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John Brown Gordon, 1832-1904
Reminiscences of the Civil War
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons; Atlanta: Martin & Hoyt Co., 1904, c1903.


John Brown Gordon (1832-1904) was born in Upson County, Georgia in 1832. He entered Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in 1851, but he left during his senior year. Although he passed the bar in Georgia, he spent much of his career before the Civil War in business with his father developing coal mines. He married Fanny Rebecca Haralson in 1854, and they raised six children during the course of their almost fifty-year marriage. When the Civil War began in 1861, he was living in the northwestern region of Georgia, and he became the leader of a military company from the Georgia- Tennessee-Alabama tri-state area called the "Raccoon Roughs." Gordon was one of the few nonprofessional officers in the Confederacy to earn widespread respect as a leader, and he earned a promotion to major general in 1864. Indeed, General Robert E. Lee referred to Gordon as "one of his best brigadiers" in a letter to President Jefferson Davis. After the Civil War, Gordon was very influential in Georgia and national politics. He was elected three times to the United States Senate and twice as Georgia's governor. northerners and southerners alike respected him for his attempts to reconcile and restore a nation divided both politically and economically. In his later years, his political prominence extended into non-governmental organizations, including the Ku Klux Klan and the United Confederate Veterans.

Reminiscences of the Civil War (1904), one of the most important Civil War memoirs, is a first-hand account of the war as seen through the eyes of a prominent officer who was trusted and admired by many, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. The narrative begins with Gordon's election as commander of the "Raccoon Roughs" and his experiences in the Battle of Manassas. He also gives an account of the South's surrender at Appomattox, in which he participated. He recounts his role in individual battles, including Antietam (Sharpsburg), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Spotsylvania. Throughout, Gordon attempts to provide calculated assessments of Confederate military mistakes on the battlefield and is quick to praise the courage and determination of the Union army. The work provides details that bring the reality of war into focus, presenting both the courage and horror that accompany such conflicts.

Works Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Spiller, Roger J., ed., Dictionary of American Military Biography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984.

Harris Henderson

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