Unusual Tourist Sites: The Barbara Frietchie House in Frederick, Maryland

About the unusual tourist site the Barbara Frietchi House in Frederick Maryland, a monument in the Civil War.

Frederick, Maryland

The Barbara Frietchie House ... Here it stands, this hallowed Civil War monument to a patriotic old lady's defiance of the Southern rebels. According to John Greenleaf Whittier's classic version, a poem of 30 verses for which Atlantic Monthly paid him $50, the Confederate troops headed by Gen. Stonewall Jackson were marching through Frederick defiling the Stars and Stripes in September, 1862. An elderly resident, Barbara Frietchie, displayed the Stars and Stripes and cried out:

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,

But spare your country's flag," she said.

Impressed, General Jackson turned to his troops:

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head,

Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

Beautiful, but unfortunately it never happened. There was a Mrs. Barbara H. Frietchie, widow of a glovemaker, living in this house when the incident was supposed to have occurred. She was bedridden at the time the Confederate troops marched by. She did not see them nor did she see General Jackson, since he did not pass her house but detoured to visit friends. Later, after the Confederates had departed and Union troops entered the city, Barbara Frietchie's niece helped her out of bed, gave her a came and a small flag, and led her outside to wave to the Northern soldiers, several of whom paused to shake her hand.

What had really happened while the Confederates marched through was an entirely different incident, which Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, included in a report to the capital: "A clergyman tells me that he saw an aged crone come out of her house as certain rebels passed by trailing the American flag in the dust. She shook her long, skinny hands at the traitors and screamed at the top of her voice, 'My curses be upon you and your officers for degrading your country's flag.'"

A number of days later, Barbara Frietchie's niece added the story of the aged crone to her aunt's adventure. Then she tried it out on C. S. Ramsburg, of Georgetown, who in turn related it to a neighbor, the famous romantic novelist Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth. Deciding that this was the stuff of which poetry is made, Mrs. Southworth passed the tale on to Whittier. As a result of Whittier's poem, Barbara Frietchie became a legend and her home a shrine. Mrs. Frietchie died 2 1/2 months after the nonincident, before the poem appeared. Her quaint old house, restored in 1927, continues to attract the sentimental and the I-Am-an-American types, even though nothing eventful took place there.

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