The Battle of Gettysburg - Wednesday, July 1, 1863
The Gordon / Barlow Incident
"Are you related to the Gordon who killed me?"
Years after the war's end, both in his memoirs and when speaking to others, John Brown Gordon, the former
Confederate General, would relay an incident from the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
"In the midst of the wild disorder in his ranks, and through a storm of bullets, a Union officer
was seeking to rally his men for a final stand. He, too, went down, pierced by a Miniť ball. Riding forward with my rapidly
advancing lines, I discovered that brave officer lying upon his back, with the July sun pouring its rays into his pale face.
He was surrounded by the Union dead, and his own life seemed to be rapidly ebbing out. Quickly dismounting and lifting his
head, I gave him water from my canteen, asked his name and the character of his wounds. He was Major-General Francis C. Barlow,
of New York, and of Howard's corps. The ball had entered his body in front and passed out near the spinal cord, paralyzing
him in legs and arms. Neither of us had the remotest thought that he could possibly survive many hours. I summoned several
soldiers who were looking after the wounded, and directed them to place him upon a litter and carry him to the shade in the
rear. Before parting, he asked me to take from his pocket a package of letters and destroy them. They were from his wife. He
had but one request to make of me. That request was that if I should live to the end of the war and should ever meet Mrs.
Barlow, I would tell her of our meeting on the field of Gettysburg and of his thoughts of her in his last moments. He wished
me to assure her that he died doing his duty at the front, that he was willing to give his life for his country, and that his
deepest regret was that he must die without looking upon her face again.
I learned that Mrs.
Barlow was with the Union army, and near the battlefield. When it is remembered how closely Mrs. Gordon
followed me, it will not be difficult to realize that my sympathies were especially stirred by the announcement that his wife
was so near him. Passing through the day's battle unhurt, I dispatched at its close, under flag of truce, the promised message
to Mrs. Barlow. I assured her that if she wished to come through the lines she should have safe escort to her husband's side.
In the desperate encounters of the two succeeding days, and the retreat of Lee's army, I thought no more of Barlow, except to
number him with the noble dead of the two armies who had so gloriously met their fate. The ball, however, had struck no
vital point, and Barlow slowly recovered, though this fact was wholly unknown to me.
The following summer, in battle near Richmond, my
kinsman with the same initials, General J. B. Gordon of North Carolina, was killed. Barlow, who had recovered, saw the announcement
of his death, and entertained no doubt that he was the Gordon whom he had met on the field of Gettysburg. To me, therefore, Barlow
was dead; to Barlow, I was dead. Nearly fifteen years passed before either of us was undeceived. During my second term in the
United States Senate, the Hon. Clarkson Potter, of New York, was a member of the House of Representatives. He invited me to dinner
in Washington to meet a General Barlow who had served in the Union army. Potter knew nothing of the Gettysburg incident. I had
heard that there was another Barlow in the Union army, and supposed, of course, that it was this Barlow with whom I was to dine.
Barlow had a similar reflection as to the Gordon he was to meet. Seated at Clarkson Potter's table, I asked Barlow: "General,
are you related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg?" He replied: "Why, I am the man, sir. Are you related to the
Gordon who killed me?" "I am the man, sir," I responded. No words of mine can convey any conception of the emotions
awakened by those startling announcements. Nothing short of an actual resurrection from the dead could have amazed either of us
more. Thenceforward, until his untimely death in 1896, the friendship between us which was born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg
was greatly cherished by both."
"Reminiscences Of The Civil War"
Major-General John B. Gordon, CSA
Some have suggested that, to varying degrees, Major General Gordon may have embellished somewhat when relaying
this story. In his official report written August 10, 1863, General Gordon discussed the movement of his men towards that of
General Barlow's stating, "An effort was here made by the enemy to change his front and check our advance, but the effort
failed, and this line, too, was driven back in the greatest confusion, and with immense loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
Among the latter was a division commander (General [F. C.] Barlow), who was severely wounded."
In a letter to his mother on July 7, 1863, General Barlow
stated, "A force came up against
our front in line of battle with supports in the rear. We ought to have held the place easily, for I had my entire force
at the very point where the attack was made. But the enemies skirmishers had hardly attacked us before my men began to
run. No fight at all was made. Finding that they were going I started to get a head of them to try to rally them and form
another line in the rear. Before I could turn my horse I was shot in the left side about half way between the arm pit and
the head of the thigh bone. I dismounted and tried to walk off the field. Everybody was then running to the rear and the
enemy were approaching rapidly. One man took hold of one shoulder and another of the other side to help me. One of them
was soon shot and fell. I then got a spent ball in my back which has made quite a bruise. Soon I got too faint to go any
further and lay down. I lay in the midst of the fire some five minutes as the enemy were firing at our running men. I did
not expect to get out alive. A ball went through my hat as I lay on the ground and another just grazed the forefinger of
my right hand.
...Finally the enemy came up and were very kind. Major Pitzer, a Staff officer of Gen. Early had me carried into the woods
and placed on a bed of leaves. They put some water by me and then went on to the front again."
The National Park Service, on their web site, adds the following:
"Luckily for Barlow, a Confederate officer chanced upon
the wounded general. General John B. Gordon, whose brigade had just destroyed Barlow's position on the knoll, found the wounded
officer, pale and weak. Gordon dismounted and gave Barlow water and a sip of spirits to revive
him. Barlow was almost delirious with pain and exhaustion, but asked Gordon to destroy a packet
of letters for him and get word of his fate through the lines to his wife who accompanied the
Union army. Gordon ordered that Barlow be carried to a nearby farm for shelter. This remarkable
act of compassion probably saved Barlow's life. Confederate surgeons treated the wounded officer,
who appeared to be close to death. A message was passed between the lines to General Barlow's
wife and she made her way through the picket lines the following day to find her wounded husband.
With her help, the general slowly recovered from his wounds, returned to the army the following
year, and led a division of the Second Corps in the Wilderness Campaign."
Without question, the care provided by Confederate medical staff and those
who assisted General Barlow on the field likely saved his life.
Also, consistent with this tone of gallantry is a statement made by then
Brigadier General Gordon as his men moved through Pennsylvania. When civilians expressed fear
and concern with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia moving through their town, General
"Our Southern homes have been pillaged, sacked, and burned; our mothers,
wives, and little ones, driven forth amid the brutal insults of your soldiers. Is it any wonder
that we fight with such desperation? A natural revenge would prompt us to retaliate in kind, but
we scorn to war on women and children. We are fighting for the God-given rights of liberty and
independence, as handed down to us in the Constitution of our fathers. So fear not: if a torch
is applied to a single dwelling, or an insult offered to a female of your town by a soldier of
this command, point me out the man, and you shall have his life."
In his official report, as General Gordon moved towards York Pennsylvania
just prior to the battle, he also relayed these events.
"It may not be improper in this connection, as evidence of the base
ingratitude of our enemies, to state that the Yankee press has attributed to my brigade the
burning of the town of Wrightsville. In his retreat across the bridge, the enemy fired it
about midway with the most inflammable materials. Every effort was made to extinguish this fire
and save the bridge, but it was impossible. From this the town was fired, and, notwithstanding
the excessive fatigue of the men from the march of 20 miles and the skirmish with the enemy, I
formed my brigade in line around the burning buildings, and resisted the progress of the flames
until they were checked."