Fanny Gordon, Fanny Andrews

Mrs. Gordon

The wife of a certain gallant Confederate General compromised nothing of feminine dignity when she rushed through the streets of Winchester, regardless of Yankee shot and shell, striving to rally her husband’s flying columns.

We’ve all got some good Civil War yarns. Above is another one.

Eliza Frances Andrews was a young lady of twenty-four years, living in Washington, Georgia (north of Augusta). In December 1864 she began writing a diary that she kept faithfully through August 1865. Published in 1908, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl has been hailed as equal in charm and perceptiveness to Mary Chesnut’s better-known diary.

Fanny, as she was called, was the daughter of Garnett Andrews, a respected judge and prominent land- and slaveowner; she grew up quite comfortably, with a good education. After the war she did not have to marry well or work hard to sustain herself, so she began a writing career. As early as 1866 she was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular women’s magazine.

Less well known is Scott’s Monthly Magazine, a literary and historical journal published in Atlanta, 1865-1869. Miss Andrews placed several essays in Scott’s, including “Professions and Employments Open to Women,” a prescient, proto-feminist piece that appeared in January 1869 (though, in the practice of the time for female writers, Frances wrote under a pseudonym, “Elzey Hay”).

It is from this article that we draw the quotation above.

Miss Andrews’ remark about “the wife of a gallant Confederate general” refers to Fanny Rebecca Haralson, who in September 1854 wed John Brown Gordon at the age of seventeen. During the war Fanny kept close to her husband as he rose in rank in the Army of Northern Virginia: from captain of an infantry company to brigadier (November 1862) and major general (May 1864). As part of Jubal Early’s Corps, Gordon’s Division fought in the Shenandoah Valley, including the battle of Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864, in which the Southerners were badly whipped. Fanny, staying in town, was appalled to see Early’s men, including some from her husband’s division, fleeing through the streets. General Gordon tells what happened:

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.

Sarah Bierle wrote an excellent piece on Mrs. Gordon at Winchester that ECW posted in September 2019, citing Gordon’s Reminiscences of the Civil War. But the general’s memoir was not published till 1904. So how did Frances Andrews/Elzey Hay know of this incident decades before the general’s autobiography appeared, and could write about it in Scott’s in January 1869?

My good friend Gary Ecelbarger informs me that a brief account of Fanny Gordon rallying the troops appeared in the Athens Southern Watchman, Nov. 2, 1864. Washington is not too far away, and Judge Andrews was known to take lots of newspapers. So it’s possible that Fanny might have read the story, was impressed by it, and committed it to memory.

The War-Time Journal suggests another possibility.

“The Gordons and Paces are here on their way home from Virginia,” was Fanny’s entry for May 27, 1865. Haywood, the Andrews family home at Little Washington, was always taking in visitors, family and friends. “The general dropped in to see us,” she wrote. John and Fanny Gordon stayed for two days; Miss Andrews saw them off at the depot on Monday, the 29th. It is therefore assumable that during this time Frances Andrews heard first-hand the story of General Gordon’s wife at Winchester. Her mention of it for Scott’s Monthly, along with the Athens paper’s piece, are arguably its earliest appearances in print.

I once worked with physicians, who defined continuing medical education as “a lifetime of learning.” But with stories like these, doctors got nuthin’ on us Civil Warriors, y’all!

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2 Responses to Fanny Gordon, Fanny Andrews

  1. Passionate myth-making, especially in primary documents, is an on-going challenge to historians of all eras. It seems the Civil War era is especially prone to this tendency.

    • mark harnitchek says:

      Thank you Steve … great essay, and who doesn’t like a good story … Molly Pitcher is one of the nation’s greatest yarns … most Americans (me included) thought she was a real person … instead, historians believe that, over time, she is likely the composite of at least three “women of the Continental Army” — Mary Hays, Margaret Corbin and Anna Lane … so, some big nuggets of truth baked into a darn good tale.

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