Term of Award

2003

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Department

Department of History

Committee Chair

Jonathan Bryant

Committee Member 1

Alan C. Downs

Committee Member 2

Anastatia Sims

Abstract

When William Washington Gordon II began his Civil War service in January 1861, he could never have imagined that four years later 600,000 Americans would be dead. Yet hundreds of thousands of men and boys flocked to sign up and experience what they perceived to be a great adventure. William was no different. William was the son of a prominent Savannah lawyer turned politician. The elder Gordon was the first Georgian to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point; served in both the Georgia State House of Representatives and the Senate, and was instrumental in helping found the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company. William II, referred to as Willie by all who knew him, grew up to be a quiet, serious-minded young man. After graduating from Yale in 1854, Willie returned to Savannah and joined the cotton factor business of Tison & Mackay as a clerk. Upon the withdrawal of William Mackay from the business, in July, 1856, the firm of Tison & Gordon was formed and business continued until the Civil War brought it to a virtual standstill. While still a student at Yale, Willie met Nellie Kinzie in 1853 at a social in the New Haven home of Florence Sheffield. Nellie, Florence, and Willie's sister Eliza were mutual friends attending Madame Canda's school for young women in New York. Willie and Nellie fell in love and were eventually married on December 21, 1857, at St. James Church in Chicago. Willie took his young bride to Savannah to live in the home of his widowed mother, Sarah Anderson Stiles Gordon. When the Civil War began in 1861, Nellie was very much opposed to Willie's participation. Willie, however, was undeterred and quickly volunteered for service. He spent the first two years of the war riding with James Ewell Brown Stuart's cavalry in the Virginia theater and the final years of the war in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time Willie participated in some of the most famous battles of the Civil War including the battles of Sharpsburg and Atlanta. Historians have for years written and rewritten various histories about the major conflicts of the Civil War. These histories have focused on all of the major characters, their roles in battle, and the decisions that led to either victory or defeat. Untold volumes of books with information on Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and William T. Sherman fill library bookshelves all over the country. In recent years, however, scholars have placed more emphasis on the war's minor combatants and their role, however small, in shaping the history of America's bloodiest conflict. The Civil War experiences of William Washington Gordon II will add to this growing body of knowledge about the war's minor combatants. First, Gordon's participation in many of the war's major battles provides a first hand account of several of the skirmishes that took place within the larger context of these battles and campaigns. Next, correspondence between Willie and his wife provide the reader a glimpse into the daily lives of subordinate officers and how they coped with the questions and challenges of war. Finally, by focusing on the relationship between Willie and Nellie, the reader will gain a better understanding of sectional relationships during the Amen Civil War.

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