Question of the Week: 2/13-2/19/17

Question-HeaderValentine’s Day is just around the corner…

Do you have a favorite real-life love story from the Civil War era? (No fictional characters!)

17 Responses to Question of the Week: 2/13-2/19/17

  1. I’m sure there are others, but I’ll never forget Paul Roebling’s reading of the Sullivan Ballou letter with Jay Unger’s Ashokan Farewell playing in the background, in the first episode of the PBS Civil War series. My wife felt apart. Hard to believe it was 1990!

  2. I always think of the relationship of Thomas Jackson and his wife. I remember this quote from her about her beloved husband:

    Next to the acknowledgment of his Maker was the thought of home and of the young mother with his child in her arms! The man of war was at the same time the most domestic of men. All his heart was centered in one spot. – Mary Anna Morrison on her husband

    – Michael Aubrecht

  3. There are two love stories that impress me the most. One relates to Union General Francis C. Barlow and his wife Arabella Wharton Griffith Barlow and the other to Confederate General John Brown Gordon and his wife Fanny Rebecca Haralson Gordon. The irony is that both stories are related, because it was Gordon who saved Barlow’s life on the first day of Gettysburg by ministering to him on Blocher’s Knoll and by arranging for Arabella to come through his lines to be with her beloved Francis. Despite the doomful prognostications of the doctors who had examined him, she saved him. Ten months later the two generals went head-to-head at Spotsylvania, Gordon plugging a massive breach effected by Hancock’s 2nd Corps, with Barlow’s division in the van. Fourteen years later, the generals, each believing the other dead, met at a dinner party hosted by the Hon. Clarkson Potter, where they were resurrected to each other. The Francis and Arabella story appears in the February issue of The Surratt Courier. The John and Fanny story will appear at a later date. So ironic are the encounters that one would suppose the stories were scripted in Hollywood.

      1. Jim:
        There is doubt only among those who are not conversant with the facts. The evidence for the veracity of the story can fairly be said to be overwhelming, especially considering it comes from both Barlow AND Gordon and especially because neither Early nor Ewell claims to have authorized Arabella’s passage. See my 22-page article debunking the debunkers in the July, 2009, issue of The Gettysburg Magazine (which persuaded no less a skeptic than Ed Bearrs). See also Blood is Thicker Than Water (1886), by Henry M. Field, pp. 33-35.


  4. John Fazio, the threading wouldn’t let me put this in the right place: I now vaguely remember there was some discussion of this, perhaps on the GDG. I’ll see if I can locate a copy of your article. FWIW, the passage of Mrs. Barlow through the lines was not intended to be disputed by me; I think that much is on fairly solid ground, and always has been.

    1. Aha! Found what I remembered reading some time ago: Scott Hartwig wrote a three-part account of the historiography for the Gettysburg Park blog, in 2012. His conclusion is that an encounter of some kind happened, but that Gordon embellished it a lot.

      1. Jim:

        I re-read Scott Hartwig’s three-part account. With all due respect to Scott, one would be hard-pressed to find ANY historical account that is not in some degree embellished in the telling and re-telling of it. (Wasn’t it Napoleon who defined history as nothing more than something old men agreed upon?) I can therefore agree that Gordon’s accounts were embellished. The question is: to what degree and are the accounts, in their essentials, true despite the embellishment? In this case, I believe the answer must be yes. I also believe there is a tendency on the part of some scholars to dismiss evidence and tradition too easily. Ex nihilo nihil fit–Nothing comes from nothing.


      2. John: I think that you’re absolutely correct regarding embellishment but i also think that there are “Level 1 Offenders” and Gordon was in that elite group. For example, he apparently did a nice Hollywood script writing job on the 4/12/65 surrender ceremony (aided and abetted by another Level 1, Chamberlain). Gordon was a storyteller of sorts whose objective was post-war, reunited collegiality. Note: I am not suggesting that the July 1 Barlow story is a complete fabrication, although I’ve seen plenty back and forth dialogue on that.

      3. John:

        I hear you about elite offenders, but the fact that the National Tribune reported in 1879 that the story at the dinner party came from Barlow, not Gordon (“The hearty greeting which followed the touching story, as related to the interested guests by General Barlow, and the thrilling effect upon the company, can be better imagined than described”.), together with the fact that Henry M. Field stated categorically, in 1886, that the story was related to him “by both the actors in the scene described” and that he could therefore “vouch for its literal accuracy”, and together with all the other evidence (see my article in the July, 2009, issue of The Gettysburg Magazine), nails it for me. And, I am happy to tell you, nailed it for Ed Bearrs too. Too often have scholars and historians thrown the baby out with the bath water. There are iconoclasts who would have you believe that Abraham Lincoln was an evil man and that Jesus of Nazareth never existed.


      4. John: As I stated, I’m not making an assertion about the Gettysburg story. FWIW I have the July, 2009 issue with your article and find it pretty persuasive – albeit not necessarily final and conclusive. My point is that when Gordon is a source one should start with shifting the burden of proof. One of the several issues I have with the Burns 1990 PBS episodes is the strong reliance on Gordon and on Chamberlain – as I noted, two established purveyors of embellishment. And I would never discount the spirit of reunification among former “brothers against brothers” as a possible taint when it comes to accounts rendered in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Across the board, memoirs and talks/speeches by veterans in that era often suffer from a combination of “fading memory and improving vision”.

  5. I am surprised no one has mentioned the love affair of Julia Dent and Ulysses Grant: their love affair was one of the greatest in American history. Of all the sins Grant would be accused a wandering eye was never one. They fell in love practically from the moment they met and the love grew and grew over the years. Julia had faith in her Uyls when no one else did.

    Consider: when Sumter was fired on, Grant was clerking in his father’s store. In an age when almost no one had a college degree, he had one. When most Americans never travelled more than a few miles from their birthplace, he had travelled all over Southern Ohio as a boy, to West Point and down the Mississippi, and to Mexico, California and Oregon. Now he was reduced to being a clerk in a country general store. But Julia stayed by him and had followed him to dismal (and cold!) army posts along the Great Lakes and to Hardscrabble, the home he built and the farm he failed with in Missouri.

    The War came and eight years later Ulysses S. Grant had forced three armies which had sworn never to surrender to surrender on terms Grant dictated and he was, until John Kennedy, the youngest elected President of the United States. Grant is one of only seven presidents to twice receive a majority of the popular vote.

    Julia followed Ulys when she could during the War and any number of correspondents mentioned the general and his lady sitting in front of a rough cabin doubling as a headquarters holding hands like newly-weds. The longest they lived together in one home was the eight years living in the White House.

    1. Bob:

      You have made an excellent case for Julia and the general. I have read his Memoirs and some of hers and both confirm your judgment. I have also visited their tomb in New York, which received a badly needed clean-up some years ago. It is fitting that both of them, who were inseparable in life, are now spending eternity side by side.


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