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Barbara Fritchie (née Hauer) (December 3, 1766 – December 18, 1862), also known as Barbara Frietchie, and sometimes spelled Frietschie, was a Unionist during the Civil War. She was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and married John Casper Fritchie, a glove maker, on May 6, 1806.
She was a friend of Francis Scott Key and they participated together in a memorial service at Frederick, Maryland, when George Washington died. A central figure in the history of Frederick, she lived in a house that has, in modern times, become a stop on the town's walking tour. According to one story, at the age of 90 she waved the Union flag in the middle of the street to block, or at least antagonize Stonewall Jackson's troops, as they passed through Frederick in the Maryland Campaign. This event is the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem of 1864, Barbara Frietchie. When Winston Churchill passed through Frederick in 1943, he stopped at the house and recited the poem from memory, an excerpt of which follows.
"Shoot me, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare my 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.
Barbara Fritchie died at the age of 96 and was interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery, in Frederick City.
Barbara Fritchie House and Museum
The Barbara Fritchie House and Museum is located at 154 West Patrick Street, Frederick, Maryland.
In Her Honor
One of the Mid-Atlantic states' top ten horse races was named in her honor; it is one of only seven Grade I or Grade II races run in the state of Maryland. The Barbara Fritchie Handicap is an American race for thoroughbred horses, run at Laurel Park Racecourse in Laurel, Maryland each year. A Grade II race, it is open to fillies and mares age three and up, whose owners are willing to race them seven furlongs on the dirt. It offers a purse of $300,000, and has been run since 200.
Authenticity of poem
The flag incident in the poem likely never occurred, however, as Barbara Fritchie was sick in bed that day. She told the housekeeper to hide all valuables to prevent looting, and to take the U.S. flag that hung outside, but it was never moved, and as a result was shot up by the Confederate troops. Accounts differ as to how the legend that inspired the poem arose. The flag, a symbol of the need for myth in times of war, may be seen in the Barbara Fritchie House and Museum.
History disproves the poem with the fact that the Confederate troops never passed by her house. Although they were within range of sight, they would only have been heard by Mrs. Fritchie if they had yelled to her at the top of their lungs. Similarly, her responding voice would have been drowned out by the volume of the troops yelling to her, except for those who were standing nearest to her.
The troops marched south on Bentz Street and turned west on Patrick Street. To have passed Barbara Fritchie's house, they would have needed to turn east and march a minimum of 1000 feet to have been at her door. Any Confederate troops marching to her door would have been shot for desertion, as that would have been the charge for disobeying their set marching orders.
- [Murfin, James V., The Gleam of Bayonets: Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1962 (Atlanta, 1976)(paperback ed.>, 118-9.]
- Fritchie gravesite in Frederick, Maryland
- Historical Marker Database: Barbara Fritchie House
- Frederick Tourism - information on Barbara Fritchie House