Valentine’s Day is coming up, and we’re all thinking about love and chocolate! But before we curl up with the Hallmark channel and our heart-shaped candies for a dose of True Love chick-flicks, let’s take a glance at two stories from the Civil War. Yes, real-life True Love stories.
Our first love story is that of George and Elizabeth Custer. In November 1862, George Armstrong Custer fell head-over-heels in love with Elizabeth Bacon. Unfortunately for them, he was only a captain; socially, it was quite impossible for him to marry a judge’s daughter. But Custer was not one to avoid a challenge, be it getting a general’s commission (“You may laugh, boys…but I will be a general yet…You see if I don’t”) or facing an enemy onslaught (“Come on, you Wolverines!”). So, it’s no surprise that he did not give up on winning Libbie’s hand.
Just before the Gettysburg campaign, Custer suddenly became general of the Michigan Brigade. The next couple of months were busy with fighting, but in September, he finally received twenty days of leave. Now he was a general. Now he could court Libbie! And that is just what he did. By the end of his leave, they were engaged, albeit secretly—he still had to convince her father, which would take another couple of months.
Finally, on February 9, 1864, Autie Custer and Libbie Bacon were married—and she would never leave his side. As she put it, “I begged so hard not to be left behind that I finally prevailed.” She followed the army, staying in houses near the camp. She only stayed behind when the army was on campaign. After the war, Libbie headed out west with Custer, and after his death at the Little Big Horn she never remarried, remaining faithful to him and defending his memory until her own death decades later.
Our second love story is that of John and Rebecca Gordon. John Brown Gordon met Rebecca Haralson in 1854—it was love at first sight and they were married that September. Fanny Gordon accompanied her husband throughout the Civil War, and, as with Libbie Custer, it was Fanny’s decision.
Sticking close to the Army of Northern Virginia through thick and thin meant that Fanny experienced her own share of close calls. In the spring of 1862, the train on which she and John were travelling collided head-on with another train. She set about tending the wounded while he managed recovery efforts. In the fall of 1864, the tongue of her carriage broke off the axle, stranding her in the middle of a stream with Union cavalry close behind. Confederate infantry managed to reattach her horses, and sent her on her way.
When Gordon was wounded five times—including in the face—at Antietam, Fanny bravely nursed him back to health. As he recalled, “I was more apprehensive of the effect…upon her nerves than upon mine….I knew she would be greatly shocked. As she reached the door and looked, I saw at once that I must reassure her. Summoning all my strength, I said: ‘Here’s your handsome (?) husband; been to an Irish wedding.’ Her answer was a suppressed scream, whether of anguish or relief…I do not know.”
Despite his wife’s bravery and steadfast spirit in battle and the trials of the campaign, Gen. Gordon did have to admit one area where her courage faltered: “she will precipitately fly from a bat, and a big black bug would fill her with panic.”
Their love story would last until Gen. Gordon’s death in 1904.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Quotes are from:
Urwin, Gregory J. W. Custer Victorious: The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer. Edison: Blue & Grey Press, 1983.
Gordon, General John B. Reminiscences of the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
MacLean, Maggie. “Fanny Haralson Gordon.” Civil War Women: Women of the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras 1849-1877. March 6, 2009. Accessed: February 9, 2018. http://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/rebecca-fanny-haralson-gordon/