This is not a love story ready-made for Hollywood. Rather, it is one more suited for a Shakespearean tragedy. Two newlyweds, on the day after their marriage, were separated by the call for troops in Mr. Lincoln’s War. As was true of so many Civil War couples, only one would survive the war. While you may be thinking to yourself that you’ve heard this story before (and perhaps many of you have), the tale of these two star-crossed lovers does not fit the typical narrative behind the vacant chair.
Francis Barlow and Arabella Griffith met in New York City shortly before the war. Francis, or Frank as his friends called him, graduated valedictorian of his class at Harvard before moving to New York to work as a lawyer and contributor for the New York Tribune. Arabella, nearly a decade older than Frank, moved to the city from rural New Jersey in 1846 to serve as a governess. She was not your average Victorian lady. Intelligent and bold, she soon affiliated herself with the high-class social circles of artists, politicians, and writers among New York elites. She even became good friends with George Templeton Strong, who described her as being “certainly the most brilliant, cultivated, easy, graceful, effective talker of womanhood.”
Did the theater work to benefit the causes for north or south, dependent upon region? Sautter stated that this phenomenon was less common than many might expect. Many actors stated their neutrality, or as one Civil War era actor said, “I am neither northerner nor southerner.” Still others simply responded to the war by leaving the country. One must consider the “clannish nature” of theater of the time in order to understand how actors could have taken the neutral role during a war of ideals: many actors were born into theater life, therefore did not grow up in any one city or region, and furthermore lived a life separate from the outside world where harsh realities allowed for the existence of slavery and social oppression.