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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Barbara Fritichie – A Woman Who Waved the Flag and Rallied the Nation

Barbara Fritichie (maiden name Barbara Hauer) was born in 1766 and died in 1862. She was friends with Francis Scott Key (author of the “Star Spangled Banner”).

According to legend, when Stonewall Jackson marched through her hometown of Fredrick Maryland in 1861 that Barbara Fritichie, a staunch supporter of the Union side in the war, waved the American flag out her bedroom window and defied the Confederate troops to make her stop.

In actuality, Barbara Fritichie was sick in bed that day and did nothing of the sort. A while later, when Union troops marched through the town, she did wave the flag to the cheering of the Union troops (it should be remembered that Maryland was a so-called border state where the sympathies of many lay with the Confederacy even though it was nominally allied with the Union cause and did not succeed like the other states of the Confederacy). Another woman had supposedly waved the American flag in front of Stonewall Jackson's troops, however, people soon came to associate Barbara Fritichie with that act and, without her knowing or encouraging it, the legend grew that she had not been the one. With the Union desperate for just this kind of patriotic act to inspire the public, the erroneous story was soon being spread far and wide.

In 1864, after Barbara's death, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, believing the legend about her to be true, composed and published the following poem which added further fuel to the legend.

Just as Longfellow's poem about Paul Revere's midnight ride earned Paul Revere a place in our historical memory while William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who accompanied Revere on his famous ride are all but forgotten, so too, did Whttier's poem serve to etch Barbara Fritichie in our historical memory.

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,

Fair as the garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall;

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars
Forty flag with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind; the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

"Halt!" - the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
"Fire!" - out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet;

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie's grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

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