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

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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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Kitchin, William Hodge (22 December 1837–02 February 1901), lawyer and politician, was born in Lauderdale County, Alabama, the son of Boas Kitchin and Arabella Smith, planters. Kitchin grew up in his parents’ hometown of Scotland Neck in Halifax County, North Carolina, in the heart of the state’s black belt, after they moved back from Alabama in 1841. The family struggled during the recession in the 1840s but retained their slaves. At twenty-two Kitchin matriculated at Emory and Henry, a Methodist college in southwestern Virginia, but he did not graduate because the Civil War intervened. He promptly enlisted, rising to captain, a rank “Cap’n Buck” prized all his life. On furlough in 1863 he married Maria Figus Arrington of a prominent local family; they had eleven children, including two congressmen (one also a governor), a college president (Thurman D. Kitchin of Wake Forest College), and a state senator. Returning to the Army of Northern Virginia, the newlywed was wounded and captured at Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864. Always determined and strong-willed, he refused to take the oath of allegiance at the war’s end and remained in federal custody until mid-June 1865. Physically domineering, fast-tempered, and combatant, Kitchin modestly described himself as a military Baptist, a convenient stance in a region where Baptists outnumbered other denominations. In politics, he cultivated his seemingly instinctive knack for bombast and hurled religion and race, sometimes both together, at enemies....

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Roberts, William Randall (06 February 1830–09 August 1897), merchant, politician, and Fenian, was born in Mitchelstown, county Cork, Ireland, the son of Randall Roberts and Mary Bishop. Nothing is known about his parents’ occupations. William received only a little education, and at the age of nineteen he immigrated to the United States. He went to work in New York City as a dry goods clerk. In 1857 Roberts went into business for himself but was financially ruined in the panic of that same year. He began again, however, and ran his own store in the Bowery so successfully that by 1869 he was able to retire from business as a wealthy man....