Caroline Wells Healey Dall.

Barbara Fritchie, a study online

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Honor to her, and let a tear

Fall for her sake on Stonewall s bier





Copyright, 1892,



(History of the Poem, and the reason why these pages
have been written.)

TN December, 1862, a great-nephew
of John Caspar Fritchie, returning
to Washington after an extended bridal
tour, went to Frederick to visit his rela
tives, and arrived just in time to attend
Barbara Fritchie s funeral.

The account of the funeral, published
in the local Union paper, naturally stim
ulated the memories of the German resi
dents, and Barbara s various exploits
were related.

The story of September 6th interested
her nephew, and on returning to his
Georgetown home he repeated it to a


This brother, a well-known real-estate
agent in Washington, was on intimate
terms with Mrs. Southworth the novelist.

Mrs. Southworth was just recovering
from a severe illness, and her friend
told her the story as he heard it. The
statement was informal. Nothing was
known or said about Jackson s ordering
his troops to fire. The troops fired ;
Barbara waved the flag which the firing
threw down, reproaching the men for
their disloyalty, and the stern voice of
the general cried, " March on ! "

The vivid imagination of Mrs. South-
worth saw the possibilities of this touch
ing story, and she wrote her letter to
Whittier. Whittier was fired by its no
ble suggestions; and ignorant of Fred
erick, of its local possibilities, of the
constant irregular firing upon the flag
which went on in its streets and neigh
borhood, gave his imagination full play.
It was natural that he should think


that the general who gave the order to
"March on!" was at his post when the
disturbance began. Hardly had the bal
lad been printed before the truth of the
story began to be questioned in Mary
land and Virginia ; and as the rumors
of denial grew louder and louder, Miss
Dix, from her post in the hospitals, wrote
to the poet, reaffirming the facts.

The two parties misunderstood each
other. What irritated the Southerners
was the assertion that their favorite
general ordered his men to fire on an
aged woman. The Northerner, proud of
the courageous Barbara, and indifferent
to Jackson, supposed it was the woman s
heroism that offended, and so nothing
was established ; and quite lately Whit-
tier told a friend residing in Baltimore
that he very much regretted the ballad,
as he now doubted the story, and that it
was the only thing he had ever written


for the truth of which he could not

Here the fishermen of Marblehead step
up to remind him of Ffloyd Ireson !

But Whittier has no occasion to regret
his ballad. Noble-hearted Stonewall
Jackson neither loses nor gains by the
story, and would willingly spare a laurel-
leaf in the brave old German s honor.

In 1876, fourteen years after the
events related, I went to Frederick, and
satisfied myself that the story was true
as regarded Barbara. I interviewed
Valerius Ebert, in whose possession I
found her flag, the photographer Byerly,
Mrs. Handshew, and other connections
of Caspar Fritchie ; but I relied chiefly
upon Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, late librarian
of the Enoch Pratt Library, for the de
tails which filled out the story.

In March, 1878, I published the story,
as I understood it, in a magazine printed


at Springfield, Massachusetts, and called
" Sunday Afternoon."

Owing to the facts that feelings were
still exasperated, and Dr. Steiner s home
still in Frederick, I was not at liberty to
give his authority as freely as I may do
now. My dear friend died suddenly in
Baltimore last winter, and his son has,
I believe, succeeded to his post.

The magazine had a limited circula
tion, but it reached Valerius Ebert,
whose voluminous letters were submitted
to Dr. Steiner, and returned, with anno
tations. It also reached John Williams,
a soldier in Burnside s corps ; and his
testimony is incorporated into the fol
lowing sketch. It is valuable because
it shows the story of September 6th cur
rent among the Rebels in Frederick a
few days after it occurred.

In 1887, Henry Nixtorf, a German
Unionist, mentioned more than once in


my story, published his " Recollections
of Barbara," through W. T. Delaplaine,
of Frederick. Although it contains some
interesting anecdotes, this volume adds
nothing to our positive knowledge, ex
cept the statement that the flag fluttered
from her " west window " as long as
Barbara lived.

There the matter seemed likely to rest,
until Mrs. Jackson published, last winter,
the Memoir of her husband, in which she
denies distinctly that there is any founda
tion for the ballad. She asserts that she
makes this statement and she does it
in evident good faith after a thor
ough inquiry in the city of Frederick.
Soon after this, Dr. Steiner passed away,
and I was at liberty to speak more

With the world in general, Mrs. Jack
son s statement, mistakenly supposed to
refer to Barbara, will seem authorita-


tive ; but Mrs. Jackson wished only to
lift from her husband s brow the " blush
of shame," with which the poet s imagi
nation had remanded him to the " Legion
of Honor."

In investigating the whole subject
again, I have interviewed by letter or in
person all those whom I originally con
sulted. Mrs. Handshew is still living,
but too advanced in years to recall her
story. I have got such information as
I needed from the two brothers who
originally told it, and at their suggestion
I have had the local newspapers searched.
During the Civil War there were two
newspapers published in Frederick. An
exhaustive examination of the columns
of the Union paper has been made by
Miss Diehl, of Frederick, extending over
three years ; but it has yielded only the
account of Barbara s funeral, of which I
copy here the conclusion :


" Barbara removed to this city when a
child. She remembered the signing of the
Declaration of Independence, and the scenes
of the Revolutionary War ; she was familiar
with the career of Washington, and shared
the popular joy on the announcement of

u In the quiet of domestic life she literally
grew up with the nation s growth, and partici
pated in its passing history ; in middle age
she witnessed the War of 1812 ; and when the
sands of life ran low, she justly regarded the
Rebellion, which now hangs like a cloud over
the hopes of freemen, as the saddest expe
rience of her protracted life.

" To one thus strangely identified with the
origin and growth of the Republic, loyalty
necessarily became a deep-seated sentiment ;
and when the Rebels were expelled from this
city, on the memorable 12th of September, this
venerable lady, as a last act of devotion, stood
at her front door and waved the glorious star-
spangled banner in token of welcome to our
deliverers. On Sunday last her mortal re
mains were interred in the cemetery of the
Evangelical Reformed Church, of which she


was a consistent and exemplary member for
more than forty years." 1

I have corresponded with the present
pastor of the church here alluded to, and
it does not seem likely that any more
detailed account of the events of Septem
ber 6th will ever be accessible, unless,
as has frequently happened in matters
of greater moment, some dead soldier s
diary should reveal it to posterity. Bar
bara Fritchie did not preserve the Ger
man spelling of her name, and I spell it
here as it is spelled on her monument in
the graveyard at Frederick.


1526 Eighteenth Street, N.W.,

1 From the " Weekly Examiner/ Dec. 27, 1862.



in America knows the
story of " The Man without a Coun
try," and remembers how its author was
beset with inquiries as to the real name
and origin of the hero, Philip Nolan,
who was born and lived in the imagina
tion of Edward Everett Hale alone.

The experience is not peculiar. If in
literature any author is so venturesome
as to make use of a fact 7 its probability
is at once questioned. If he give the
rein to imagination, he is as speedily
called upon for names and dates.

No one could help observing this in
the Centennial year, for among the


many foreigners who visited Philadel
phia, a large number travelled to Freder
ick to ascertain the whereabouts of
Barbara Fritchie ; and during that sum
mer the Northern papers teemed with
descriptions of the localities connected
with the purely ideal story of " Evange-
line." Standing in the little cottage
attached to the Quaker almshouse in
Philadelphia, which was pulled down
that very summer, I saw a lady take
an old engraving from the shivering
wall and murmur, "I wish I knew
whether Evangeline ever saw this ! "

The author of the ideal may well be
moved by any such tribute to his power ;
but the man who idealizes the historic
must needs be vexed by the treatment
the world bestows upon his effort.

For myself, I offer no thanks to him
who attempts to turn William Tell into
a solar myth. He is mine, and I will


not give him up. So is the blind Homer
of tradition, whether he were a poet in
his own right, or merely a wandering
harper who collected and chanted the
epics of the past.

Moved by such feelings, in November,
1875, I published in the "New York In
dependent " a vindication of the truth of
Whittier s story, drawn from antecedent
probability, quoting in my own support a
journal published by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner,
of the Sanitary Commission, before the
publication of Whittier s ballad. I had
heard soldiers of both armies assert that
they had seen old Barbara wave the flag ;
and as I did not know, at the time these
assertions were made, that the story
would ever be seriously questioned, as
indeed I did not guess any question to
be possible, it seemed best to restate
the supposed facts in the lifetime of the
author, and so challenge final confir
mation or denial.


My article did very little good. In
the following May the Philadelphia
" Press " contained another on the oppo
site side. The point of this paper was
different from any I had attempted to
meet. The "Press" denied that a bullet
or volley of bullets cut away Barbara s
staff; and this is certainly true. But
does anybody care whether it did or
no ? What I would assert is, that this
gray-haired woman, ninety-five years and
nine months old, stirred by the approach
of the Rebel army, mounted the short
stairway which led to her attic, and
waved her flag in the face of the advanc
ing foe. It was the dim dawn of a Sep
tember morning. No sympathetic Rebels
had crept out into the narrow street.
Only a few convalescents from the hos
pital watched the advance from the
bridge. The sight of Barbara raised the
coarse ire of some of the men, and their


lifted guns and uplifted voices were
lowered at Stonewall Jackson s stern

Why is it that human hearts are so
dead to the heroic? One would think
that at the first glimpse of this noble
story every eye would gleam, every
bosom would throb with exulting sym
pathy ! The ballad belongs to that class
of poems which the world will never
willingly let die. How does it happen,
then, that so many persons are anxious
to disprove, not merely the waving of
the flag, but the very existence of
Barbara Fritchie ?

I will give a double answer to this
question. I will tell the story as I
understand it, as simply as if it had
never been doubted ; and then I will ex
plain the state of things among her own
relatives and townspeople, which made
its denial possible in Frederick itself,


Frederick, lifted into sudden illumination
for Barbara s sake.

Many a time and oft had I desired to
go to Frederick. Partly because it was
a lovely little gem, set in a circle of his
toric hills, like Nazareth of old. Partly
because Judge Taney was buried at the
Jesuit Novitiate there, and I, a Protes
tant Abolitionist, had a tender feeling
for this Catholic Southerner, now he
was no longer able to fulminate un
righteous decisions, because he asked
when dying to be laid next his mother
Monica, whose body had been moulder
ing for more than fifty years in that
cemetery. In Frederick also, under the
shade of lovely cypresses, rested the body
of Francis S. Key, author of the " Star-
Spangled Banner ; " and here also I meant
to trace the fast-vanishing footsteps of
Whittier s Barbara.

But when I was ordered into the


mountains of Maryland for my health,
I forgot all these things. Ill of a low
malarial fever, I went dreamily about
the old town, gazing at the queer roofs
where the shingles had a double lap
which made them look like old Dutch
tiles. Each shingle bound down not
merely the one beneath it, but that on
its own left ; and the shadows ran up
and down as well as across the roof.
Dr. Steiner said that these shingles were
of oak and hand-made, being thinned
with a spoke-shave or a drawing knife
towards both overlapping edges.

One day I was making a call in the
friendly neighborhood, when I heard a
bright young voice carolling to itself :

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

" What ! " I exclaimed, " a saucy young
rebel like you singing the story of
Barbara Fritchie?"


" There never was a Barbara/ she
pouted ; " but the poet loved our Mary

I went home and told this story. I
was staying with dear friends, reputed
Unionists. No one thought of blaming
them because their sympathies were more
than half with the land and people
among whom they had been reared,
rather than with the troops who had
pillaged and oppressed them. I found
that they too doubted the existence of
Barbara, and then I spurred myself to
inquire. It is pleasant to remember that
one of the unbelieving ladies of the
household went herself to Mrs. Handshew,
and asked the questions which have
made it possible to write this story.

I began to hear of relics, of the close-
hidden flag, of oaken bits cut from the
plank of the iron-wood stretcher over
which Caspar Fritchie used to strain his


skins. One night the delicate hand of
a Southern lady sawed a bit of oak in
two, and so divided for me her few
inches of the door-sill over which Bar
bara s resolute foot had so often

In the spring of 1876 there was living
in Frederick a Mrs. Handshew, or more
properly Handschuh. As far as I have
been able to ascertain, Barbara had no
blood-relatives living when she died ;
but Mrs. Handshew had been with her
for some time, and nursed her in her last
sickness. She was a niece of Barbara s
husband, Caspar Fritchie.

Barbara left all her personal property
to this woman, except her father s Bible ;
that she gave to a Mrs. Mergardt. This
Bible is an ordinary quarto, very thick,
and of a form familiar to most persons
half a century ago. It is bound in calf ;
the sides are oak boards, and it was


printed in German by Christoph Sauer,
Germantown, Pa., in 1743. It is in good
preservation, and the only writing in it
is to be found on the inside of the front
cover, where the following sentence is
written in German : " This Bible belongs
to Niclaus Hauer, born in Nassau-Saar-
brucken, in Dillendorf, Aug. 6, 1733, who
left Germany May 11, 1754, and arrived
in Pennsylvania October 1, of the same

This inscription tells all that can now
be known of the father of Barbara Frit-
chie. She never had a child, and no one
of her husband s relatives knows her
mother s name.

Barbara was born in Lancaster, Pa.,
where her father first settled, on the
3d of December, 1766, or one hundred
and twenty-five years ago. He moved
his family to Frederick much later. I
could not ascertain the exact date, but


from his connection with the Fritchies
it seems certain that it was before the
close of the Revolutionary War.

On the 6th of May, 1806, when she
was nearly forty years of age, Barbara
married John Caspar Fritchie, who was
fourteen years younger than herself.

The service was performed in Frederick
City by the Rev. Mr. Wagner, of the
German Reformed Church. It would not
have been at all singular if Barbara had
never married ; for although she was an
active, capable woman, mistress of many
generous enthusiasms, she had, as all con
fess, a sharp tongue. In his Report to the
Sanitary Commission, printed in 1862, Dr.
Steiner publishes a diary of the Rebel
occupation of Frederick. Jackson s corps
were recruiting, and under date of Tues
day, September 9th, he says, " A clergy.
man 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 ! Ex
pression and gesture were worthy of Meg

When Dr. Steiner sent me his report,
he marked this passage, and told me
privately that this was Barbara, three
days after Jackson s men had fired on
her flag. It is not likely that her spirit
was less bold in her early youth, and
I was a little curious to know why, if
she married at that mature age, it must
needs be a boy fourteen years younger
than herself. I could learn only one
central fact, a fact honorable to Bar
bara and her family, and in keeping with
what we know of her later life. The
father of Caspar Fritchie had been a


Tory, sentenced by the laws of Maryland
to be " hung, drawn, and quartered, his
estates being confiscated."

The first part of this sentence was
executed. Owing to the intercession of
friends, probably of Niclaus Hauer him
self, the confiscation was remitted^ and
whatever property he had was given to
his widow to aid her in bringing up her
children. Caspar was born in 1780j and
it is likely that his mother died early,
for Barbara is said to have " brought up "
a brother and sister of her husband.

Caspar Fritchie became a somewhat
noted person in that locality. He was
a glove-maker; and if Barbara did not
own the little cottage in which they
lived, he must have bought it and fitted
it up for his trade soon after his mar
riage. It not only stood upon the very
edge of the creek which crosses the
principal street of the town and separates


tiny Frederick City from the Bentztown
road, but the shop in which he worked
overhung the creek, so that when he
trimmed his skins, the clippings were
swept through a trap into the creek it
self. A sort of wooden balcony led back
from the street across the end of the
house to this shop, the balcony also pro
jecting over the water. I am particular
in describing this, because the fact that
the house overhung the creek is the one
circumstance which made her defiance
of the Confederate army possible, even
though that " army never passed through
Frederick." Maryland, Kentucky, Penn
sylvania, and Ohio all wanted the gloves
which Caspar Fritchie made for riding,
driving, and hunting. He was an ex
cellent workman, and well known to his
best customers, the gentry of the neigh
boring counties. He died in his seven
tieth year, Nov. 10th, 1849, thirteen


years before the wife who was so much
older than he that she might have been
his mother. His death left Barbara
very well off, but she did not change
her simple way of living.

Every afternoon she might be seen
sitting in the window of her little cot
tage, knitting-needles in hand. She
wore a black satin gown, with a clear
starched muslin kerchief crossed over her
breast. She had a lady-like, quiet air.
Long before anybody had heard of a
photograph, Barbara Fritchie had her
daguerreotype taken. This picture
shows her between fifty and sixty years
of age, wearing a close cap and the
costume which I have described, and
which she never changed. She looks
very much like the traditional New
England grandmother, reared under the
shadows of the Puritan church ; and the
first feeling that I had about the face,


was that it was very familiar, and not at
all German.

Stem and somewhat cold she looked ;
but her eye was clear and true, and one
saw in a moment how a little fun or a
warm love might melt down the harsh

She had living with her at this time
and until her death, her niece, Harriet
Yorner, more properly Jahner, born on
the 4th of May, 1797. Barbara s first
trouble after her husband s death grew
out of her patriotic devotion to the

Caspar Fritchie s will was drawn up
by Dr. Albert Ritchie, of Frederick, who
was also his executor. Barbara had only
a life tenure in the estate, and after Dr.
Ritchie s death in 1857, the laws of
Maryland devolved the duties of admin
istration upon his three nephews, the
acting administrator being Valerius Ebert,


who turned out what Barbara called an
" arrant Rebel." Every time she re
ceived her dividends, they had some
sharp words. She had entered the last
decade of her century, and she wished to
live in peace ; so she went to one of the
oldest and most respected of the German
residents, the father of the late Dr.
Lewis H. Steiner, afterwards well known
in the Army of the Potomac as an active
inspector under the Sanitary Commission,
and at the last the highly prized libra
rian of the Enoch Pratt Library in Balti
more. The older Steiner was a shrewd
business man, and the " arrant Rebel r
asserts that Barbara had made savings
which she wished him to invest, "this be
ing no part of the administrator s duty."

At all events, he was a conspicuous
member of Barbara s own church, a
ruling elder. She begged him to take
her power of attorney and receive her


money. Now, Frederick is a small city,
and even in 1876 it had many
cliques. Its people are Northern as well
as Southern, German as well as English
born, Protestant as well as Catholic.
Mr. Steiner was very unwilling to inter
fere, but he could not well refuse, so he
continued to transact Barbara s business
until his death.

Some time before the breaking out of
the war, he had a stroke of paralysis, from
which he entirely recovered. Lewis, who
was either at college or the medical
school, and who had so far known very
little of his townspeople, was sent for to
attend him. The first time Mr. Steiner
was able to walk out, he told Lewis that
he had some money that must be paid
to Frau Fritchie, and asked him to make
out a receipt for her to sign.

" Frau Fritchie " suggested to the
young student one of the old German


women whom he had often seen hoe
ing in their gardens, and ignorant of
letters, so he not only made out the
receipt, but signed it in such a way as
to leave room for Barbara s "mark."

When his father ushered him into the
presence of the black satin gown and
starched neckerchief, he must have been
a little startled; but his heart did not
fail him. He courteously presented the
pen. Barbara took it, pushed back her
gold spectacles, and looked at the signa
ture. " Bless you, honey," she exclaimed,
bending a humorous look on the young
fellow, "bless you! I wrote my name
as well as that long before you were
born!" and drawing her pen through
Lewis s signature, she wrote her name
firmly beneath.

I drew this story out of my friend
by asking whether he had not an auto
graph of Barbara. " I have had a great


many," he said; "but I have kept only
this one, and nothing would induce me
to part with that ; " and then he showed
me the receipt in question. I think it

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Online LibraryCaroline Wells Healey DallBarbara Fritchie, a study → online text (page 1 of 4)