I saw Mrs. Gordon on the streets of Winchester, under fire, her soul aflame with patriotic ardor.
By the time war came, the Gordons had two small boys and were operating a coal mining company. Husband and wife struggled with their loyalties to family and country. Gordon wrote in his memoir that Fanny “ended doubt as to what disposition was to be made of her by announcing that she intended to accompany me to the war, leaving her children with my mother and faithful ‘Mammy Mary’”—their slave nurse.
Their greatest challenge came when Gordon was wounded at Sharpsburg. His wife tirelessly cared for him. “Thenceforward, for the period in which my life hung in the balance, she sat at my bedside, trying to supply concentrated nourishment to sustain me against the constant drainage,” he wrote. When erysipelas attacked his left arm, she painted it relentlessly with iodine. “Under God’s providence, I owe my life to her incessant watchfulness night and day, and to her tender nursing through weary weeks and anxious months,” Gordon recalled. When he rejoined the army, Fanny mostly kept pace, going to the rear before battles. Her husband marveled at her courage.
“It requires the direst dangers, especially where those dangers threaten some cause or object around which their affections are entwined, to call out the marvelous courage of women,”?Gordon wrote. “Under such conditions they will brave death itself without a quiver. I have seen one of them tested. I saw Mrs. Gordon on the streets of Winchester, under fire, her soul aflame with patriotic ardor, appealing to retreating Confederates to halt and form a new line to resist the Union advance. She was so transported by her patriotic passion that she took no notice of the whizzing shot and shell, and seemed wholly unconscious of her great peril. And yet she will precipitately fly from a bat, and a big black bug would fill her with panic.”
Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, a bachelor, had little patience with wives who tried to follow their officer husbands to war. He remarked that he wished the Yankees would capture Mrs. Gordon because she always seemed to be around. Yet when she teased him about the remark during a dinner, Early relented, saying, “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.”
To read more about General John Brown Gordon, who was something of a bullet magnet, read The 9 Lives of John Brown Gordon in the September 2008 edition of America’s Civil War.