Affairs were particularly bad in the Eleventh Corps First Division, which had suffered the initial shock of Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville two months before Gettysburg. To bring the division back to its feet, corps commander Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard brought in twenty-eight-year-old Francis Barlow, an inspired warrior and ferocious disciplinarian. Barlow found the position a difficult one and wrote "These Dutch won't fight. Their officers say so and they say so themselves and they ruin all with whom they come in contact."
Barlow didn't look anything like the warrior he was. He was boyish-faced, slight--even frail-looking--with no color in his cheeks. When he spoke his voice seemed thin and lackluster. He had a loose-jointed, slouchy way about him that made it clear he was no career soldier. A Brady photograph shows him as a good-looking, rangy young man, black felt hat crumpled in one hand, heavy boots on his feet, with a peaceful expression on his round, clean-shaven face.
He had no sense of military decorum. He wore a checked flannel lumberjack shirt, and over that he wore his uniform coat unbuttoned. He looked, one Meade's staff officers wrote, "like a highly independent mounted newsboy." He wore one other obviously non-regulation accessory--instead of the standard officer's sword he carried the heaviest cavalry saber he could find. He carried it for a reason. He had a hatred of stragglers, and he said that when he whacked a straggler with the flat of his sword he wanted to hit with something that would hurt. The problem of straggling on the march was a personal obsession for him, and he finally provided a unique solution. He detailed a company to form a skirmish line, with fixed bayonets, at the rear of the division column, and gave them orders to sweep up and drive forward anybody who fell out of the ranks.
Barlow was raised in Massachusetts, a Unitarian minister's son. He graduated first in his class at Harvard, and became a Manhattan lawyer shortly before the war, occasionally writing editorials for the New York Tribune. A young man with absolutely no military experience, he nevertheless possessed the things which can't be taught in an academy--a savage driving energy, and a positive taste for fighting. Five days after Fort Sumter, he left his bride of one day to go off to war, enlisting as a private. By the time of the Peninsula Campaign a year later, he had risen all the way to colonel of the 61st New York.
On the Peninsula, Barlow found the fighting he was looking for. At Seven Pines, fighting with Howard's Second Corps brigade, one of every ten men in his regiment was killed. A few weeks later, at Glendale, his regiment was separated from the rest of the brigade, but Barlow rushed it toward the sound of the fighting. Soon finding the Confederate line, he immediately led his men in a bayonet charge across a field. The enemy broke and ran, and Barlow picked up a fallen Confederate battle flag and sent it to the rear. He pushed his regiment on until they ran into another Rebel line, whose officer challenged, "Throw down your arms or you are all dead men!" Barlow answered with the order to fire, and "a vigorous fire was kept up on both sides for a long time." Darkness ended the fighting. Two days later, in the final battle of the campaign at Malvern Hill, Barlow's men held their section of the line against repeated Confederate attacks.
At Antietam Barlow again plunged his regiment into the enemy line, this time posted in the Sunken Road. After capturing 300 enemy soldiers by one maneuver, he was badly wounded in the left groin by artillery fire and also struck in the face by a piece of shell. In his official report of the battle, Brig. Gen. John Caldwell described Barlow's exploits in detail, adding "Whatever praise is due to the most distinguished bravery, the utmost coolness and quickness of perception, the greatest promptitude and skill in handling troops under fire, is justly due to him. It is but simple justice to say that he has proved himself fully equal to every emergency, and I have no doubt that he would discharge the duties of a much higher command with honor to himself and benefit to the country." Caldwell's high praise was heard and echoed. Barlow was promoted to brigadier general two days later.
The new general's groin wound healed slowly. Barlow's left leg remained numb through the winter months; his convalescence was complicated by an abscess on his back, and he was emaciated and suffering from what doctors called an "influence of malaria." Although still not fit, he rejoined the army in April 1863 and took command of an Eleventh Corps brigade. At Chancellorsville his was the only brigade of the corps which avoided the humiliation of the rout caused by Jackson's famous flank attack, being attached to Sickles's Third Corps at the time. At the end of the month, Howard put Barlow in command of the division of Brig. Gen. Charles Devens, who had been wounded at Chancellorsville, hoping to stiffen the fighting qualities of those unfortunate brigades.
Barlow immediately angered his men by arresting the popular General von Gilsa. "With . . . Barlow banished to the Antipodes, our happiness would have been complete. . . . As a taskmaster he had no equal. The prospect of speedy deliverance from the odious yoke of Billy Barlow filled every heart with joy," wrote one of von Gilsa's men, who considered him a "petty tyrant." At Gettysburg, he would be entering his first battle as a division commander with no military education to ease his transition, commanding men who hated him. However, his natural gifts were considerable--of Barlow, Captain Charles Francis Adams wrote: "I am more disposed to regard Barlow as a military genius than any man I have yet seen."
| Barlow's division, in the middle of the Eleventh Corps column of march,
entered Gettysburg from the south after 1 P.M. on July 1, having double-quicked
the last several miles from Emmitsburg on orders from corps chief Howard.
Barlow drove his two brigades north of town, to the right of the Maj. Gen. Carl
Schurz's Third Division, which was deploying to face Rodes's Confederate
division, newly arrived and threatening from Oak Hill.|
On the floor of the valley north of Gettysburg, Barlow saw little good defensive ground. A knoll overlooking Rock Creek nearly a mile northeast of town was the only elevated feature. Since enemy artillery posted on the knoll would dominate the line already being formed by Schurz to the northwest, Barlow determined to occupy it himself. He called it an "admirable position," but it was a gross error to put his men so far forward--there was a gap between him and Schimmelfennig which uncovered his left, and his right flank was completely exposed to the enemy force (the presence of which Barlow had not been informed) approaching from the northeast.
About 2 P.M. Early's Confederate division appeared ominously on Barlow's right, and an hour later its lead element, Gordon's brigade, splashed forward across Rock Creek. Barlow's men were already being pressed on their left by Doles's brigade, and the charge of Gordon's Georgians on their right was unstoppable. Both of Barlow's brigades disintegrated and fled toward Gettysburg. The rest of the Eleventh Corps north of town soon followed.
Barlow himself tried bravely to stem the rout. He was riding out in front of his men to rally them and form a new line on the knoll when a bullet struck him in the left side. He dismounted and tried to walk, and shortly afterward was struck again by a spent bullet in the back. He lay down as the battle washed over him; another bullet went through his hat, and yet another grazed his right hand. He was carried to the rear by a group of enemy soldiers, and two days later a Confederate surgeon probed the wound in his side and told him the bullet had lodged in the cavity of his pelvis, and "there was little chance for my life."
Since he was considered mortally wounded, the Rebels left him behind when they retreated on July 4. Barlow, however, refused to die, and after being rescued by Federal troops, was hospitalized. Six months later he still had not attempted to mount a horse. It would be April 1864 before he was back with the army. He commanded a division through the Overland Campaign, then in July 1864 he again left the army, on sick leave, until the last days of the war.