I’ve seen her name spelled Fritchie (there was a local chain of pancake houses in the Northern Maryland/Southern Pennsylvania area called Barbara Fritchie’s Waffle House. We had one on Main Street in Chambersburg, PA when I was growing up. I think it’s still there, and still has a 1930s/40s decor. I need to get up there and photograph it before they renovate and/or close it down and convert it into a Starbucks or something). The story, as rather floridly recounted in the poem on the carte, is that she was a 90 year old widow, living in Frederick, Maryland. Stonewall Jackson’s troops were marching through Frederick and saw the Union flag flying above her house. They shot it down, but she retrieved it and continued to wave it out her window. Stonewall Jackson was so moved by her devoted patriotism (even if for the other side) that he ordered his men to leave it and her alone.
There are variations on her story – I’ve seen her age listed anywhere between 90 and 95. The spelling of her name is inconsistent.
The photo, by Mathew Brady, was printed up with the John Greenleaf Whittier poem. The photo is not actually by Brady – that is to say, it is a copy of an existing daguerreotype of Barbara Fritchie, made by Brady. She never sat for him, because by the time the poem was written and the carte de visite created, she had been dead over a year. According to Wikipedia, the whole incident that inspired the poem never actually happened, as Jackson’s troops never marched up her street, but in fact were almost a quarter mile away:
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 in 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.
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.
The woman who inspired the poem, and who was brandishing the flag in front of the Confederate troops, was actually Mary Quantrell who lived on Patrick Street.
In 1899, John Greenleaf Whittier was quoted in a New York Times article based on a letter he wrote to the Frederick Examiner shortly before his death, vouching that he had no knowledge that the Barbara Fritchie incident was a hoax.
What Whittier Knew
The Brady image was made to sell at the Great Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia in 1864. Sanitary Fairs
…were civilian-organized bazaars and expositions dedicated to raising funds on behalf of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) and other charitable relief organizations. Over the course of the Civil War, they became one of the most popular means of fundraising for the Union cause.
The name sounds somewhat misleading today in that it lends the aura of having something to do with bathing the participants. In fact, they were about protecting the health and welfare of soldiers in the field. the US Sanitary Commission was a relief organization, analagous to the Red Cross, that provided everything from bandages to nurses to food in the camps, and did what they could to enforce healthy living conditions for soldiers and the wounded in hospitals.