Follow by Email

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Maj. Gen. Francis Channing Barlow

"Fear Was Not in Him," is the title of a collection of his letters.  "The Boy General" is the title of a biography.  Francis Channing Barlow cut as striking a figure as his counterpart, William Mahone, who saw the elephant in opposition to one another on June 1, 1862 at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks--Barlow in charge of the 61st New York and then Howard's brigade of Richardson's division in II Corps after Brig. Gen. O. O. Howard suffered wounds that cost him his right arm, and Mahone in charge of Mahone's brigade.  Barlow liked to wear a plaid lumberjack shirt and carry a cavalryman's saber, the better to whack shirkers on the backside.  His fellow Harvard man, Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman III of the Army of the Potomac's staff, wrote that the boyish looking Barlow seemed like a "highly independent mounted newsboy."  Mahone favored Panama hats and suits tailored out of tent canvas.

Born in 1834, Barlow grew up in Unitarian intellectual circles, studied law at Harvard, and graduated first in his class.  He enlisted in the 12th New York Infantry as a private the day after his marriage and had risen to a lieutenancy by the time his three month enlistment expired.  Then he joined the 61st New York and rose to the rank of colonel by the time the regiment saw combat.  He fought with distinction at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, Glendale/Fraysers Farm and Malvern Hill.  At Antietam/Sharpsburg he suffered a serious wound.  Shortly after, he was promoted to brigadier general.

Service with IX Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg did not dim his reputation for aggressiveness.  He did not recover from his Gettysburg wound until shortly before the beginning of the Campaign of 1864.  Back with II Corps, he led Richardson's old division in the Wilderness and led the breakthrough at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, that nearly destroyed Lee's army.  Barlow fought at Cold Harbor and in the initial assaults at Petersburg.

On June 22, 1864, Barlow did more than any Federal alive to prevent the disaster very unfairly known as "Barlow's Skedaddle," where three brigades under Mahone routed almost seven brigades of II Corps and captured four cannon.  I do not think I treated Barlow fairly in "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad."  His friend and commander, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, put Barlow in charge of the thrust toward the Confederate flank on August 14, 1864 at Deep Bottom in order that Barlow might win a coveted second star.  Barlow was ill and was mourning the death of his wife, which had occurred about three weeks earlier.  Hancock ought to have put someone else in charge.  Barlow kept trying to return from his illness but finally had to take an extended leave of absence.  He did not return until the Appomattox Campaign, when he led the second division of II Corps.  He probably saw action for the last time on April 7, 1865, at Cumberland Church against Mahone.  Barlow's promotion to major general was confirmed after the war.

By that time, Barlow had resumed his legal career.  He held a number of political offices and steadfastly opposed the corruption of the post-war years.  He was such a straight-arrow that when President Grant sent him to Florida to determine the outcome in that state, Barlow (a Republican) made sure that the votes were counted accurately, determined that the Democrats had won the state, and was thereupon ostracized by his party.  He spent the rest of his life in private practice.  A very impressive fellow.