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William Francis Bartlett: Biography of a Union General in the Civil War

 by Richard A. Sauers and Martin H. Sable, McFarland Publishers

Captain William Francis Bartlett of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was reconnoitering outside Yorktown, Va., on April 24, 1862, when a Confederate Minié ball struck his left leg. The wound resulted in an amputation below the knee. “Poor fellow,” wrote a brother officer, Lieutenant Henry L. Abbott, “to be cut off for good from a military career when he had so much talent for it.”

Abbott’s lament was somewhat premature. Far from willing to accept the opportunity to leave the field of battle, Frank Bartlett found his way back into combat, distinguishing himself in campaigns in both the Eastern and Western theaters. Wounded twice more, he would be fortunate not to lose a hand as well.

Taken prisoner at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, Bartlett survived Confederate captivity to retire as a major general, only to fall victim to the peace. His remarkable constitution was apparently undermined by tuberculosis, among other ailments, as well as the stress of a business career, leading to his premature death at age 36.

Martin H. Sable, a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who was born in Bartlett’s hometown of Haverhill, Mass., managed to compile a wealth of information on the general’s life, which Richard A. Sauers, executive director of the Packwood House Museum in Lewisburg, Pa., has woven into a compelling biography.

Bartlett’s inspiring story provides yet another piece in the intricate jigsaw puzzle that was the Civil War. Profiles in courage are of course no rarity in that conflict, but readers with an interest in how individuals affected the war or were affected by it are sure to be impressed by Bartlett’s dogged devotion to the cause for which he chose to risk his life.


Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here