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Forrest, Nathan Bedford (13 July 1821–29 October 1877), Confederate general, was born in Marshall County, Tennessee, the son of William Forrest, a blacksmith, and Mariam Beck. When Forrest was sixteen, his father died, and Forrest supported his mother and five younger brothers by raising stock and crops until his mother remarried. No record or evidence indicates that he ever attended school. In 1841 Forrest volunteered to serve in Texas, but on arriving there he found that the Texas Republic was not recruiting. He earned his fare back to Tennessee by splitting rails. In 1845 he married Mary Montgomery, and they had one child who survived childhood....

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Gholson, Samuel Jameson (19 May 1808–16 October 1883), jurist and general, was born in Madison County, Kentucky. Little is known of his parents, but it is certain that the family moved to Russellville in northern Alabama in 1817. There Gholson studied law with Judge Peter Martin and gained admission to the bar in 1829. A year later, the young lawyer crossed the border into northeastern Mississippi, where he settled in Athens in Monroe County and established a law practice....

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Gordon, John Brown (06 February 1832–09 January 1904), soldier and politician, was born in Upson County, Georgia, the son of Zachariah Herndon Gordon, a minister, and Malinda Cox. After studies at a private school established by his father, John attended Pleasant Green Academy for a year before entering the University of Georgia in 1850. He did well at Georgia but did not graduate. In 1854 he moved to Atlanta to pursue a legal career. His practice, however, was not as successful as he had hoped, and he decided to explore other fields of employment. After a brief stint as a journalist covering the Georgia General Assembly, he joined his father in a coal-mining venture that quickly prospered. In 1854 he married Fanny Rebecca Haralson, with whom he had six children....

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John B. Gordon. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-2059).

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Tadeusz Kościuszko. Engraving by H. B. Hall, after a painting by Joseph Grassi. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-611).

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Kościuszko, Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura (12 February 1746–15 October 1817), revolutionary war officer and leader for Polish independence, was born at one of his family’s estates, either “Mereczowszczyna” or “Siechnowicze,” both near Kosów, Poland, the son of Ludwig Tadeusz Kościuszko, an army colonel and member of the minor gentry, and Thecla Ratomska. As the youngest of four sons, Kościuszko could share in inheritance but not control of the family estates. Thus he chose an army career. His father died in 1758, and his mother ten years later. After being tutored by an uncle and briefly attending a Jesuit school in Brześć, Kościuszko, from 1755 to 1760, studied at a school of the Piarist Fathers in Lubieszów, near Pinsk. Sponsored by Prince Casimir Czartoryski, Kościuszko entered the Royal Corps of Cadets at the Royal Military School in Warsaw in December 1765. After one year he was an ensign and an instructor of students; in 1768 he was promoted to captain, graduating the following year....

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Meagher, Thomas Francis (23 August 1823–01 July 1867), Irish-American nationalist, lawyer, and soldier, was born in Waterford, Ireland, the son of Thomas Meagher, a merchant and member of the British Parliament, and (first name unknown) Quan. Both of Meagher’s parents came from wealthy and prominent Irish families. His mother died while Meagher was an infant. He was subsequently educated at his father’s alma mater, Clongowes-Wood, a Jesuit school in Ireland, and then at Stoneyhurst College in England from 1839 to 1843. Upon graduation he seemed destined to follow his father into a career in business, but in 1845 he joined the Young Ireland party and became embroiled in the rising debate over Irish independence from Great Britain. In the fateful year of 1848, when revolution swept over Europe, Meagher made an impassioned public appeal in Ireland for the violent overthrow of British rule. This advocacy earned him the popular title of “Meagher of the Sword,” which he carried for the rest of his life. His determination to overthrow British rule by violence also landed him in difficulty with the British authorities. In July 1848 he was arrested, tried, convicted of high treason, and condemned to death. Partly because of the prominence of his family, his sentence was commuted in 1849, and the British banished him for life to the island of Tasmania (then a British possession) off the southern coast of Australia....

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Thomas Meagher. Lithograph by John Joseph Egan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97750).