Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
CAPTAIN GORDON AND THE RACCOON ROUGHS
 THE outbreak of the Civil War, the most momentous conflict of recent times, was marked by a
wave of fervent enthusiasm in the States of the South which swept with the swiftness of a
prairie fire over the land. Pouring in multitudes into the centres of enlistment,
thousands and tens of thousands of stalwart men offered their services in defence of their
cause, gathering into companies and regiments far more rapidly than they could be
absorbed. This state of affairs, indeed, existed in the North as well as in the South, but
it is with the extraordinary fervor of patriotism in the latter that we are here
concerned, and especially with the very interesting experience of General John B. Gordon,
as related by him in his "Reminiscences of the Civil War."
When the war began Gordon, as he tells us, was practically living in three States. His
house was in Alabama, his post-office in Tennessee, and he was engaged in coal-mining
enterprises in the mountains of Georgia, the locality being where these three States meet
in a point. No sooner was the coming conflict in the air than the stalwart mountaineers of
the mining district became wild with eagerness to fight for the Confederacy, and Gordon,
in whom the war spirit burned as hotly as in any of them,
 needed but a word to gather about him a company of volunteers. They unanimously elected
him their captain, and organized themselves at once into a cavalry company, most of them,
like so many of the sons of the South, much preferring to travel on horseback than on
As yet the war was only a probability, and no volunteers had been called for. But with the
ardor that had brought them together, Gordon's company hastened to offer their services,
only to be met with the laconic and disappointing reply, "No cavalry now needed."
What was to be done? They did not relish the idea of giving up their horses, yet they
wanted to fight still more than to ride, and the fear came upon them that if they waited
till cavalry was needed they might be quite lost sight of in that mountain corner and the
war end before they could take a hand in it. This notion of a quick end to the war was
common enough at that early day, very few foreseeing the vastness of the ding conflict;
and, dreading that they might be left out in the cold, the ardent mountaineers took a vote
on the question, "Shall we dismount and go as infantry?" This motion was carried with a
shout of approval, and away went the stalwart recruits without arms, without uniform,
without military training, with little beyond the thirst to fight, the captain knowing
hardly more of military tactics than his men. They had courage and enthusiasm, and felt
that all things besides would come to them.
 As for arms suitable for modern warfare, the South at that time was sadly lacking in them.
Men looked up their old double-barreled shot-guns and squirrel rifles, and Governor Brown,
of Georgia, set men at work making what were called "Joe Brown's pikes," being a sort of
steel-pointed lances or bayonets on poles, like those used by pikemen in mediaeval
warfare. In modern war they were about as useful as knitting-needles would have been.
Governor Brown knew this well enough, but the volunteers were coming in such numbers and
were so eager to fight that the pikes were made more to satisfy them than with hope of
their being of any service in actual war.
Gordon's company was among the earliest of these volunteers. Reluctantly leaving their
horses, and not waiting for orders, they bade a quick adieu to all they had held dear and
set off cheerily for Milledgeville, then the capital of Georgia. They were destined to a
sad disappointment. On reaching Atlanta they were met by a telegram from the governor, who
had been advised of their coming, telling them to go back home and wait until advised that
they were wanted.
This was like a shower of cold water poured on the ardor of the volunteers. Go home? After
they had cut loose from their homes and started for the war? They would do nothing of the
kind; they were on foot to fight and would not consent to be turned back by Governor Brown
or any one else. The captain felt very much like his men. He too
 was an eager Confederate patriot, but his position was one demanding obedience to the
constituted authorities, and by dint of much persuasion and a cautious exercise of his new
authority he induced his men to board the train heading back for their homes.
But the repressed anger of the rebellious mountaineers broke forth again when the
engine-bell rang and the whistle gave its shrill starting signal. Some of the men rushed
forward and tore out the coupling, of the foremost car, and the engine was left in
condition to make its journey alone. While the trainmen looked on in astonishment the
mountaineers sprang from the train, gathered round their captain, and told him that they
had made up their minds on the matter and were not going back. They had enlisted for the
war and intended to go to it; if Governor Brown would not take them, some other governor
There was nothing left for the young captain but to lead his undisciplined and rebellious
company through Atlanta in search of a suitable camping-place. Their disregard of
discipline did not trouble him greatly, for in his heart he sympathized with them, and he
knew well that in their rude earnestness was the stuff of which good soldiers are made.
Gordon gives an interesting and amusing description of the appearance his men made and the
interest they excited in Atlanta's streets. These were filled with citizens, who looked
upon the motley crew with a feeling in which approval was
 tempered by mirth. The spectacle of the march—or rather the straggle—of the
mountaineers was one not soon to be forgotten. Utterly untrained in marching, they walked
at will, no two keeping step, while no two were dressed alike. There were almost as many
different hues and cuts in their raiment as there were men in their ranks. The nearest
approach to a uniform was in their rough fur caps made of raccoon skins, and with the
streaked and bushy tail of the raccoon hanging down behind.
The amusement of the people was mingled with curiosity. "Are you the captain of this
company?" some of them asked Gordon, who was rather proud of his men and saw nothing of
the grotesque in their appearance.
"I am, sir," he replied, in a satisfied tone. What company is it, captain?"
As yet the company had no name other than one which he had chosen as fine sounding and
suitable, but had not yet mentioned to the men.
"This company is the Mountain Rifles," said the captain, proudly.
His pride was destined to a fall. From a tall mountaineer in the ranks came, in words not
intended for his ears, but plainly audible, the disconcerting words,
"Mountain hell! We are no Mountain Rifles. We are the Raccoon Roughs."
And Raccoon Roughs they continued through all the war, Gordon's fine-spun name being never
heard of again. The feeble remnant of the war-scarred
 company which was mustered out at Appomattox was still known as Raccoon Roughs.
Who would have them, since Governor Brown would not, was now the question. Telegrams sped
out right and left to governors of other States, begging a chance for the upland patriots.
An answer came at length from Governor Moore, of Alabama, who consented to incorporate the
Raccoon Roughs and their captain in one of the new regiments he was organizing. Gordon
gladly read the telegram to his eager company, and from their hundred throats came the
first example of the "rebel yell" he had ever heard,—a wild and thrilling roar that
was to form the inspiration to many a mad charge in later years.
No time was lost by the gallant fellows in setting out on their journey to Montgomery. As
they went on they found the whole country in a blaze of enthusiasm. No one who saw the
scene would have doubted for a moment that the South was an ardent unit in support of its
cause. By day the troop trains were wildly cheered as they passed; as night bonfires
blazed on the hills and torchlight processions paraded the streets of the towns. As no
cannon were at hand to salute the incoming volunteers, blacksmith anvils took their place,
ringing with the blows of hammers swung by muscular arms. Every station was a throng of
welcoming people, filling the air with shouts and the lively sound of fife and drum, and
bearing banners of all sizes and shapes, on which Southern independence
 was proclaimed and the last dollar and man pledged to the cause. The women were out as
enthusiastically as the men; staid matrons and ardent maids springing upon the cars,
pinning blue cockades on the lapels of the new soldiers' coats, and singing the war-songs
already in vogue, the favorite "Dixie" and the "Bonnie Blue Flag," in whose chorus the
harsh voices of the Raccoon Roughs mingled with the musical tones of their fair admirers.
Montgomery was at length reached to find it thronged with shouting volunteers, every man
of them burning with enthusiasm. Mingled with them were visiting statesmen and patriotic
citizens, for that city was the cradle of the new-born Confederacy and the centre of
Southern enthusiasm. Every heart was full of hope, every face marked with energy, a prayer
for the success of the cause on every lip. Never had more fervent and universal enthusiasm
been seen. On the hills and around the capital cannon boomed welcome to the inflowing
volunteers, wagons rumbled by carrying arms and ammunition to the camps, on every street
marched untrained but courageous recruits. As for the Raccoon Roughs, Governor Moore kept
his word, assigning them to a place in the Sixth Alabama Regiment, of which Captain
Gordon, unexpectedly and against his wishes, was unanimously elected major.
Such were the scenes which the coming war excited in the far South, such the fervid
enthusiasm with which the coming conflict for Southern
 independence was hailed. So vast was the number of volunteers, in companies and in
regiments, each eager to be accepted, that the Hon. Leroy P. Walker, the first Secretary
of War of the Confederacy, was fairly overwhelmed by the flood of applicants that poured
in on him day and night. Their captains and colonels waylaid him on the streets to urge
the immediate acceptance of their services, and he was obliged to seek his office by
roundabout ways to avoid the flood of importunities. It is said that before the
Confederate government left Montgomery for Richmond, about three hundred and sixty
thousand volunteers, very many of them from the best element of the Southern population,
had offered to devote their lives and fortunes to their country's cause.
Many striking examples of this outburst of enthusiasm and patriotic devotion might be
adduced, but we must content ourselves with one, cited as an instance in point by General
Gordon. This was the case of Mr. W. C. Heyward, of South Carolina, a West Point graduate
and a man of fortune and position. The Confederate government was no sooner organized than
Mr. Heyward sought Montgomery, tendering his services and those of a full regiment
enlisted by him for the war. Such was the pressure upon the authorities, and so far beyond
the power of absorption at that time the offers of volunteers, that Mr. Heyward sought
long in vain for an interview with the Secretary of War. When this was at last obtained be
found the ranks
 so filled that it was impossible to accept his regiment. Returning home in deep
disappointment, but with his patriotism unquenched, this wealthy and trained soldier
joined the Home Guards and died in the war as a private in the ranks.
Such was the unanimity with which the sons of the South, hosts of them armed with no
better weapons than old-fashioned flint and steel muskets, double-barreled shot-guns, and
long-barreled squirrel rifles, rushed to the defence of their States, with a spontaneous
and burning enthusiasm that has never been surpassed. The impulse of self-defence was
uppermost in their hearts. It was not the question of the preservation of slavery that
sustained them in the terrible conflict for four years of desolating war. It was far more
that of the sovereignty of the States. The South maintained that the Union formed under
the Constitution was one of consent and not of force; that each State retained the right
to resume its independence on sufficient cause, and that the Constitution gave no warrant
for the attempt to invade and coerce a sovereign State. It was for this, not to preserve
slavery, that the people sprang as one man to arms and fought as men had rarely fought