Barbara Frietchie : Now “Dyke of the Union”
The Incorrect History
Barbara Frietchie was a citizen of Frederick, Maryland, when Confederates led by General Stonewall Jackson marched through with his men. Story goes that Grandma F alone defied the Confederates and flew the Union flag. Jackson was so impressed that he allowed that single flag to wave in defiant patriotism.
Now it turns out the entire story was fake. Read this report.
Barbara Fritchie didn’t wave that flag
Alas, one of my childhood heroines turns out to be a sham. Although gray-headed Barbara Fritchie did in fact live in Frederick when Confederate troops marched through town en route to their historic defeat at Antietam 150 years ago, she was not the one who defiantly displayed the Union flag as legend recalls.
The brave flag-waver was instead a neighbor named Mary Quantrell, according to witnesses’ accounts and news reports from the era. But virtually no one remembers Quantrell because Fritchie was the one immortalized a year after the event in a propagandistic Civil Warpoem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Despite its illegitimacy, the Fritchie story offers intriguing insights into how historical myths arise and are exploited for status and profit. A reconstruction of Fritchie’s house is still one of Frederick’s top tourist draws, even though city officials are careful to describe her celebrated act on Sept. 10, 1862, as “alleged.”…
No firsthand account speaks of Fritchie displaying the flag or even being seen in public that day. Professional historians have long dismissed the story.
Whittier was apparently misled by thirdhand information he received from a fellow writer in Washington. When Quantrell died in 1879, both major Frederick newspapers identified her as the genuine inspiration for the ballad.
Neither Fritchie nor Gen. Jackson was available to comment, as both had died before the ballad appeared.
Fritchie’s stardom was preserved partly because her nieces and other descendants labored for decades to promote her reputation and protect the family name. They led a campaign that erected a memorial to her in 1914 over objections that it honored a woman for something she never did.
Fritchie was the subject of a song, a Broadway play and three silent films. A motorcycle race and horse race are named for her.
The Fritchie fable has long been one of Frederick’s most reliable moneymakers. Local merchants have used her name and image since the early 1900s to attract tourists and sell local products, including women’s stockings, hams and canned vegetables. I remember eating Barbara Fritchie chocolates as a child after touring the house.
“Her name was merchandising gold,” said Carrie Blough, curator of the Historical Society of Frederick County. She organized a current exhibition of Fritchie products and memorabilia.
Our Suggestion to the Yanks
Since the story is anyway fake and Frederick has been steadily milking the patriotic udders of an entire nation, they may add an additional twist. What if Dame Barbara was the Original “Dyke of the Union” and flag she waved was actually the Pride Flag?
I think the lesbians will love the idea of their chance to be patriotic. With a bit of US marketing savvy, it can be a real moneyspinner. Maybe you can rope in Ellen Degeneres as Brand Ambassador.
Just remember, you heard it here first and you owe us a royalty.
The poem written by a Union poet was:
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 a garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,
On that pleasant morn of the 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 flags 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!