Save 35 at Barlow’s Knoll at Gettysburg

A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

“The right end of the Yankee line north of Gettysburg was in charge of Brigadier General Francis Barlow, the slim, clean-shaven young New York lawyer who had gone into the war as a militia private, and now commanded a division, and he tried to anchor it on a little knoll near a stream known as Rock Creek. He planted guns there, and made note that still another Confederate column was materializing on the far side of Rock Creek, away to his right and rear.

“It was early afternoon by now, and the Rebel line formed a long semicircle from southwest clear around to northeast. From end to end, this semicircle flamed and crashed. The wild uproar of battle rose to a crescendo and the great blazing semicircle began to roll forward. Something had to give, and the break came first on the knoll where Barlow had his guns. Rebel infantry charged in close and laid down a killing fire… Barlow went down seriously wounded. All along the line regiments caved in, and the position was lost.”

— Bruce Catton, from The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road 

Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,

Jim LIghthizerYou have no idea how excited I am to tell you about this one.

I now have the honor and privilege to notify you that the Civil War Trust is undertaking one of its most important preservation efforts ever at the Gettysburg battlefield:

With your help, in the next 60 days,
we will complete the preservation of Barlow’s Knoll at Gettysburg.

Today, with the chance to save the bloodiest unprotected 35 acres from the first day’s battle that can still be saved at Gettysburg . . .

. . . I don’t mind telling you that – in my humble opinion – this is without a doubt one of the most important historic preservation efforts at one of the most hallowed places in America.

If you have not already done so, please look now at the special map I have for you today, showing you exactly where this iconic site is.

Barlow's Knoll
Portion of battle map showing in yellow the 35-acre Barlow's Knoll property we are working to save.

Located just north of town and bordered by the historic Harrisburg and Carlisle Roads, this land saw intense combat on July 1, 1863, resulting in hundreds of casualties including Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow.  

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The property we are working to save is literally only a few paces from the monument to General Barlow, whose actions during the battle forever affixed his name to what was previously known as Blocher’s Knoll. Incredibly, however, this 35-acre tract is not part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and therefore is not permanently protected. Adams County, which has owned the property for decades, is giving the Trust the first time opportunity to acquire and preserve this landmark tract.

Residential and commercial development is already pressing heavily on the eastern and southern flanks of this crucial tract, making it urgent that the Civil War Trust purchase this land and save it immediately.

Fortunately for us (and for future generations), the county has agreed to sell the land for $400,000.  Unfortunately, this is one of those rare instances – because of where the land is situated, inside the “authorized boundary” of the national military park – where we are unable to tap into any federal matching funds to help us make the purchase and save the land.

We are 100 percent on our own on this one, but there is good news:  My staff and I have, for several weeks, been quietly approaching certain donors who have a special interest in Gettysburg.

The result of that outreach is that we have lined up gifts and commitments approaching $200,000, or about one-half of the total purchase price!  So in effect, any gift you can give today will be matched dollar for dollar, not by government funds, but by the generosity of friends who have already stepped forward to save this hallowed ground.

According to historian James Hessler, the Barlow’s Knoll property is one of the most historically significant tracts of land not currently within the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park. You may also hear this tract called “the Almshouse property.” 

That’s because this was the site of the Adams County Almshouse (poor house) and farm, which provided for the support of the county’s poor, invalids, and insane. A brick building was erected in 1818, and the first residents arrived the next year.  More structures were added over the subsequent decades, including a barn, a brick hospital, and another brick building to separate the poor from the mentally ill. (None of these structures survive today.)

Among the residents was James Wade, the father of Mary Virginia “Ginnie” Wade who was the only civilian killed during the battle. James Wade had a long criminal history and was committed after being declared insane by his own wife in 1852. (Please don’t tell this story to my wife, we don’t want her getting any ideas.)

There was also a pauper’s cemetery that is still present today just north of the property we’re hoping to buy. This ground also served as a field hospital and burial ground for casualties from both armies after they clashed here on July 1, 1863.  

Now about that historic clash: Here, late on that afternoon of July 1, two divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s Eleventh Corps were ordered to deploy in the fields north of Gettysburg to protect the vulnerable right flank of the army’s First Corps.  

Here, General Barlow made one of the first day’s most controversial movements, advancing his soldiers to a knoll about 700 yards away. Here, his cannons and soldiers might enjoy a better field of fire, but his right flank would be dangerously exposed.

And toward that very flank Southern infantrymen, led by combative General John B. Gordon’s brigade, advanced at the “double quick” along the Harrisburg Road. Pounded by Confederate artillery and raked by Confederate infantry, the men of Barlow’s undersized division were soon defeated in detail and sent streaming back in retreat across the land we hope to save.

As his division fled toward the Almshouse, General Barlow attempted to get in front of and rally his men. A Confederate bullet stopped him in the act and he lay, badly wounded, as running men and bullets whizzed around him. 

What happened next, as told by General Gordon, has been called a “tall tale” by some, while others believe it really happened.  Whatever the case, it is among the most well-known human-interest stories of the entire Battle of Gettysburg.

The most frequently quoted version of this story appeared in Gordon’s memoirs, Reminiscences of the Civil War, published in 1903:

“In the midst of the wild disorder in his ranks, and through a storm of bullets, a Union officer was seeking to rally his men for a final stand. He, too, went down, pierced by a Minie ball. Riding forward with my rapidly advancing lines, I discovered that brave officer lying upon his back, with the July sun pouring its rays into his pale face. He was surrounded by Union dead, and his own life seemed to be quickly ebbing out. 

“Quickly dismounting and lifting his head, I gave him water from my canteen, asked his name and the character of his wounds. He was General Francis C. Barlow, of New York, and of Howard’s corps. The ball had entered his body in front and passed out near the spinal cord, paralyzing him in legs and arms. Neither of us had the remotest thought that he could possibly survive many hours. 

“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.”

Barlow did not die that day, but both Gordon and Barlow believed that the other had been killed during the war, and so were astounded to meet at a dinner party in New York City sixteen years later! 

Historian James Hessler also relates another tragic story that unfolded on this ground: 

“Union artillery Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson, only 19 years old, had deployed four of his guns on the knoll at Barlow’s direction. Wilkeson’s leg was smashed by a shot that also killed his horse. He applied a tourniquet to his mangled limb and was carried across the land we are trying to save to the Almshouse.” (By some accounts, he even amputated his own leg with his knife.) 

“Wilkeson was placed in a damp basement room of the poor house, where he died that night. His father Sam Wilkeson, a correspondent for the New York Times, arrived to write his news report while his eyes were ‘fastened’ upon his son’s dead body.”

Could you and I possibly just stand aside and let a place of so much history and significance not be preserved for future generations when we had the chance?  

I pray you will help save this crucial piece of hallowed ground today, because if we are unable to raise the final amount we need, I shudder to think what could eventually become of this place.

If you’re anything like me – passionate about preserving the important parts of our nation’s rich history – that mental image of bulldozers scraping away this hallowed ground fills your heart with dread.

I’m no Pollyanna. I know asking you to help me raise $200,000 – on top of the many other important hallowed ground purchases we have made of late – is asking a lot. But I hope you will agree this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it is worthy of our best effort to save it.

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So I ask you: Will you be a hero to Gettysburg and future generations by helping to save Barlow’s Knoll?  

I need your help today, because you are one of the few people who truly cares about saving our country’s history.

You are one of the few who truly understands how important it is to save this hallowed ground, to tell the story of how we became the great country that we are today.

And you are one of the few who believes it is essential to pass down these hallowed places to the next generation.

That’s why I hope you will help the Civil War Trust take full advantage of this opportunity to raise the final $200,000 we need to save Barlow’s Knoll at Gettysburg in the next 60 days.  I can’t thank you enough for all of your help. Please reply as soon as you possibly can.

Very sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S.  I can only pray that I have done a good enough job convincing you how important this effort to save Barlow’s Knoll truly is. But as a parting thought, let me leave you with quotes by two “Eds,” legendary historian Ed Bearss, and the current Superintendent at the Gettysburg National Military Park, Ed Clark.

Ed Bearss says, “To me, this property is as important to understanding the first day at Gettysburg as Sickles’ position in the Peach Orchard is on the second day of the battle.” 

And Ed Clark says, “Barlow’s Knoll has been on the National Park Service wish list for decades. Thanks to the Civil War Trust’s timely and strategic acquisition, 35 acres that were the scene of bitter and costly fighting on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg will be preserved forever.”

With your help and generous gift today, we can make his prediction come true. Please look at for videos, maps, and even more information!  You can also make your gift securely online – putting your generosity to work at the speed of light!  

Thank you very, very much. Remember, we have a hard and fast deadline of 60 days. Now, please let me hear back from you as soon as possible. Thank you again for all you do for this great cause!

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