A unique and compelling character, John Brown Gordon was one of Georgia’s most consequential political and military leaders of the nineteenth century. He studied at the University of Georgia, though he dropped out shortly before graduation to read law. He possessed no formal military training, yet he rapidly ascended through the officer ranks of the Confederate army to where, by the end of the war, he commanded a corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Apart from the protagonist in my Civil War historical novel That Deadly Space, John B. Gordon’s role is one of unequalled importance. His fictionalized involvement in the novel is that of a mentor to, and the commander of, the central character Conor Rafferty. Conor serves with John Gordon in the battles at Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Petersburg, and at the close of the war near Appomattox Court House.
What made John Gordon so unique? For starters, he was a gifted military commander with astonishing bravery.
At Antietam, the audacious Gordon led his regiment in the desperate struggle at an old eroded farming road that would thereafter be referred to as Bloody Lane. He was shot twice in the same leg, once in the arm, then the shoulder, and finally in the face. He was eventually nursed back to health due in large measure to the efforts of his wife, who travelled with him throughout the war.
During the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, Gordon’s brigade occupied Wrightsville, on the Susquehanna River. When Union militia burned the long covered bridge spanning the river to thwart Gordon’s crossing, embers from the fire quickly spread to Wrightsville. Gordon formed his Confederate troops into a bucket brigade and managed to prevent the fire from destroying much of the town.
At the war’s end, as the defeated Confederate soldiers
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