Commander-in-Chief of the Atlanta, Georgia; upwards of 75,000 people viewed and took part in the memorial ceremonies.

Gordon's statue by sculptor Georgia State Capitol
Gordon's grave, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia


  • The U.S. Army Augusta, Georgia, is named for Gordon.
  • The statue of Gordon on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta is the only public equestrian statue in the city.
  • U.S. Highway 19 in Gordon's native Upson County, Georgia, is named in his honor.
  • There is a statue of Gordon on the lawn of the Thomaston, Georgia, courthouse.
  • Barnesville, Georgia, is named for Gordon.


A more gallant, generous, and fearless gentleman and soldier has not been seen by our country.
— President Theodore Roosevelt


  1. ^ Wyrick, William. The Confederate Attack and Union Defense of Fort Stedman: March 25, 1865. Chapter 4 in Bearss, Edward C. with Bruce Suderow. The Petersburg Campaign: The Western Front Battles. Savas Beattie: El Dorado Hills, CA, 2014. ISBN 978-1-61121-104-7. p. 241.
  2. ^ a b New Georgia Encyclopedia. Biographical sketches in the references by Deserino, Eicher, and Warner make no mention of Klan involvement. Foner, p. 433, cites Gordon as a "prominent Klansman." George W. Gordon, another Confederate general with a similar name, but unrelated, is one whose involvement with the Klan is not in dispute.
  3. ^ Eicher, p. 260.
  4. ^ a b Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-87338-505-3. Retrieved June 20, 2015. p. 83.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  5. ^ Eckert, pp. 145–49.


  • Deserino, Frank E. "John Brown Gordon." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Eckert, Ralph Lowell. John Brown Gordon: Soldier, Southerner, American. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8071-1888-7.
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. Francis Parkman Prize edition. New York: History Book Club, 2005. ISBN 0-965-72701-7. First published 1988 by HarperCollins.
  • Gordon, John B. Reminiscences of the Civil War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904.
  • Kross, Gary. "The Barlow-Gordon Incident." Blue & Gray Magazine, December 2001, 23–24, 48–51.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
  • Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-87338-505-3. Retrieved June 20, 2015.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  • White, Gregory C. Response to Kross article. Blue & Gray Magazine, February 2002, 5–6.
  • Wyrick, William. The Confederate Attack and Union Defense of Fort Stedman: March 25, 1865. Chapter 4 in Bearss, Edward C. with Bruce Suderow. The Petersburg Campaign: The Western Front Battles. Savas Beattie: El Dorado Hills, CA, 2014. ISBN 978-1-61121-104-7.
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia biography

External links

  • Story of Barlow and Gordon at the Wayback Machine (archived September 29, 2007)
  • John Brown Gordon
  • Information on Rebecca (Fanny) Gordon and family
  • Gordon bio page
  • Article on the Gordon/Barlow story in
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Dickerson McDaniel
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
William J. Northen
United States Senate
Preceded by
Joshua Hill
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Served alongside: Thomas M. Norwood, Benjamin H. Hill
Succeeded by
Joseph E. Brown
Preceded by
Joseph E. Brown
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Served alongside: Alfred H. Colquitt, Patrick Walsh, Augustus O. Bacon
Succeeded by
Alexander S. Clay
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