By Brian C. Pohanka
During the Battle of First Manassas, Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow was carrying the flag of the 7th Georgia Infantry when he fell leading a charge on Captain James Ricketts’ battery of Regular Army artillery. Bartow was mourned as a martyred hero, and in September 1861 the site of his death was memorialized with a marble pillar—the first monument erected on an American Civil War battlefield.
A Lawyer Turned Colonel
Born in Savannah on September 6, 1816, Bartow was a talented lawyer, served two terms in the Georgia Legislature, one term in the State Senate, and was captain of the elite Oglethorpe Light Infantry. An ardent proponent of Southern rights, he was a delegate to the Georgia Secession Convention and one of three state representatives in the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy. As chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, Bartow recommended adopting gray as the official color of the Confederate Army uniform.
Desiring to serve the Southern cause on the field of battle, Bartow left his political duties and was soon elected colonel of the 8th Georgia Regiment. Placed in command of a brigade in Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, he joined in the rail-borne movement to reinforce Beauregard’s forces at Manassas, though only two of his regiments—the 7th and 8th Georgia—arrived in time to take part in the fighting on July 21.
A Recounting of Bartow’s Death
Within days of the Confederate victory at Manassas, Southern correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander recounted the dramatic circumstances of Bartow’s death on Henry House Hill in a series of dispatches, excerpts from which appear below. Alexander’s entire narrative was published in William B. Styple’s book, Writing & Fighting the Confederate War (Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearny, NJ, Spring 2002).
“It was when the brigade was ordered to take one of the enemy’s strongest batteries, that it suffered most. It was a most desperate undertaking, and followed by the bloodiest results….The balls and shells from the battery, and the bullets from the small arms, literally riddled the woods. Trees six inches in diameter, and great limbs were cut off, and the ground strewn with the wreck. It became necessary to retire the Eighth Regiment in order to re-form it. Meanwhile, Col. Bartow’s horse had been shot from under him. It was observed that the forces with which his movement was to be supported had not come up. But it was enough that he had been ordered to storm the battery; so, placing himself at the head of the Seventh Regiment, he again led the charge, this time on foot, and gallantly encouraging his men as they rushed on.
The first discharge from the enemy’s guns killed the regimental color-bearer. Bartow immediately seized the flag, and again putting himself in the front, dashed on, flag in hand, his voice ringing clear over the battle-field, and saying, ‘on, my boys, we will die rather than yield or retreat.’…. At last, and just when they were nearing the goal of their hopes, and almost in the arms of victory, the brave and noble Bartow was shot down, the ball striking him in the left breast, just above the heart…
Lieut. W.P. Moon, of the Atlanta Confederate Volunteers, J.T. Lindley, of the Cobb County Confederate Guards, J.L. Dobbs of the same company, and a Virginian, picked him up and bore him off to the rear. His last words, uttered when they started off with him, as reported to me, were: ‘Boys, they have killed me, but never give it up.’ They carried him seventy-five or a hundred yards from where he fell, and laid him down; but the bullets fell so thick about him that they removed him further down the hill, where they procured some water. He drank a little, and then seemed to speak, but was not able. They then applied the canteen to his lips a second time, but he was unconscious and could not swallow the water. Laying him back, he died almost immediately, and without a struggle. They took off his gloves and placed them and a cartridge box under his head. He did not live more than twenty minutes after he fell….[Lieut. Moon] says that Col. Bartow seemed to be looking at them and smiling all the time up to the moment of his death…
Hearing of his [Bartow’s] fall, Gen. Johnston sent a detachment to bring his body to headquarters, which was done, and on the following day, by order of President Davis, his remains were taken to Richmond to Mrs. Bartow. His sword, which had been previously broken by a ball, was saved, and yesterday I succeeded in getting his belt…
[The flag of the Seventh Georgia] has fourteen bullet holes in it, and the flag staff was struck in four places. After Col. Bartow’s fall, Lieutenant Paxton of Virginia asked leave, the color bearer being wounded, to carry the flag. His request was granted, and he and W.L. Norman, one of the color guards, of DeKalb County, were the first to place it upon the captured battery. Eli W. Hoyle of the Atlanta Confederate Volunteers, was the first to mount the battery.”