Frederick Civil War memorial advocated in park near the Barbara Fritchie home

March 01, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- Imagine standing at the doorstep of Civil War heroine Barbara Fritchie's red brick home here and looking across the street to see the ghostly silhouettes of marching Confederate soldiers.

Thanks to three Frederick natives -- well-versed in the Barbara Fritchie myth and the city's colorful Civil War history -- such a scenario may not be unimaginable in the future.

The three want to erect several life-size, metallic sculptures of Civil War soldiers in a park across from the reconstructed Fritchie home to commemorate the passing of Confederate and Union troops through Frederick in September 1862, days before the Battle of Antietam.

"This was a historic event in Frederick, and we're trying to pick up on that," said Richard Markey, a Frederick graphics designer. "We're also trying to play off the Barbara Fritchie myth. But we're not here to say it did or didn't happen."

It didn't happen.

Soldiers marched by; that much is true. And Barbara Fritchie was real -- a woman who was in her 90s at the time. Historians, however, dismiss notions that any confrontation occurred between her and Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

No written account or testimony exists that such an incident occurred or that Barbara Fritchie ever said, "Shoot if you must this old gray head but spare your country's flag. . . ."

Or, for that matter, that General Jackson, moved by the woman's patriotism, told his soldiers: "Who toucheth a hair on yon gray head, dies like a dog! March on!"

But, thanks to poet John Greenleaf Whittier, generations of Americans believe that Barbara Fritchie defiantly waved the Stars and Stripes from a second-story window after Confederate soldiers, ordered by Jackson to remove any Union flags, shot it up.

Mr. Markey and his partners hope to reconstruct a glimpse of what Barbara Fritchie and other Frederick residents saw from their homes: ragged Confederate soldiers in butternut and gray -- and, a few days later, Union infantrymen -- passing through on their way to Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War.

The life-size sculptures would tie in well with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is expected to open in Frederick in 1995, and the city's 250th anniversary in 1995, Mr. Markey said.

Unlike most other Civil War memorials in Maryland, the metallic sculptures -- yet unnamed -- would be neutral. They would depict both Union and Confederate soldiers being led by a general on horseback, a drummer and a flag-bearer. A horse-drawn ambulance might be included.

"We're not trying to play up [Confederate] Gen. Stonewall Jackson or [Union] Gen. George McClellan," Mr. Markey said. "We just want people to know what happened here."

The sculptures would serve as history lessons, too. The designers want to include plaques with some details of the troop movements through Frederick. Tens of thousands of soldiers from both armies passed through the city -- a process that took hours.

"We're getting so far removed from the past, it's nice to be reminded of our history," said Richard Thomas, an artist and designer. "The soldiers may be ghostly -- we don't know. We want something that provokes thought. We want something that will make people come back."

Ted Alexander, a park historian at Antietam National Battlefield, said the proposed sculptures are part of a continuing trend to honor American soldiers killed during battle.

"There's been a great revival in interest in the Civil War," Mr. Alexander said. "It's even stronger now than it was during the Civil War centennial. 'Now, there's a move to get monuments to people or regiments or events that were missed the first time around."

For example, Mr. Alexander noted the effort to raise funds to build a Maryland monument to honor its Confederate and Union sons who were killed at Gettysburg.

The sculptures would not be the first Civil War memorial in Frederick. A statue of a Confederate soldier stands guard over the graves of Confederate soldiers at the city's Mount Olivet Cemetery, also the resting place of Barbara Fritchie and Francis Scott Key.

If approved by Frederick officials, the three-quarter-inch thick sculptures would stand at the corner of West Patrick and Bentz streets in the midst of 1.25-mile long linear park under development along Carroll Creek, which meanders through the city.

"The idea of statues is very much in keeping with what the Carroll Creek Commission thought of about eight years ago in endorsing public art for the park," said Dick Kessler, chairman of the commission, an advisory board overseeing projects within the park.

"But we need to take a very hard look at that and see how the rest of the community feels about it. We are very much in favor of a statue or statues that depict art. Whether it's the right subject matter remains to be seen," he said. The proposal is to be taken before the Carroll Creek Commission tonight.

Pete Markey, a Frederick metal craftsman who has done work for the Dallas Museum of Art, said the sculptures would take about six months to complete and would cost $200,000 to $300,000. The project probably would be paid for by private donations.

The Markeys and Mr. Thomas are uncertain how detailed the sculptures would be. They are still in the planning stages.

"Not everybody is going to embrace it," said Richard Markey. "But we hope there's enough support out there that we'll see this happen."

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