Tuesday, July 25, 2017


On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell crushed Major General Oliver Otis Howard's XI Corps due in large part to the mistake of a lawyer-general by the name of Francis C. Barlow. General Barlow positioned his division to far in advance of the rest of the XI Corps, opening a gap between his unit and the rest of the Corps and exposing his flanks to attack. Ewell quickly capitalized on this mistake, sending Brigadier General John B. Gordon against Barlow. Barlow's division collapsed, and the rest of the XI Corps with it. In his memoirs Gordon describes how he met Barlow on the battlefield.

In the midst of the wild disorder in his ranks, and through a storm of bullets, a Union officer was seeking to rally his men for a final stand. He, too, went down, pierced by a Minie ball. Riding forward with my rapidly advancing lines, I discovered that brave officer lying upon his back, with the July sun pouring its rays into his pale face. He was surrounded by the Union dead, and his own life seemed to be rapidly ebbing out. Quickly dismounting and lifting his head, I gave him water from my canteen, asked his name and the character of his wounds. He was Major-General Francis C. Barlow, of New York, and of Howard’s corps. The ball had entered his body in front and passed out near the spinal cord, paralyzing him in legs and arms. Neither of us had the remotest thought that he could possibly survive many hours. I summoned several soldiers who were looking after the wounded, and directed them to place him upon a litter and carry him to the shade in the rear. Before parting, he asked me to take from his pocket a package of letters and destroy them. They were from his wife. He had but one request to make of me. That request was that if I should live to the end of the war and should ever meet Mrs. Barlow, I would tell her of our meeting on the field of Gettysburg and of his thoughts of her in his last moments. He wished me to assure her that he died doing his duty at the front, that he was willing to give his life for his country, and that his deepest regret was that he must die without looking upon her face again. I learned that Mrs. Barlow was with the Union army, and near the battle-field. When it is remembered how closely Mrs. Gordon followed me, it will not be difficult to realize that my sympathies were especially stirred by the announcement that his wife was so near him. Passing through the day’s battle unhurt, I dispatched at its close, under flag of truce, the promised message to Mrs. Barlow. I assured her that if she wished to come through the lines she should have safe escort to her husband’s side. In the desperate encounters of the two succeeding days, and the retreat of Lee’s army, I thought no more of Barlow, except to number him with the noble dead of the two armies who had so gloriously met their fate. The ball, however, had struck no vital point, and Barlow slowly recovered, though this fact was wholly unknown to me. The following summer, in battle near Richmond, my kinsman with the same initials, General J. B. Gordon of North Carolina, was killed. Barlow, who had recovered, saw the announcement of his death, and entertained no doubt that he was the Gordon whom he had met on the field of Gettysburg. To me, therefore, Barlow was dead ; to Barlow, I was dead. Nearly fifteen years passed before either of us was undeceived. During my second term in the United States Senate, the Hon. Clarkson Potter, of New York, was a member of the House of Representatives. He invited me to dinner in Washington to meet a General Barlow who had served in the Union army. Potter knew nothing of the Gettysburg incident. I had heard that there was another Barlow in the Union army, and supposed, of course, that it was this Barlow with whom I was to dine. Barlow had a similar reflection as to the Gordon he was to meet. Seated at Clarkson Potter’s table, I asked Barlow: “General, are you related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg?

He replied: “Why, I am the man, sir. Are you related to the Gordon who killed me?”

“I am the man, sir,” I responded. No words of mine can convey any conception of the emotions awakened by those startling announcements. Nothing short of an actual resurrection from the dead could have amazed either of us more. Thenceforward, until his untimely death in 1896, the friendship between us which was born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg was greatly cherished by both.

Historians have called this account into question, as there is another account of how Barlow was rescued from the battlefield.

In the midst of the action on the first day of the battle, after losing two staff officers, Gen. Barlow fell from his horse with four musket balls in his body. The corps fell back, and he was left on the field near the village of Gettysburg, to all appearance dead. While lying in this state, exposed to the fire of both armies, he received two other wounds in different parts of his body. It was almost a miracle that he was ever heard from again. Yet, toward evening, as Gen. Jubal Early [another lawyer-general] and Staff were riding across the field the rebel chief saw the star on the shoulders of an apparently inanimate figure, and stopped for a moment to obtain the name of the dead Union General. It was Barlow; and as the movements of Early’s staff officer caused him to open his eyes and discovered him to be alive, Gen. Early inquired if he could do anything for him. Being answered in the negative, it was proposed by some of the Rebels to parole him, but Gen. Early declared it to be a waste of time, saying that he would never live to fight again. Slowly raising his head and resting it on his arm, the plucky hero replied: “I will live to fight you yet, General.” Improbable as it might have seemed to the Confederate chief at that time, the prophecy was fulfilled at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where Barlow, in a brilliant charge, snatched from Early’s corps an entire division and forty pieces of artillery. Mrs. Barlow, who had followed the army, assisting in the hospitals, and even carrying succor to the wounded on the field, mounted a horse as soon as she learned the fate of her husband, and rode over to the Confederate lines in search of him. She was permitted to look over the field and through the village, and she found him that night in a barn in the village of Gettysburg.

Readers may judge for themselves which of these accounts is the more plausible. It may be of some assistance to know that The Union State Ticket is campaign literature from Barlow's successful quest to become New York's Secretary of State after the war.

The Union State Ticket is correct when it says that at Spotsylvania Barlow led a charge which resulted in the capture of 3,000 Confederate soldiers, 30 Confederate banners, 40 cannon, and 2 Confederate generals. After the war, Barlow was offered a professional commission in the Regular Army, but he turned down the offer to return to the practice of law.

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On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell crushed Major General Oliver Otis Howard's XI Corps d...