American Civil War: Major General Francis C. Barlow

Major General Francis C. Barlow. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Francis Barlow - Early Life & Career:

Born October 19, 1834 in Brooklyn, NY, Francis C. Barlow was the son of the Reverend David Barlow and his wife Almira.  Two years later, the family moved to Almira's hometown of Brookline, MA.  Raised in Massachusetts, Barlow entered Harvard University at the age of seventeen and later graduated with honors.  Returning to New York City, he pursued a career in law and was admitted to the bar in 1858.

  Opening a firm with George Bliss as well as working with the New York Tribune, Barlow remained in practice until 1861.  A nationalist with abolitionist sympathies, he fervently opposed secession when Southern states began leaving the Union following the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

Francis Barlow - The Civil War Begins:

With the start of the Civil War following the attack on Fort Sumter, Barlow promptly enlisted in the 12th Regiment, New York State Militia.  Marrying Arabella Griffith on April 20, he departed with the regiment for Washington, DC the next day.  Within a month of joining the regiment, Barlow received a commission a a first lieutenant.  A three-month regiment, the 12th New York disbanded that summer and he returned to New York.  Seeking another commission, Barlow rejoined the Union Army in November as lieutenant colonel of the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry.  Working to train the regiment through the winter, he became its commander with the rank of colonel the following spring.

  Attached to Major General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, the 61st New York moved south to the Peninsula in March and took part in the Siege of Yorktown but did not engage in any fighting.

Serving in Brigadier General Oliver O. Howard's brigade in Major General Edwin V. Sumner's II Corps, Barlow first saw combat at the end of May during the Battle of Seven Pines.

  An aggressive commander in battle, he wore a cavalry saber in lieu of the standard officer's sword.  During fighting, Barlow often used the flat of the saber to smack the rears of stragglers and drive them forward.  In late June, with General Robert E. Lee driving McClellan back during the Seven Days' Battles, the 61st New York took part in the Battle of Glendale.  Becoming separated from his brigade, Barlow led the regiment to the sound of the guns and delivered a bayonet charge against the Confederate lines.  The next day, his men aided in the Union victory at the Battle of Malvern Hill.  In the wake of the failed campaign, Barlow expressed disappointment in McClellan's leadership skills in letters to friends and family.

Francis Barlow - On the Rise:

Moving north later that summer, Barlow led the combined 61st and 64th New Yorks with Nelson A. Miles as his lieutenant colonel.  With the beginning of the Maryland Campaign in September, II Corps moved north and west before becoming engaged at the Battle of Antietam.  Vigorously leading his men forward against the Sunken Road, Barlow fell when shell fragments hit his face and grapeshot struck his groin.  Praised by his brigade commander, Brigadier General John C. Caldwell, Barlow was recommended for promotion.

  This came two days later when he was elevated to brigadier general on September 19.  Leaving the army to recover from his wounds, Barlow returned in April 1863 despite not being fully healthy.  

Slight of build, Barlow often stood out due to his boyish looks and tendency for informal dress such as wearing flannel shirts under his uniform jacket.  Given command of the Second Brigade in Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr's division of Howard's XI Corps, Barlow advanced with the Army of the Potomac, now led by Major General Joseph Hooker, in early May.  During the early phases of the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade received orders to support Major General Daniel Sickles' III Corps.  As a result, it avoided the embarrassment that befell XI Corps when it was shattered by Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's devastating flank attack.

  After the battle, Howard promoted Barlow to lead XI Corps' 1st Division.

Francis Barlow - Gettysburg:

Tasked with restoring the division's fighting qualities, Barlow proved unpopular with his new command which was largely comprised of German immigrants.  As the army moved north in pursuit of Lee, he further angered his men when he arrested Colonel Leopold von Gilsa for allowing more than one man at a time to leave the column to fetch water.  Reaching Gettysburg on July 1, XI Corps deployed north of the town to the right of Major General John Reynolds' I Corps.  Unhappy with the placement of his men, Barlow advanced his division to Blocher's Knoll.  While a stronger defensive position, it created a salient in the XI Corps' line.  Assaulted by Major General Jubal E. Early's division, Barlow's men were overwhelmed.    

As XI Corps began falling back, Barlow fell wounded when a bullet struck him in the side.  Left on the field, he was captured by the enemy and Major A.L. Pitzer of Early's staff had him cared for by Confederate surgeons.  Remaining behind enemy lines, Barlow was reclaimed by Union forces when the Confederates retreated south on July 4.  Though not initially expected to survive, he managed to recover though it required a lengthy hospitalization.  In the years after the war, a fanciful but untrue story circulated about Major General John B. Gordon rendering aid to the wounded Barlow during the fighting.   

Francis Barlow - Later War:

Returning to the Army of the Potomac in early 1864, Barlow received command of the 1st Division in Major General Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps.  The following month, as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant commenced his Overland Campaign, he saw his first combat since the previous July at the Battle of the Wilderness.  The following week, Barlow's division used newly-developed shock tactics to assault the Mule Shoe salient during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  Breaking through the Confederate lines, his men engaged in protracted hand-to-hand fighting before pushing the enemy back.

  In the wake of the fighting, Barlow's men moved south to North Anna before forming one of the first assault waves in the disaster at Cold Harbor.

By June, Grant and Lee had become engaged in the Siege of Petersburg.  The following month, Barlow learned that his wife, who had been working as a nurse, had died of typhoid on July 28.  After making the necessary arrangements, he resumed command of his division on August 13.  A few days later, Barlow took part in the abortive Second Battle of Deep Bottom.  During this time, his former wounds began to cause problems and his health declined.  Forced to take sick leave that fall, Barlow traveled to Europe but maintained frequent contact with Hancock who still desired his subordinate's services.  While away from the army, Lincoln directed that Barlow receive a brevet promotion to major general for his services at Spotsylvania.  On April 1, 1865, Barlow rejoined II Corps and was given command of its Second Division five days later by new corps commander Major General Andrew A. Humphreys.  Though in reserve at the Battle of Sayler's Creek, Barlow was present for the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.  For his efforts in the final days of the war, he earned a promotion to major general.       

Francis Barlow - Postwar:

Though offered a permanent place in the Regular Army, Barlow declined and left the service in November 1865.  Elected Secretary of State for New York, he married Ellen Shaw, sister of the late Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the following year.  After briefly serving as US Marshal for Southern New York, he was elected New York Attorney General.  Serving 1872-1873, Barlow prosecuted the Boss Tweed-Tammany Hall ring.  A founder of the American Bar Association, he also aided in investigating irregularities in the 1876 Presidential election.  Active in law for the remainder of this life, Barlow died January 11, 1896 and was buried in Brookline, MA. 

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