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General Francis Barlow and The Letters He Destroyed on July 1, 1863

Francis C. Barlow

General Francis C. Barlow placed his division of the Union XI Corps on a rise of excessive floor, north of the town of Gettysburg. With out satisfactory reinforcements to anchor a defensive position, his uncovered troops took the brunt of the main models of the Confederate Second Corps dashing toward Gettysburg in the course of the late afternoon of July 1, 1863. As his soldiers – principally German-People – broke ranks and retreated in confusion, Barlow galloped in the chaos, making an attempt to get forward of his men and pressure them make a stand. He was in all probability indignant; he hated stragglers, retreats, and had a heavy prejudice towards the German immigrants who shaped these models.

As he tried to rally the troops, a bullet struck him within the aspect and bored deep into his abdomen. He dismounted and attempted to walk off the sector with the assistance of two troopers. Feeling faint, he determined to lie down and await his destiny: probably dying or capture. His soldiers ran or hobbled by. The enemy bullets ploughed into the ground around him, one hanging his hand, one other slicing by way of his hat. In severe ache and with blood soaking his clothes, he nonetheless had the presence of mind to think about what lay hidden in his pockets.

“As I lay in the field before the enemy reached me I remembered that I had two of those letters in my pocket + that the enemy might not be inclined to parole so important a functionary as the “Superintendent of the Freed Men throughout the U.S.” So I destroyed the letters together with all others in my pocket.”[i]

Barlow destroyed invaluable main sources, but given the circumstances, his choice is comprehensible. In his July 7th letter, he did not elaborate concerning the letters because his mom had been conscious of the complete saga. Years, later the historical past in these letters could be pieced collectively, and it reveals a fascinatingly aspect of this New Englander with a set of complicated character qualities.

At the very least as early as April 28, 1863, Barlow wrote to his mom, explaining:  “I have written to Lowell that I am still ready to take command of the Negro brigade if it is desired.”[ii] The Emancipation Proclamation had opened the door for African People to official serve in Federal army forces – military and navy. Massachusetts shaped the primary regiments of U.S.C.T. and tons of of from black communities throughout the north rushed to serve. Barlow had a profitable struggle report by the spring of 1863, rising from personal to brigadier basic on management benefit and by means of the influence of his wife and buddies. He also had loads of connections in the Boston area since he had spent most of his youth in Massachusetts.

Colonel Robert Shaw

Colonel Robert G. Shaw, whom Barlow had tutored in preparation for Harvard, anticipated his older good friend taking command. His letters reveal the affect of the abolitionists and energy holders in Massachusetts.  On March 17, 1863, Shaw wrote to his mom about recruiting the 54th Massachusetts and the potential for forming a brigade of U.S.C.T. “The regiment continues to flourish. Men come in every day. Mr. Stearns, who is at home for a few days from Canada, says we can get more men than we want from there. The Governor thinks of getting authority to raise some more coloured regiments. If he does, I hope Frank Barlow can get the command. He is just the man for it, and I should like to be under him.”[iii]

Shaw continued advocating and wishing for his good friend within the subsequent months. From St. Simon’s Island on June 18, he corresponded with household, saying:  “Frank Barlow still wishes to get command of a coloured Brigade, and I think it would be a great piece of good fortune for us if we could get him – & for the cause, as well. If Father can do anything towards it, I wish he would.”[iv] Two days later, he continued pressuring the family to use their influence: “Now you are so near Headquarters, can’t you do something towards getting Barlow for us? I have just heard from him under date of May 21. He says he had just received yours of March 20 & regrets very much not having got it before. He still wishes to command a colored Brigade & I have no doubt we should do something under him.”[v]

Whereas Robert Shaw targeted on a brigade command for his former tutor, Barlow himself had set his sights greater. A June 2 letter to his mom revealed correspondence with a strong abolitionist. “I have just recd the enclosed letter from Dr Howe which is confidential + is to be kept secret. I have telegraphed him to write particulars. Politically it would be a great advantage to me, but I doubt my ability to fill the place + I dislike the idea of leaving the active service for which I am well fitted. I will write you more about this when I hear from Dr. Howe. Edward would like me to take the place I think…”[vi]

Robert Dale Owen – he wrote one of the letters Barlow destroyed.

Barlow referred to the position of superintendent basic of an rising program for freedmen.  In March 1863, Secretary of Struggle Stanton had appointed Robert Dale Owen, James McKaye, and Dr. Samuel G. Howe to research how the Federal government might help newly freed slaves modify, settle, and build profitable,  self-sufficient lives. Their first suggestions targeted on giving employment with Federal forces already situated in the South and to divide the program supervision into three departments, consisting of approximately 5,000 freedmen in every. The program they envisioned needed a army officer with the rank of brigadier basic to supervise the efforts and be sure that the army behaved with proper respect toward these freedmen looking for employment in the camps or to build fortifications. It will have been a prestigious position for social work and probably provided the chance for political recognition too.

On June 26, because the Gettysburg Campaign unfolded slowly for the Military of the Potomac, Barlow wrote to his brother Richard. “There seems to be quite a force of them [Rebels] in Maryland + I hope we shall have a battle which will settle the matter one way or the other. You know I presume that when this immediate Campaign is over I am going to accept the “Darkey Superintendent” place if it is then open to me. I am anticipating to have a letter from Robt Dale Owen on the topic daily…” On the end of this letter, he emphasised, “Don’t speak of my darkey plan.”[vii]

Barlow’s language is startling to trendy readers, spotlighting one of the issues within the abolitionist group of that era. Francis Barlow supported abolition and interacted with a number of the energy figures of that movement – but like other contemporaries – he did not equate freedom with equal rights. Many within the abolitionist motion opposed slavery and really needed to help the freedmen, but still did not see “all men created equal.” Barlow seems to suit into this category of “limited social reformer.”

Researcher Christian G. Samito who annotated and revealed a set of Barlow’s letters raised the question, “What would Barlow have done if he got the superintendent position?” Up to now, no letters have surfaced together with his plan for program administration, objectives, or steps to help the freedmen. He didn’t elaborate ideas to his family in surviving letters. While this does name into question his motives, maybe it is unfair to guage that he only needed the position for political motives since detailed outlines might easily have been lost, destroyed, or simple by no means committed to paper.

The vital a part of Barlow’s interest in this place of Superintendent of Freedmen or brigade commander for U.S.C.T. comes in the comparison to his fellow officers. Until that they had an abolitionist background, most Union officers didn’t need to command black troops, especially within the early months of their recruitment. The ideally suited of training and main black soldiers never appeared to be a problem for Barlow. If it had been a problem, he probably would have written about it since he didn’t hold back on other prejudices. In a posh state of affairs, Barlow spent his struggle years hating German-American troopers, however never really saying much about Irish-American recruits – making a state of affairs of nonconformity to the normal nativist view of that era. Also, he had no issues with the concepts of interacting with African People and linking his identify (and political fortune) to their trigger.

Nevertheless, his objectives and formidable to help the freedmen or command black troops have been dangerous on the battlefield. The hoped-for letter from Mr. Owens saying Barlow’s nomination as the “Negro Superintendent” arrived sometime between June 26 and July 1 as the XI Corps plodded northward. [viii] Realizing he was about to be captured as he lay wounded on the battlefield that July 1 afternoon, Barlow rigorously destroyed all the letters in his pockets. He didn’t elaborate on the destruction technique; maybe he tore them up, scattering the pieces in the grass, perhaps he doused them with liquid from a canteen or flask. Someway, he removed the proof that would have made him a harmful man to the Confederate social system.

Would Barlow have given Gordon a packet of letters as the post-war story claims? It seems uncertain and doesn’t match Barlow’s fears about those letters or his own account written on July seventh.

As an apart, Barlow’s declare that he destroyed all the letters lends fascinating mild to the controversial story about Confederate General Gordon. Stories differ between Gordon sitting and studying letters to the wounded Yankee or simply destroying a packet of letters that the Union officer claimed have been from his wife. It is potential that Barlow might have asked Gordon to destroy the letters, but the wording in his own July 7th letter concerning the incident indicates a panic to eliminate the letters earlier than the Confederates arrived, making it suspect that he would have handed over those actual letters to an enemy common. Barlow definitely interacted with Confederate officers from the Second Corps and might easily have encountered General Gordon, but his claim that each one letters had been destroyed earlier than Confederate interactions start definitely casts doubt on pieces of the post-war story.

Wounded and “in considerable pain” with blood saturating his “trousers + vest + both shirts”, Barlow was carried to the Josiah Benner farmhouse. That evening Confederate surgeons chloroformed him, probed the wound, and when he awoke, informed him that the wound was mortal. Conscious of the risks of his stomach wound, he nonetheless refused to give up and spent the subsequent battle days “very comfortably under the influence of morphine.” Luckily for him, the Accomplice docs still believed his wound was mortal and left him behind once they retreated. With the Union again answerable for Gettysburg, Barlow’s wife arrived and took over his care, using her nursing expertise acquired with the U.S. Sanitary Commission to save lots of his life for the second time.

In the course of the summer time whereas Barlow fought towards pain and steadily knew he would survive, his associates nonetheless pressured for his appointment to command U.S.C.T. Colonel Robert G. Shaw wrote to his sister on July 13, 1863, “Governor Andrew writes that he has urged the Secretary of War to send General Barlow here to take command of the black troops. This is what I have been asking him to do for some time.”[ix]

Nevertheless, Barlow’s wound and preliminary quick therapeutic took a turn for the more severe. By late summer time and by means of the autumn months, he complained of severe and scary nerve ache operating by way of his abdomen, hips, and thighs. The ache prevented him from sitting or standing, and he spent long, agonizing weeks on a stretcher, shifting from place to put within the north and visiting totally different docs in quest of aid. Clearly unable to take the sector for lively command, his buddies needed to quietly end their advocacy. When Barlow did return to area obligation in 1864, he accepted a division command underneath General Winfield S. Hancock within the Military of the Potomac’s II Corps.

Early summer time 1864. Barlow (left) leans towards the tree in this posed photograph with other II Corps commanders.

The historical past of the destroyed letters reveals extra of Barlow’s complicated character. Although heavily prejudiced towards his German-American troops at Gettysburg, his abolitionist beliefs inspired him to seek a management place with black soldiers or to assist freedmen build successful lives. His phrase selection is usually jarring to trendy readers, however as we try to understand the context and his period, it’s clear that Barlow took a place and interest in abolition, slavery, and freedmen far totally different from different Union officers. His willingness to take the positions and – presumably pursue constructive measures – marked him as a social and political enemy to the Confederacy.

Lying on Gettysburg battlefield with a bullet in his intestine, Barlow realized the influence of the correspondence in his pocket. His selections and the written phrases he carried would mark him as a committed abolitionist and a warrior for freedom – something his Southern captors in all probability would not respect. Barlow destroyed the necessary letters, an unlucky prevalence for researchers. But the history surrounding these specific letters survived, giving one other piece of General Barlow’s story and one other side of his fiery, sarcastic, decided, and dedicated character.


Welch, Richard F. The Boy General: The Life and Careers of Francis Channing Barlow. (Kent, Kent State University Press, 2003).

Coco, G.A. A Huge Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Accomplice Area Hospitals at Gettysburg, July1-November 20, 1863. (Gettysburg, Thomas Publications, 1988).

Hartwig, Scott. “Romances of Gettysburg – The Barlow-Gordon Incident.” https://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/romances-of-gettysburg-the-barlow-gordon-incident/

[i] Barlow, Francis C. edited by Christian G. Samito. “Fear Was Not In Him”: The Civil Warfare Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow, U.S.A. (New York, Fordham University Press, 2004). Web page 166.

[ii] Ibid., Web page 127.

[iii] Shaw, Robert. G., edited by Russell Duncan. Blue-Eyed Youngster of Fortune: The Civil Warfare Letters of Robert Gould Shaw. (Athens, The College of Georgia Press, 1992). Page 309.

[iv] Ibid., Page 354.

[v] Ibid., Page 355.

[vi] Barlow, Francis C. edited by Christian G. Samito. “Fear Was Not In Him”: The Civil Struggle Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow, U.S.A. (New York, Fordham College Press, 2004). Web page 136.

[vii] Ibid., Pages 143-144.

[viii] Ibid., Page 166.

[ix] Shaw, Robert. G., edited by Russell Duncan. Blue-Eyed Youngster of Fortune: The Civil Warfare Letters of Robert Gould Shaw. (Athens, The College of Georgia Press, 1992). Page 381.