Friday, July 5, 2013

Gettysburg Lore, part 1

Gettysburg Lore, part 1

John B. Gordon and Francis Barlow

One of the oft-told stories (and oft-romanticized stories) of this battle is the encounter between Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon and Union Maj. Gen. Francis Barlow, whose division was smashed on July 1 by the assault of Gordon's brigade.  Gordon reports that he witnessed, as the Union formations came apart, an officer attempting to rally the Yankees, and who was in turn shot down.  He gives in his own words the encounter with Gen. Barlow:
Maj. Gen. Francis Barlow, USA

 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 despatched 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.
Brig. (later Major) Gen. John B. Gordon, CSA

Gordon gave the incident little more thought.  Barlow did not die--in fact, recovered to command a division under Gen. Hancock in the 1864 Spring campaign.  

He was somehow under the mistaken impression that Gordon had not survived the war.  Gordon believed that Barlow was dead, too---although neither of these stories is easy to credit when it became clear that both men were rising in prominence in command in their respective armies, and the names would surely have been well-known to their opponents.  Still, after the war the years went by, and Gordon and Barlow meet at a dinner in New York City, when Gordon is serving in the U.S. Senate:

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.

Historians have had much to say in recent decades about the veracity of Gordon's account, and the gaps between his version and Barlow's own recounting of his wounding and capture.  Some believe that Gordon fostered the slant he gave it (or possibly fabricated) in order to promote reconciliation---and his own political career.  Still, this remains one of the more appealing human interest stories from this great event.

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