Barbara Fritchie stories abound in local area

March 21, 2013|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • Maria Theresa Kretzer, who lived on Main Street in Sharpsburg during the Battle of Antietam, refused to take down her Union flag until just before the battle. She led Confederate soldiers to believe she burned the flag so they would not seize it from her. Later, the flag was used to drape coffins of soldiers after the infamous battle.
Submitted photo

Because of the famous poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, who spelled the name "Frietchie," Frederick, Md.'s elderly matron has earned a place in history.

She allegedly challenged Confederate troops marching through that town to respect the Union flag she flew defiantly, while offering herself as a sacrifice. But, she was far from alone in risking life and property during the Civil War to display her loyalty to preserving the union of our country.

Frederick County, Md., has offered additional stories of its own and Washington County can claim a share of valiant women who staked themselves firmly behind the cause of keeping the country whole.

Four such stories have been found in archival records. Whether they are completely accurate or embellished doesn't detract from the sense that women might have been allowed to express loyalist sympathies unmolested, when men might have been shot for the same behavior.

Margaret Greenawalt waves flag on downtown Hagerstown balcony

According to notes in the photo archives in the Washington County Historical Society's Simms Jamieson Library, Margaret "Maggie" Greenawalt insisted on informing the Confederate troops marching down Washington Street in Hagerstown that her household remained loyal to the Union. She appeared on the second-floor balcony of her sister and brother-in-law's home and business waving and dangled a Union flag over those troops as they passed by.

Others in the household, including her sister, didn't share in her abandoned reserve from danger. This balcony was accessed through the living quarters of the family, which was located over the first floor business, a "confectionary," or bakery, of Catherine Bowman and her husband, George.

According to the notes, Catherine had hold of Maggie's hooped skirt to pull her back into the house, while admonishing that they might all get shot or see the building burned.

Maria Theresa Kretzer taunts Southern sympathizers in Sharpsburg

In 1929, Fred W. Cross, a Boston military archivist attached to the Massachusetts State House, visited Sharpsburg to interview Maria Theresa Kretzer. She was the daughter of John James Kretzer, who had served as a Washington County Commissioner.

His version of this story was the first that I read, but others have followed, some based on previous information and one other based on a personal interview late in the life of this heroine. Sometimes minor facts vary, but the one piece that remains unchanged is the context of the conversation between this feisty young woman and the Confederates who came looking for the object of which she was quite proud and protective.

The coming of the conflict was palpable in Sharpsburg for a long time before the Confederate Army crossed the Potomac River. Some townspeople had long-since taken positions of either northern or southern sympathies. Many chose to remain neutral, another stance not often discussed.

Maria felt strongly patriotic in her family's choice of the Union, while the family of one of her best girlhood friends sided with the South. Life changed dramatically for these young women as a result. Maria and her sister, Anna, both seamstresses and milliners, made a large Union flag to display on the front of their home. It hung there during the day, but at night it often came down and was trampled — some have said it was surely Southern sympathizers who were the culprits. The flag was cleaned and returned regularly to its place of prominence on the Main Street home.

This process became wearisome after time and the Kretzers found like-minded neighbors, the Rohrbacks, on the other side of the street.  The two stretched a rope to support the flag over the street, attaching it at the upper stories of the two houses, out of easy reach.

Of course, the story says that eminent danger became clear when soldiers were amassing on the northern border of the Confederacy, the Potomac River, just three miles away. To protect his home John Kretzer appealed to his daughters to allow the flag to be taken down and they reluctantly agreed.

However, those of Southern leanings directed the approaching army to the Kretzer home to claim the flag. Maria defiantly refused to turn it over and was met with a threat to burn the house. Her response informed those making the demand that she had "laid the flag in ashes" and so it could not be given to them.

Believing that she had burned the flag to keep it from "Secesh" hands, the soldiers went on their way. In reality the flag was carefully wrapped, boxed and hidden beneath the ash pile of either the smokehouse or her father's blacksmith shop, both sitting to the rear of the landmark stone house. 

After the Battle of Antietam, Maria, with her father's help, returned the flag to the front of the house, but soon it was needed for another purpose. The flag was used to drape the coffins of soldiers in preparation for reburial in the National Cemetery at Sharpsburg until it was worn to shreds.

Ann Gilbert Rowland Confronts Gen. Lee near Longmeadow

In 1853, Jonas Rowland helped to build a new brick building for the Longmeadow Church of the Brethren, just off Leitersburg Pike along Longmeadow Road. During this process, he sustained a serious injury to his spine and suffered from the injury the rest of his life. He died on April 22, 1863, at the age of 54, and was buried in or near the church cemetery, which had been part of his farm. He was survived by a wife and eight children.

His wife, Ann Gilbert Rowland, was known for her fiery devotion to the Carry Nation temperance movement later in life, but she showed her proclivity to confront those with whom she disagreed not long after her husband's death.

During the retreat from Gettysburg, Pa., that summer, the area around the church was crowded by the fleeing Confederate Army. Dr. Claggett Dorsey's nearby home was commandeered and the doctor pressed into service to treat the Southern wounded. When the house and barn filled to overflowing, a quickly contrived field hospital of many tents sprung up in the surrounds.  

The backup that brought the Southern retreat to a halt was the need to march west to avoid the advance of fresh U.S. troops from the east and the flooded Potomac River at Williamsport. Williamsport received the largest impact of occupation and caring for the wounded as the wagon train was stuck there for about 10 days.

At some point Gen. Robert E. Lee arrived at the Longmeadow church to rest and meet with his staff, using the building as his headquarters for a time. One account said he actually conducted morning services there, selecting readings from the church Bible.

Learning that the Rebel leader was occupying the little church for which her late husband had suffered, Rowland proceeded to that place and demanded that he turn over the Bible to her for safekeeping until he vacated the building, admonishing that he not soil it with his "bloody hands."

There is a mystery about Rowland's remains being targeted by grave robbers, when she was buried alongside her husband in 1888. This caused her to be reburied at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagers-town.


Dolly Harris Charges at Gen. Pickett in Pa.

Few history students have missed hearing some reference to Pickett's Charge, the legendary assault up Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg in 1863. Although three Confederate generals participated in the charge ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. George Pickett's name was the one attached for posterity's identification.

However, it's not likely that as many have heard about Dolly Harris, the 17-year-old from Greencastle, Pa., in neighboring Franklin County, who charged at Pickett when he passed through on his way to Gettysburg. She wrapped an American flag around her waist and rushed out of her home as the West Point-trained, former U.S. Army officer came near, shouting, "Traitor, traitor!"

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

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