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Mrs. Fanny Haralson Gordon chose to accompany her husband to war in 1861. She was nearby during many of the war’s greatest campaigns. VIEW WEIRD GEORGIA INTERACTIVE MAP
Confederate general John B. Gordon found his love in LaGrange, Georgia. Her name was Fanny Haralson, and Gordon married the beautiful girl on her seventeenth birthday in September 1854. Their union had been blessed with two sons by 1861, when Gordon decided that he must defend his homeland. Mrs. Gordon understood-she left her children with Gordon's mother, packed a trunk, and followed her husband to war.
The devoted Mrs. Gordon did not ensconce herself in comfortable quarters in Richmond, but followed the general to camp and was often near the battlefield. In the spring of 1862 Gordon was engaged in his first battle, Seven Pines. Mrs. Gordon was apprehensive when the artillery opened and she walked to a nearby hill to observe the conflict with her uncle, John S. Lewis who wrote: "There she listened in silence. Pale and quiet, with clasped hands, she sat statue-like, with her face toward the field of battle. Her self-control was wonderful; only the quick-drawn sigh from the bottom of the heart revealed the depth of emotion that was struggling there." When Gordon returned safety, she nearly fainted.
Despite experiencing considerable fighting, Gordon escaped unscathed until Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. As Gordon walked his line to steady the men, who fell "like trees in a hurricane," a minie ball passed through the calf of his right leg, but he continued his rounds. A second bullet struck higher on the same leg, then a third ripped through his left arm. Gordon's soldiers begged him to seek treatment in the rear. Gordon refused, and a fourth bullet hit his shoulder. Still, Gordon fought on. He was walking the battle line when a fifth ball smashed through his face. This wound toppled Gordon unconscious to the ground.
Late that night Gordon found himself lying on straw in a barn. The doctors did not want Mrs. Gordon, who had started for the front when she heard the battle joined, to see her husband, but the wounded man told them to allow her entrance. "As she reached the door and looked," Gordon wrote, "I saw at once that I must reassure her. Summoning all my strength, I said, ‘Here's your handsome husband; been to an Irish wedding."
Mrs. Gordon was horrified, responding to his appearance with a "suppressed scream" but she refused to leave her husband's side, feeding him and tending his wounds. When a doctor instructed her to apply iodine to his wounded arm several times a day, Gordon recorded that she painted it "three or four hundred times a day." He was returned to Georgia for seven months of recuperation, with Mrs. Gordon attending him every hour. She certainly saved his life.
Some generals disapproved of wives who accompanied their husbands to war. Jubal Early tired of Mrs. Gordon's presence and commented, "I wish the Yankees would capture Mrs. Gordon and hold her till the war is over." However, on learning that a carriage parked among his trains belonged to her, he stated, "Well, I'll be damned! If my men would keep up as she does, I'd never issue another order against straggling."
When Mrs. Gordon attended an officer's dinner with her husband, she sat near Early and asked him about his opinions regarding wives. The general hesitated, then allowed, "Mrs. Gordon, General Gordon is a better soldier when you are close by him than when you are away, and so hereafter, when I issue orders that officers wives must go to the rear, you may know that you are excepted." Officers present applauded the gallant statement.
In September 1864 Gordon was fighting in the Shenandoah Valley at Third Winchester. Mrs. Gordon was standing on the verandah of Mrs. Hugh Lee's house when she noticed soldiers straggling. She asked what units the passing men belonged to, and when one replied, "We are Gordon's men," Mrs. Gordon ran into the street and pleaded with them to return. She had never seen Confederates run before, and could not tolerate the thought. "Come, boys, let's go back," a few men said. "We might not obey the general, but we can't resist Mrs. Gordon."
Gordon sent his headstrong wife into the house, then told soldiers that her carriage was in the stable, which was being shelled. The men immediately fetched her conveyance, breaking down fences to get it to her quickly. Mrs. Gordon, her six year old son Frank, and several wounded men raced to safety amid exploding artillery rounds.
When Lee's Petersburg line was shattered in April, 1865, Mrs. Gordon was ill, and it was with trepidation that Gordon started alone on the long journey to Appomattox. "I had left behind me in that city of gloom the wife who had followed me during the entire war. But as I rode away from Petersburg during the dismal hours of that night, I found comfort in the hope that some chivalric soldiers of the Union army would learn of her presence and guard her home against all intruders." His prayers were answered as Federal soldiers protected his family.After surrendering Lee's men at Appomattox, Gordon rode to Petersburg to find his wife recovering. Together they began the exhausting return to Georgia, four years after they had left home.
Mrs. Gordon stood as faithfully by her husband's side in civilian life as she had in war, making considerable contributions to his successful entrance into politics, and she became a revered figure at veterans' reunions. After forty-nine years of marriage, Fannie Gordon sat beside her husband's deathbed in 1904. He looked at her face, smiled, and died at peace. John and Fannie Gordon are buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
Jim Miles is the author of nine books about the Civil war and two Weird Georgia books. See Jim's books.