North Carolina Patriots of ’61 – General James Byron Gordon of “the State of Wilkes”
“[James B. Gordon]….was born [November 21, 1822] in Wilkes County – “the State of Wilkes” – in Western North Carolina. He is not to be confused with General John B. Gordon, of Georgia, a distant kinsman. His forbears were Scotch-Irish pioneers, members of a large migration that swept South in colonial days and occupied the valleys among the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Here came the Jacksons, the Gordons, the Breckinridges, the Polks, the Prestons, and many other shining names.
Jim Gordon, as his family and friends called him, grew up and inherited lands in the Yadkin Valley – the same valley that was long the home of Daniel Boone and from which he and his friends and kinsmen set out on their famous trek to Kentucky. In the eyes of the simpler mountain folk, Gordon was a personage. He too liked to think of himself as the lord of the manor, surrounded by the mountaineers as his retainers, after the tradition of his ancestors across the water.
As the years rolled quietly on and he found himself a bachelor of forty, life began to lose its flavor. Perhaps he grew tired of it all. One crop of corn was like another. The Yadkin became just another river. His retainers, when fully exposed to light, turned into barefoot hillbillies from up the creek; so when the snows set in, he was accustomed to go every winter down to Charlotte in search of amusement. Cards and whiskey were not neglected.
Then came 1861. Something in his blood flamed at the call to arms. He stemmed from the Scottish Gordons, whose name sounded of fight for hundreds of years along the Border or wherever else in the world there was fighting to be done. He telegraphed the governor of the State, offering his services. Turning his personal property into cash, he used the money to equip a cavalry troop; his rich bottom lands he divided among his sisters. “I do not expect to get back,” he said.
He proved to be an expert cavalryman. His old troopers in the mountains have told me that. John Esten Cooke, a war novelist, speaks of him in the somewhat exaggerated language of that day as “the peerless Gordon.” He was killed, with Stuart, in a cavalry charge [at Yellow Tavern/Meadow Bridge on May 18] 1864 when Sheridan was pressing down upon Richmond.
When Stuart was mortally wounded, the command in the field devolved upon Gordon, but when the order reached him, he was dead. Such a death was the last gallant gesture of a dying civilization – a civilization not without its faults but one that still flares in the imagination.”
General Gordon is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery at Wilkes County, North Carolina.
Source: Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 43-44
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