Colonel Francis Bartow was not one to lead from behind or to send a regiment, where he would not himself go. Both were traits that would endear him to his men, and also would result in his mortal wounding at the First Battle of Bull Run July 21, 1861. Although he had little if any formal military training, Francis Bartow threw himself into the roll first as captain of the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, then as Colonel of the 8th GA and by late June 1861 commander of a Brigade in General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah.
On July 18th 1861, Bartow’s Brigade, comprised of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Georgia Regiments, the 1st Kentucky regiment and the Wise Artillery left their encampment north of Winchester. Their destination, along with the rest of Johnston’s Army was Manassas Junction. Here they were to combine forces with Brigadier General P.G.T Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac, where they would meet the advancing Union forces under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell. Bartow, along with the 7th and 8th GA arrived in Manassas Junction in the early morning hours of Saturday July 20th. The morning of Sunday July 21st found the 7th and 8th GA positioned along the banks of Bull Run Creek when they were ordered to support the Confederate left flank near the Stone Bridge; this flank now being threatened by the advance of McDowell forces.
Having visited Manassas Junction that morning to determine the whereabouts of the remainder of his Brigade (the 9th Georgia and 1st KY which would arrive after the battle), Colonel Bartow rejoined the 7th and 8th Georgia now in position on Henry Hill. Here he found a situation that was far from ideal. Union Colonel David Hunter’s Division was on the brink of overwhelming the vastly outnumbered Confederate forces under Colonel Nathan G. Evans on Matthews Hill. Responding to requests for assistance, Bartow ordered and accompanied the 8th GA to an exposed position on the Confederate right, facing the Union soldiers then occupying the house, fences and outbuildings of the Edgar Matthews farm. Although it was their first engagement, the next 15 minutes would be some of the most difficult fighting the 8th GA would endure during the war. With Union forces closing in on them from the front right and rear, Lt. Colonel Gardner (commanding the 8th GA) went down with a wound to the leg and Bartow’s horse was shot from beneath him. Colonel Bartow had little choice but order a retreat. The 8th GA fell back to Henry Hill, leaving scores of wounded and dead behind them.
Having pulled the 8th GA out of line of battle and the regiment beginning to reform, Bartow set off in search of the 7th GA which he had last left on Henry Hill. Upon finding them, Bartow, was ordered once again to shore up a weak Confederate flank. This time it was the left flank on Henry Hill that was being pressed by Union regiments that in part included Lincoln’s pet lambs, the famed 11th NY Fire Zouaves ,the 14th Brooklyn and the not yet famous 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. All of which were fighting desperately to maintain their foothold on Henry Hill and maintain possession of the two union batteries stationed there.
For Colonel Bartow the moment of truth had arrived, he knew that action was required and upon seeing General Beauregard riding towards him, he asked “What shall be done? Tell me, and if human effort can avail and I will do it!” Beauregard’s reply was “That battery should be silenced”. Needing no further encouragement, Bartow seized the standard of the 7th GA and “gave the command to rally and follow him”. Much like the events surrounding the 8th GA on Matthews Hill, Bartow once again found himself leading his men into battle. This time he would not come out unscathed. Charging forward toward a fence that separated the participants, Bartow was thrown to the ground by a bullet that shattered his right foot. Staggering on, Bartow reached the fence waving his sword and encouraging his men onward only to be struck a second time in the chest. Colonel Bartow knew his wound was mortal and with what little strength remained, gave his men one more encouragement, yelling “They have killed me, but never give up the field!” The men of the 7th Georgia pushed forward over the fence capturing the guns fulfilling the promise of their brigade commander who was soon to become one of the first martyrs of the Confederate Cause.