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The Spirit of John B. Gordon

Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.

cjohnson@americasvoices.org    
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January 28, 2005

 

February is Black History Month.  It is also the birthday month of George Washington, our first president and father of our country.  And it is the birthday month of John Brown Gordon of Georgia.

And who is he?

John B. Gordon, born February 6, 1832, was an orator, lawyer, statesman, soldier, publisher and governor of the state of Georgia.  He is best known as one of General Robert E. Lee's generals.  At Appomattox, his corps encounter with the soldier's under Joshua Chamberlain is a classic story that began the healing of the country after four years of terrible bloodshed.

Carter G. Woodson, father of Black History Week, has much in common with Gordon.  Both believed that accurate American history should be taught in our schools.  Woodson believed the study of Black history should include those African-Americans who fought on both sides of the War Between the States.

Black History Week became Black History Month in the 1960s.

Woodson, eleven years after the first Black History Week, founded the Negro History Bulletin for teachers, students and the public.

Gordon also stressed the need to tell the true story of those who fought for the Confederacy.  After the war, only the Northern version of the war was taught to the children of the occupied South.

John B. Gordon believed in the South's constitutional right to secession, but after it was crushed, he worked to unite the nation and helped white and black Southerners the war made poor.

In Gordon's day there were no skyscrapers, telephones, cars, bright lights or polluted air to obscure the view of heaven's stars.  The American Revolution was in the past only as far back as the Great Depression is today.  American history was taught in the schools.  Ironically, today there are those who hide both heaven and history and we accept their censorship of our birthright.

The 1st Annual General John B. Gordon birthday celebration in Atlanta, Georgia was held on Saturday, February 6, 1993, in front of the state capitol.  An estimated one thousand people came to remember Gordon.  Rain and cold were forecast, but it was sunny and warm.  Someone said the weather proved that God was a Southerner.  A good laughter came in response.

When the band played "Dixie", the people stood straight and proud.  The band gave the melody, but the crowd gave the words.

Many speakers praised Gordon.  One man turned to the statue of Gordon and asked "General Gordon what do you say about those who would change American History?" Gordon, the Confederate, the Southerner would have answered firmly, "Take your history and teach it or your masters will teach their history!"  He set up a publishing company after the war to help teach Southern children Southern history.  Oh! that he were alive today!!!

In 1995, the weather was cold and snowy but hundreds still came out.  This year a young African-American man joined the list of speakers.  Eddie Page was a true friend and defender of the heritage of America.  He was also proud of the Confederate Battle flag that was part of the state flag of Georgia.  Eddie knew his history, Southern style, and did not parrot "P.C." history.

John B. Gordon was born in Upson County, Georgia.  He was the fourth of twelve children of Zachariah and Malinda Cox Gordon.  Young John was an excellent student at the University of Georgia.

He left the university before graduating and came to Atlanta to study law.  Here he met and married Rebecca Haralson and their union was long and happy.

September 17, 1862, is known was the bloodiest day in American history.  Confederate General Gordon was there, defending a position called the sunken road.  Wave upon wave of Union troops attacked Gordon's men.  The casualties were beyond today's understanding, even in Iraq.  Gordon was struck by Yankee bullets four times, but continued to lead his men.  Then, a fifth bullet tore through his right jaw and out of his left cheek.  He fell with his face in his hat and would have drowned in his own blood except for a hole in his hat.  Though Gordon survived these wounds, the last one left him permanently scarred.  That is why you see in later photographs of him only from the right side.

For years the John B. Gordon celebration, in Atlanta, Georgia, was concluded by a mile long march to historic Oakland Cemetery where the general is buried.  Not since past Confederate Memorial days has there been a scene on this street of soldiers in Confederate gray and women and children of black mourning dress.

The parade route was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.  Many black folks watched the parade.  Someone in front of the parade let them know that it was a parade for John B. Gordon and then the young people let their family and friends know about John B. Gordon.  All the neighbors were respectful and polite.

The spirits of Carter Woodson and John Gordon were there with us on those February days when Confederate gray marched through the black neighborhood.  Though 130 years separated today from yesterday there was a spirit that transcended time and color.

It was a Southern thing.  It was a American thing.

When John B. Gordon died in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt said of him, "A more gallant, generous, and fearless gentlemen and soldier has not been seen in this country."

Woodson and Gordon are still with us---in spirit and, if you listen, they are saying: "Teach your children the whole story of America."

Happy Birthday John B. Gordon!

Sources:
"Reminiscences of the Civil War", by John B. Gordon.  Charles Scribner's Sons, Atlanta, Martin & Hoyt Co., 1904, c1903.

"Black Southerners in Gray---essays of Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies", edited by Richard Rollins and John McClone, Series Editor.  Rank & File Pub; 2nd edition (June 1997).

"Famous Horses of the War for Southern Independence" by David L. Wright, published 1996.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr. & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Calvin E. Johnson, Jr. recently began writing historical and political commentary on the internet; his columns have appeared on several popular internet sites, including the Macon Telegraph, Newsmax.com and America's Voices.  A native of Georgia, he lives near the historic town of Kennesaw, home of the locomotive "The General" from the War Between the States.  You can e-mail Calvin at cjohnson@americasvoices.org.

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