You’ve probably heard the story that “Stonewall” Jackson liked to eat lemons. Why don’t we pay as much attention to the favorite fruits of other generals? Probably because it just isn’t well documented.
However, I’ve come across some evidence that Union General Francis C. Barlow liked cherries and, on at least one occasion, went out of his way to pick the early summer fruit. Was it his favorite produce from the orchard? I’m not sure, but here’s some primary source evidence that though his disposition could sometimes be as sour as Stonewall’s lemons, he did enjoy eating something sweeter.
In Barlow’s letters which have been published, he makes several detailed references to food that he ate in camp or on the march. (I’ve actually tried one of the meals.) And the first reference to cherries in the letters I’ve currently seen appears in his July 7, 1863, letter to his mother, describing his experiences during the battle of Gettysburg and then detailing his wounding. The injury was severe, and multiple doctors informed him that he would die, believing the bullet had torn into his intestines. After getting moved from the Benner house to the Crawford house, he described how he passed July 2nd and 3rd, including what he ate:
“I found some books there + passed Thursday + Friday very comfortably under morphine. I read + talked a good deal. I eat only some coffee + toast + cherries in these days. The ladies + some of our wounded in the house did what nursing I required. I saw some of our Surgeons + some of the enemies who said there was nothing to be done but to bathe the wound in cold water + wait.[i]
It proved to be a long wait and a painful, tedious convalescence, but he did survive his Gettysburg wound and his wife helped to manage his road to recovery for the second time in twelve months. (He had been badly wounded at Antietam in September 1862.)
The next time Barlow’s name appears in the same paragraph with cherries or cherry trees is after his return to command and during the Overland Campaign. On May 9, 1864, as the Union II Corps marched along Brock Road, between The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, a conference of commanders took place. Theodore Lyman who served on General Meade’s staff wrote about the location:
Betimes in the morning General Meade, with three aides, rode back to General Hancock, and had a consultation with him. The day was hot and the dust thicker and thicker. As we stood there under a big cherry tree, a strange figure approached; he looked like a highly independent mounted newsboy; he was attired in a flannel checked shirt; a threadbare pair of trousers, and an old blue kepi; from his waist hung a big cavalry sabre; his features wore a familiar sarcastic smile. It was General Barlow, commanding the 1st division of the 2nd Corps, a division that for fine fighting cannot be exceeded in the army.[ii]
June and July are usually the months when cherries are ripe in Virginia, so it’s unlikely that Barlow could have grabbed a snack before swinging his division to the right and plunging across the Po River later in the afternoon. Still, it’s interesting that one of the most descriptive and most colorful quote passages about him is witnessed from the shade of a cherry tree.
A few weeks later—on June 13, to be precise—Theodore Lyman found Barlow in the shade of a cherry tree again, but this time in a much more interesting scenario:
The column marched so fast that I was sent forward to tell General Barlow to go more gently. I found that eccentric officer divested of his coat and seated in a cherry tree. “By Jove!” said a voice from the branches, “I knew I should not be here long before Meade’s Staff would be up. How do you do, Theodore, won’t you come up and take a few cherries?” However, I could not stay….[iii]
If he chose to eat cherries while believed to be dying and later took the effort to climb a tree in the middle of a march to gather the fruit, I think it’s safe to surmise that fresh, summer cherries ranked high in Barlow’s preferences.
And sometimes it’s the little details that help us remember that these guys with all their bravery, sarcasm, tragedy, and triumphs were human…and they had their favorite foods.
[i] Francis C. Barlow, edited by Christian G. Samito. “Fear Was Not In Him”: The Civil War Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 164.
[ii] Theodore Lyman. With Grant & Meade: From the Wilderness To Appomattox. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 107.
[iii] Ibid., 158.