Symposium Spotlight: Barlow’s Knoll Reconsidered

Welcome back to our spotlight series, highlighting speakers and topics for our upcoming symposium. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to feature previews of our speaker’s presentations for the 2023 Emerging Civil War Symposium. This week we feature Jon Tracey’s topic.

In the summer of 1863, two immense armies collided in a small Pennsylvania town, immortalizing the names of places like Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, and… Blocher’s Knoll? This small geological feature came to be known instead by the name of the US commander who positioned his troops there on July 1: Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow. While Gettysburg has surely captured the imagination of Americans since that fateful July, this hill slipped under the view of most who didn’t fight there. Narrowing the lens to the first day of battle still sees the soldiers of the Union Eleventh Corps brushed aside by stories of Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalrymen, the Iron Brigade, or Brigadier General Alfred Iverson’s failed attack on Oak Ridge. Even today, Barlow’s Knoll is separated from the main Gettysburg National Military Park driving tour as an optional side excursion without an official tour stop!

A sunny afternoon at Blocher’s Knoll, now rewritten as Barlow’s (or Barlow) Knoll.

This low-rising knoll has been easily overshadowed for various reasons, not the least of which was that the Eleventh Corps was not well respected at the time and left the Army of the Potomac soon after the campaign. I’ve often heard the story summarized too briefly: “After the US First Corps’ fight to the west of town, the Eleventh Corps deployed to the north of town before quickly tumbling back south. Okay, on to Cemetery Hill and July 2!” Though combat there may have been brief and the outcome may seem pre-determined in retrospect, the action and the decisions that shaped it deserve attention and careful analysis. There, Barlow’s small division faced off against Brigadier General George P. Doles in one direction and Brigadier General John B. Gordon in another, caught between a pincer of Georgians.

On that day in the plains north of Gettysburg, soldiers of the Eleventh Corps hoped to erase the stain of defeat at Chancellorsville and dug their heels in at positions their commanders chose to deploy them in, for better or for worse. On that afternoon, Confederate soldiers splashed across Rock Creek seeking a decisive victory that might hasten the end of war. At this year’s symposium, join us as we explore the decisions that brought these troops here, the fighting in the fields north of town, and the way veterans remembered it afterwards.

Find more information and tickets for our 2023 Symposium by clicking here.

6 Responses to Symposium Spotlight: Barlow’s Knoll Reconsidered

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read an opinion from anyone who thought it was a good move. Thoughts?

  2. What was Barlow to do? Not occupy it and potentially let thousands of rebs amass with immunity under a protected ridge out of view of his men and guns?

    1. I don’t want to spoil too much of the talk, but I’ll point out two things: First, from where he deployed on the ridge there was very little visibility forward, so those thousands amassed anyway. Secondly, he deployed out of range of any immediate flank support, opening up to attacks from two directions (Doles and Gordon) and under fire from batteries on Oak Hill.

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