One-hundred fifty years ago today (July 21, 1861), the first major battle of the Civil War was fought near the town of Manassas Junction, VA. Three Georgia infantry units participated in the battle, under the command of Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow. Bartow had been active in secessionist politics, helping to organize early secession demonstrations in his native Savannah, GA and nearby Charleston, SC. He also organized one of the earliest military companies from Georgia – the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, which he led in the capture of Fort Pulaski in January of 1861. Bartow attended Georgia’s state secession convention in Milledgeville (then the state capital), where he was a vocal advocate for secession. Following Georgia’s withdrawal from the Union, Bartow was chosen as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress, which met in Montgomery, AL in February of 1861. He worked with his friend, T.R.R. Cobb, in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain the Confederate Presidency for Cobb’s brother – Howell Cobb. Bartow also served as chairman of the military affairs committee and in this role reportedly selected gray as the color for Confederate uniforms.
Francis Stebbins Bartow
Bartow led his Oglethorpe Light Infantry to Virginia in the spring of 1861, to prepare for the Northern invasion of the South. This caused a public disagreement with Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown, who disapproved of Bartow arming his men with rifles that Brown considered strictly for the defense of the state of Georgia. Bartow argued that he had little time for such petty matters. He was elected Colonel after his arrival in Virginia, and ultimately placed in command of a brigade. At a critical moment in the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), Bartow led a charge on a Union battery, where he was mortally wounded – his final words were “they have killed me boys, but never give up the field.” Newspapers throughout the state of Georgia praised Bartow for his leadership and gallantry.
To honor Francis Stebbins Bartow, and at the urging of the citizens of Cass County in northwest Georgia, the county’s name was changed to Bartow County by the Georgia General Assembly in December, 1861.