“A shade of sadness,” Barbara Fritchie of Frederick, Maryland

An incident occurred in 1862 as Confederate troops under General Stonewall Jackson marched through the picturesque Western Maryland town of Frederick September 10th. Union sympathizers in Frederick (Maryland never seceded from the Union) hung out American flags to antagonize Confederates moving through town. Seven days later, those troops would be embroiled in heavy fighting in neighboring Washington County near Sharpsburg, a battle that would forever be named by the lowly stream running through the idyllic pastures where the battle was fought, Antietam.

Among the sympathizers that hung out their flags was 96 year old Barbara Fritchie. Her actions that day became part of the oral tradition of Union troops and two years later were immortalized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, actions that became a hallmark of patriotism that is still celebrated. The poem became a Union rallying cry towards the end of the brutal Civil War that raged over the bucolic farmlands of Western Maryland.

Barbara Fritchie in a contemporary portrait. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Ballad of Barbara Frietchie

By John Greenleaf Whittier, 1864

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 the 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.

Barbara Fritchie waving her flag, by American painter N.C. Wyeth, c. 1922. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

‘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 nor more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewalls’ bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round they symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

A political cartoon by J.S. Pughe, published in Puck, 1905, using the imagery of Barbara Fritchie. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The historical marker located just outside Barbara Fritchie’s (Whittier spelled her name with an extra “e”) home notes that “spoilsport” historians have proven that this likely never happened. It is reported that while Jackson’s troops marched through the town, they never marched down this particular portion of West Patrick Street where the BARBARA FRITCHIE HOUSE (154 West Patrick Street) is located. In fact, some sources say that the elderly Fritchie was sick in bed that day though Mrs. Mary Quantrell did wave an American flag at Confederate troops, though she was ignored by them and later by history.

The Barbara Fritchie House, 2006. Photo by Hal Jespersen, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The house itself is a reconstruction built in the late 1920s. The original house, which had been built over a creek in 1785, was damaged during a flood and was demolished in 1868. The reconstruction now houses a small museum with artifacts relating to Mrs. Fritchie and possibly her spirit. The house is apparently not very active in a paranormal sense. A rocking chair is said to rock by itself and one staff member reported seeing a pair of feet underneath the quilt draped over the chair. It is also noted that the lights in the basement of the house next door (which was also occupied by Mrs. Fritchie) turn off and on by their own accord. While not terribly interesting paranormally, this house is one of a number of haunted locations within Frederick County, which appears to be a very active county.


  • Barbara Fritchie. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 September 2011.
  • Barbara Fritchie House. The Historical Marker Database. Accessed 18 September 2011.
  • Rigaux, Pamela. “Walking with the dead.” Frederick News-Post. 23 October 2005.
  • Van Fossen, Nancy and Douglas M. Greene. Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form for States Historic Sites Survey for Barbara Fritchie House. October 1974.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

2 Replies to ““A shade of sadness,” Barbara Fritchie of Frederick, Maryland”

  1. This is the poem that Churchill quoted verbatim to Roosevelt as they traveled through Frederick MD on way to Camp David (then called Shangri-la) in the Summer of 1942.

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