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CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Remembering John B. Gordon’s 180th Birthday
‘He was a devout and humble Christian Gentlemen. I know of no man more beloved in the South, and he was probably the most popular Southern man among the people of the North.’
February is Black History Month. It is also the birthday month of George Washington, our first president. And it is the birthday month of John Brown Gordon of Georgia.
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 Union soldiers under Joshua Chamberlain is a classic story that began the healing of America.
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.
John B. Gordon believed in the South's Constitutional right to secession, but after the war, he worked to unite the nation and helped white and black Southerners the war made poor.
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 on a beautiful warm day.
When the band played ‘Dixie,’ the people stood up straight and proudly sang 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 might have answered firmly, "Take your history and teach it or others will teach their history!" He set up a publishing company after the war to help teach young folks Southern history.
In 1995, the weather was cold and snowy but hundreds still came out. That year a young African-American man joined the list of speakers. Eddie Page was a true friend and defender of the heritage of America and the South.
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. There 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. 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 in later photographs of him you see him only from the right side.
For years the John B. Gordon celebration, in Atlanta, Georgia, was concluded by a mile long march down Martin Luther King Drive 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 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.
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.’
* * *
Johnson, a resident of Kennesaw, GA, is chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month Committeehttp://www.confederateheritagemonth.com
The War Between the States Sesquicentennial, 150th Anniversary, runs 2011 through 2015. The Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans joins the nation in remembering this historic time in our nation’s history. See information at: http://www.150wbts.org/