Barbara Frietchie Star
By Becky Brown
Poetry was powerful propaganda during the Civil War. John Greenleaf Whittier, who often described current events in verse, applied his pen to the coming war. In 1861 he based a poem on Martin Luther's hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God, describing slavery as
"The poison plant the fathers spared
All else is overtopping.East, West, South, North,It curses the earth...."
John Greenleaf Whittier
Whittier believed the war to be a fight against slavery but the official position in 1861 emphasized that this was a war to save the Union. General McClellan banned Whittier's emotional poem from Union Army programs during the summer of 1861.
A year later Whittier's hopes for an anti-slavery victory had faded.
Yet he renewed his resolve when he heard a story about a Union heroine named Barbara Frietchie in a battle in Frederick, Maryland. Inspired by that tale, he wrote Barbara Frietchie, which was published in the Atlantic Monthly. His poem became a rallying cry for the Union and a classic recitation for schoolchildren for generations.
Barbara Frietchie is recalled as an elderly woman who waved a Union flag from her attic while General Stonewall Jackson marched his Confederate troops through town. Jackson ordered his men to fire at the defiant woman.
"Shoot if you must, this old gray head,But spare your country's flag, she said."
Small photograph cards of Barbara Frietchie
were sold with pictures of other Union heroes.
General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was a
Confederate hero pictured in many Cartes des Visites
According to the poem, the embarassed General rescinded the order and Frietchie's Union flag waved over Jackson's short occupation of the town.
Historians point out that Stonewall Jackson, who died in battle soon after the poem's events, marched nowhere near Frietchie's house and that the 95-year-old woman was confined to bed. Barbara Frietchie's defiant flag waving is an American myth flying in the face of the facts. True or not, her tale was a Union answer to the Confederate myth of the martyr Stonewall. Here was a woman who'd won a small victory over the legendary General.
Whittier's contribution to the myth inspired patriotic impulses for well over a century.
The poem was translated into a popular
stage play and then a film
In the 1930s Needlecraft Magazine published an article by Helen Rockwell Adams who had visited the recreation of Barbara Frietchie's house in Maryland. On the bed she saw a sawtooth star, which "tradition assures us that Barbara made...with her own hands." Adams pictured a block, naming it Barbara Frietchie's Design.
This version is BlockBase number #1140, given the name Barbara Frietchie by the Grandmother Clark needlework company in 1932. It is one triangular pattern piece, sewn into squares and shaded as a star and pinwheel.
Cutting an 8" Finished Block
A Cut squares 2-7/8". Cut 4 dark, 2 medium light, 2 medium dark and 6 light. Cut each in half diagonally.
You need 8 dark triangles, 4 medium light, 4 medium dark and 12 light triangles.
A re-creation of Barbara Frietchie's house in Frederick was a tourist attraction for many decades, but it is now closed. Today's welcome emphasis on historical accuracy in telling the story of the Civil War may mean it will never reopen. The tale of the star quilt on the bed, made by Barbara's "own hands," probably has no basis in fact either.
Barbara Fritchie Star
Shirlene Wedd and Jean Stanclift made a version
of the Barbara Frietchie star quilt with
an eagle border adapted from a Civil War era quilt.
Anne Thomas handquilted it.
So this week we have an imaginary story and an imaginary quilt block, but they can remind us of the power of myth in telling about our past. Read Whittier's poem at this site:
Order our Barbara Fritchie star pattern with appliqued eagle border by clicking here: