Brevet Major General Francis Channing Barlow (USV)
Francis Channing Barlow was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 19 October 1834. He graduated first in his class from Harvard University where he studied law.
In April 1861, Barlow enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment, New York State Militia. He soon received a commission to first lieutenant. His three-month regiment mustered out, but he soon joined the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry and by November was lieutenant colonel. By the time of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, he was its colonel.
He saw his first action at the Battle of Seven Pines as part of a brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard in the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At Glendale, in the Seven Days Battles, his regiment became separated from the rest of the brigade. He exercised personal initiative by advancing his men to the sound of the fighting, leading a bayonet charge against a Confederate battle line, and ultimately picking up a fallen Confederate battle flag. At the Battle of Malvern Hill, Barlow and his men successfully defended the line against repeated Confederate assaults.
Commanding the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, II Corps, at the Battle of Antietam, Barlow’s men were in the center of fighting at the sunken road “Bloody Lane” capturing about 300 prisoners. He was wounded by an artillery shell in the face and by grapeshot in the groin. Two days after the battle, Barlow was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers.
An unusual general, he was slight of build with a peaceful, boyish face, colorless cheeks without a typical general’s beard, and a thin voice. He often wore a “checked flannel lumberjack shirt” under an unbuttoned uniform coat, prompting one of George G. Meade’s staff officers to write that he looked “like a highly independent mounted newsboy.” However, Barlow was an aggressive fighter with strong personal confidence. He wore a heavy enlisted man’s cavalry saber, which he used to whack the backsides of stragglers. While on the march, he placed a company in skirmish line with fixed bayonets to keep his column in line.
Barlow became emaciated and suffered from an “influence of malaria” following his wounding at Antietam. Although not fully recovered, he returned to the Army in April 1863 and commanded the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, XI corps, at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The XI Corps was subjected to the devastating flank attack of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, but Barlow’s brigade was detached to support the III Corps and escaped humiliation. After the battle, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard promoted Barlow to command the 1st Division, XI Corps. Barlow immediately angered his men by arresting the popular Col. Leopold von Gilsa, and they considered him a “petty tyrant.”
On 1 July 1863, he commanded his unhappy division at the Battle of Gettysburg. While awaiting the expected Confederate assault, Barlow left his assigned position to move to higher ground on Blocher’s Knoll (now known as Barlow’s Knoll). His move left Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz’s division at risk and exposed both his own flanks. Confederate Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division overwhelmed Barlow’s division and forced the retreat of the entire XI Corps with great loss. Barlow was wounded and left for dead on the field. He was found and cared for by Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon.
Barlow was left behind when the Confederates retreated from Gettysburg on 4 July. He was hospitalized and did not return to the Army until April 1864, just in time for Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. He commanded the 1st Division of Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps, at the Battle of the Wilderness. At Spotsylvania Court House, his division incorporated shock tactics developed by Col. Emory Upton to quickly assault the rebel entrenchments in the “Mule Shoe”. On 12 December, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Barlow for the award of the brevet grade of major general for his leadership at Spotsylvania.
At Petersburg, Barlow took another convalescent leave in July, due to the death of his wife, Arabella, who had been serving as an Army nurse, returning to the army on 6 April 1865. He was appointed to lead the 2nd Division, II Corps after William Hays failed to wake his troops in time for departure. Barlow engaged immediately in the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. He played a decisive role in the Battle of High Bridge against Gordon, preventing the Confederates from destroying the bridge, ultimately shortening the war by several days.
After the war, Barlow married Ellen Shaw, sister of the famous Col. Robert Gould Shaw. He served as a U.S. Marshal and the New York Secretary of State and New York State Attorney General, prosecuting the Boss Tweed ring, before returning to his law practice. Barlow also prosecuted Cuban independence rebels for violating the Neutrality Act and disbanded a number of filibuster expeditions. He was a founder of the American Bar Association, active in Republican politics, and investigated the 1876 presidential election for irregularities.
Barlow died of Bright’s disease in New York City on 11 January 1896.