Dear Somerville Community,
Welcome to Memorial Day 2022. Once again we gather in this place of quiet reflection to honor the many brave citizen-soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the peace and freedom that we as proud Americans hold so dear. For a short while we put aside our vacation plans and backyard barbeque tools to join family, friends, and neighbors to continue this important tradition of grateful tribute to the fallen everyday heroes who lie at rest both here and around the world.
As has become my custom on this day, I would like to highlight a local heroine, one who lies buried less than one hundred yards behind this platform in the Old Cemetery across South Bridge St. Arabella Wharton Griffith was born in Somerville in 1824. She spent her young years here before moving to Burlington,NJ to complete her formal education. As career opportunities for intelligent and ambitious young women were extremely limited at the time, Arabella eventually moved to New York City to take a position as a ladies’ companion and governess for a prominent family. There she met Mr. Francis Channing Barlow, a young lawyer ten years younger than herself, and a romance quickly bloomed.
National events quickly took hold of the couples’ destiny. Barlow answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers a week after the firing on Fort Sumter, enlisting on April 20, 1861. The Barlows were married that same day, and Francis left for Washington the next morning. Determined to stay as near to her new husband as possible, Arabella joined the United States Sanitary Commission as a nurse and spent the next three years nursing Union soldiers back to health, including her own husband on several occasions. By July of 1863, Barlow had risen in the ranks to become a Brigadier General and suffered an almost fatal wound at Gettysburg on July 1. Captured by Confederate soldiers and taken to a local barn that served as a makeshift and primitive field hospital, Barlow was found by his faithful wife when she commandeered a supply wagon and driver during the height of the battle and risked cannon and musket fire from both sides in looking for her dear husband.
In the aftermath of Gettysburg, the Barlows traveled north to Somerville where Francis recovered under his wife’s expert care. Upon his return to the Army in 1864, the war moved south into Virginia, and Arabella followed. The vicious combat around Richmond resulted in staggering casualties that kept the Barlows apart until early June, when Arabella became seriously ill with an infection, most likely typhoid fever. She was moved north to Washington to recover, but Arabella died in a military hospital on July 27 and was brought back to Somerville for burial. The name Barlow does not appear on her headstone because her family had strongly disapproved of her marriage to a soldier. After the war, General Barlow returned to New York to practice law and died there in 1895, thirty- one years after Arabella. He lies at rest in a family plot in Brookline, Massachusetts, separated from his beloved Arabella by two hundred and sixty-two miles.
The story of Francis and Arabella Barlow is but one of millions that we remember today. Arabella Barlow never fired a gun, never flew a plane, never steered a ship. But she served her country in time of need and provided comfort to countless young men, wearing both blue and gray, who were scared, in pain, and alone many miles from home and loved ones. May her selfless efforts remind us that the privileges that we enjoy today have come at a great cost. To the many who have fallen and the families they left behind, let us rededicate ourselves to be worthy of their sacrifice. Thank you.
Mayor Dennis Sullivan
May 30, 2022