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Voices from the Past, Alexandria, Virginia 1861-1865


Bird's eye view of Alexandria

Bird's eye view of Alexandria.
Note port activity in the foreground and the railroad roundhouse in the upper left hand corner of the image.

Introduction

Geographically and politically, Alexandria was directly in the path of the American Civil War. Situated across the Potomac River from the Federal capital in Washington D.C., this Southern city was a major port and railroad hub for routes from the north, northwest, and south. Its citizen militia was drilling in the streets as President Abraham Lincoln and his military advisers assessed Alexandria's strategic importance.

As a vote of secession became imminent, early 1861 brought heightened anxiety to northern Virginians. Rather than risking a military conflict and possible destruction of the city, local militia units left Alexandria on the morning of May 24, 1861. The prospect of a divided country and possible armed conflict prompted eloquent Alexandrians and visitors to the city to record their thoughts in diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and military communications.

When Virginia's vote of succession took effect on May 24, 1861, Union troops moved across the Potomac River into northern Virginia to secure the area. Once captured, the city of Alexandria was held under martial law for the remainder of the conflict, giving it the dubious distinction of being the Confederacy's longest occupied city. It would become a staging area for Union activities as public buildings and private residences were converted to offices, military headquarters, and hospitals. The United States Military Railroad would be based here, and the Potomac River port came under Union control. In the ensuing four years, thousands of Union soldiers were stationed in or passed through the city, and hundreds of civilians came here to work in support of the Union war effort. The city also became a major Union military hospital center, and one of the nation's first national cemeteries was established here in 1862. Although as many as two-thirds of the local residents left Alexandria, many - especially those loyal to the Union cause - remained. Daily life for citizens was disrupted by shortages, military regulations, and uncertainty.

Numerous impressions of events in Alexandria during the years 1861-1865 survive. Residents, soldiers, nurses, journalists, and military government officials are among those who left behind accounts of their experiences. These voices from the past create a vivid portrait of life in Civil War Alexandria.

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1861 

Edgar Warfield, photo

Edgar Warfield, pictured here at about age 70, was destined to outlive all of his comrades with whom he marched to war on May 24, 1861. As a civilian after the war, he opened a drugstore, was a fire chief, and a Master in the Masonic order. He held a keen interest in Confederate veterans activities, and was posthumously appointed a brigadier general. Edgar Warfield was in his nineties when he completed his Civil War memoirs, Manassas to Appomattox. Mr. Warfield was a much beloved Alexandria institution, known for his friendliness and devotion to his community, and to the Confederate cause.

Eighteen-year old Edgar Warfield, co-founder of the Old Dominion Rifles, was among the 800 local militiamen who left Alexandria on May 24, 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. As part of the 17th Virginia Regiment, Private Warfield served the duration of the conflict from First Manassas (Bull Run) to Appomattox. His memoirs recount his army experiences beginning with the events and mood in Alexandria prior to Union occupation.

During these early months of 1861, we could almost see the skies grow steadily darker. War became practically a certainty. In Alexandria the training of volunteers went steadily forward, and one event after another gave evidence of how the public was changing over from a civilian to military status.

The annual celebration of the anniversary of the birth of George Washington took place as usual on February 22, but there was a significance to the event which had not been known before. In the parade marched the Loudoun Guards of Leesburg and the Warren Rifles of Front Royal, in addition to our own companies and to the Fire Department organizations...On the same day, in front of Lyceum Hall, a handsome Virginia State flag was presented to the Alexandria Riflemen by the ladies of the city...

EDGAR WARFIELD, 1861

Aspinwall Hall of the Fairfax Seminary

Aspinwall Hall of the Fairfax Seminary, which was used as a Union hospital

As the inevitability of war increased, Judith B. McGuire, wife of the Headmaster at Episcopal High School, recorded in her diary:

...our friends and neighbors have left us...The Theological Seminary is closed; the High School dismissed...Can it be that our country is to be carried on and on to the horrors of Civil War?

May 4

I heard distinctly the drums beating in Washington. As I looked at the Capitol in the distance, I could scarcely believe my senses. That Capitol of which I had always been so proud! Can it be possible that it is no longer our Capitol?...and must this Union, which I was taught to revere, be rent asunder?

We are now hoping that Alexandria will not be a landing place...but that the forts will be attacked.

May 10

...the Federal vessel Pawnee now lies before the old town with its guns pointing to it. It is said that an undefended, indefensible town like Alexandria will hardly be attacked.

May 21
JUDITH B. MCGUIRE, 1861

Benjamin Barton, an Alexandria watchmaker and silversmith who operated a shop at 324 King Street, related the movement of Union troops into Alexandria on May 24.

...at daylight in the morning, without opposition - the Virginians leaving as the northern soldiers entered, - it would have been done without blood shed had not Col. Ellsworth too hastily taken down a Southern flag, flying over the Marshall House, south east corner of King and Pitt Streets,... James Jackson, the proprietor of the Hotel, met the Colonel on the stairway and in the altercation shot him dead, one of the soldiers accompanying Ellsworth, immediately shot Jackson dead, so two daring men fell at the onset: since then some few casualties have happened, yet our City remains quiet and we feel compairtively [sic] safe from harm: Sentries are placed in every part of town...

June 14, 1861
BENJAMIN BARTON

The Marshall House boarding house

The Marshall House boarding house, site of the Col. Elmer Ellsworth and Confederate sympathizer James Jackson deaths the morning of Alexandria's occupation on May 24, 1861. Corner of King and Pitt Streets. National Archives photo.

Private Alfred Bellard enlisted in the 5th New Jersey Infantry on August 9, and arrived in Alexandria on September 22, 1861.

...we sailed down the river, arriving at the foot of King St., Alex, in a drenching rain. Disembarking, we marched up King St. and halted at the Marshall House where Col. Ellsworth was shot. ...The stairs on which Ellsworth was shot had been taken away piecemeal. Walls broken, carpets carried off bit by bit, and the flag staf [sic] on top of the house from which the Stars and Bars had floated when the Zouaves took possession had been demolished. ....I secured a piece of carpet [and] flag staf...so that in after years I would have a vivid reminder of the night passed in the Marshall House.

PRIVATE ALFRED BELLARD

Anne and Elizabeth Frobel's home "Wilton Hill" was located on Old Fairfax Road (Franconia Road.) The sisters remained at Wilton Hill during the war and Anne described the daily events in her diary.

...we rode to town to see and hear all we could...When we got in sight of the Orange depot we both exclaimed "What on earth is the matter...' Such a dense crowd thronged the streets, carriages filled with people, wagons, carts drays, wheelbarrows all packed mountain high with baggage of every sort, men, women, and children streaming along to the cars, most of the women crying, almost every face we saw we recognized and all looking as forlorn as if going to execution.

I believe every body from both from both town and country that could possibly get away left at this time, and for the first time, it dawned upon me that it was something more than pastime and O what a feeling of loneliness and utter despair came over us when we thought of every friend and acquaintance gone...

ANNE S. FROBEL,
MAY 1861

The first major engagement between Union and Confederate forces, The Battle of First Bull Run (Manassas), occurred on July 21, 1861. The cannon fire could be heard in Alexandria, a distance of 25 miles. The battle was a decisive victory for the Confederates, and the battered Union troops retreated toward Alexandria. Unionist John Ogden described the retreat from Bull Run in a letter to his daughter Mary written in 1862.

You will read of the retreat from Bull Run - that battle was Sunday, July 21, 1861. We heard the firing of cannon all day - heard it in church, The retreat of our men began about 5 P.M. I knew nothing of it till next morning, when squads of soldiers began to arrive in Alexandria from the battlefield. Two who breakfasted with us advised us to leave immediately, for they thought Beauregard would be in Alexandria before night. It was a cold and very stormy day - soon the town was full of soldiers. They were pitiable creatures as you can imagine - they came in squads without officers and knew not where to go. Many were so exhausted by their march from Centreville to the battlefield, then the fatigue of this battle and that long retreat (25 miles), through mud and rain that they could scarcely stand. Most of them had not eaten since Sunday morning; tired, hungry, footsore, drenched with the rain, they sat on doorsteps and curbstones from one end of our streets to the other. They arrived all Monday and Monday night - some came Tuesday and later still. The last to come in the worst condition - all had thrown away their knapsacks - many their guns- some men without coats or shoes.

JOHN OGDEN,
AUGUST 1862

...before breakfast was placed on the table cannon was heard roaring and thundering in the distance...The war cannon was incessant from early dawn until after sun was set...O such a day! May I never spend another...we did nothing from morning until night but wander from place to place, and listen so anxiously. About night fall it began to rain...Manassas was the first battle we know anything of...

ANNE S. FROBEL,
JULY 21, 1861

The building of fortifications to protect the Federal capital, Washington, D.C., was accelerated following the Confederate victory at First Bull Run (Manassas). Corporal Frederick Floyd of the 40th New York Infantry, the "Mozart Regiment," described the completion of Fort Ward.

On Wednesday, Sept. 4, a flag was raised within the enclosure, at which time 3000 soldiers jumped upon the ramparts and gave three hearty cheers for the stars and stripes, which floated in sight of the enemy on Munson's Hill, where they have a battery. The fort was built almost entirely by the Mozart Regiment, under the skillful direction of the army engineers, who declare no fort within the fortifications of Washington is more substantially constructed.

CORPORAL FREDERICK FLOYD

In November 1861, the 2nd New York Light Artillery arrived in Alexandria to garrison Forts Ellsworth and Ward. In letters to his family, Captain Howard Kitching detailed life in the forts.

Now we are in Fort Ellsworth...It is a very fine piece of work on a splendid commanding position, overlooking Washington, Alexandria, and all the surrounding country, for fifteen or twenty miles. When we came in here...it was occupied by four hundred 'man -of-war's men:' in fact, a complete frigate's crew - and they have been spending the past two months in putting the fort in order, just as sailors do, sodding and whitewashing everything, and planting evergreens, until the inside of the works is the very picture of neatness.

Yesterday...five of us went out on the road leading to Fairfax Court House...and I have now a better idea of the state of things...The roads are all barricaded...single and double pickets on every hill, and at every bridge and house...

CAPTAIN HOWARD KITCHING,
NOVEMBER 18, 1861

Camp of the 44th New York Regiment

Camp of the 44th New York Regiment, at foot of Shuters's Hill, with Alexandria in the distance. King Street is on the left.

In December, Captain Kitching was transferred to Fort Worth, located near the Virginia Theological Seminary (Fairfax Seminary.)

Last evening at eleven o'clock, those of us who were up, were very much excited by discovering that the brigade under General Howard, numbering some five thousand men were leaving their camps and taking up their line of march toward Fairfax. So suddenly and so quietly was it done, that unless we had been watching for some movement, we would never have suspected but that the thousands in the valley below [Cameron Valley] were wrapped in sleep.

For the first time I saw an army, roused suddenly from sleep without any previous order, march out in perfect silence to meet the enemy. It was as beautiful sight as my eyes ever beheld. Our position is on a very high and steep hill...and as the different regiments left their camps and filed out into the plain below, their bayonets glistening in the unusually brilliant light of the moon, and the murmur of their whispered orders came up to us like the hum of a bee. I...realized for the first time the feeling which prompts men to such feats of daring on the battle-field.....from the moment when the first order to march was received, just sixteen minutes had elapsed. Four regiments of infantry and two batteries of light artillery having been got in readiness in that time...

CAPTAIN HOWARD KITCHING,
DECEMBER, 1861

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1862

Barracks, Camp Convalescent

Barracks, Camp Convalescent, near Alexandria.
National Archives photo

William Wallace, 3rd U.S. Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry was wounded in the hand at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August, 1862. As his wound was not considered life-threatening, it was ten days before he reached Grace Church Hospital in Alexandria, where he was treated for several weeks. Wallace was transferred to Camp Convalescent, near Fort Ellsworth, where the abysmal living conditions aggravated an old rheumatic fever condition which led to his discharge in 1863. After recuperating at home in Wisconsin, he rejoined his unit in 1864 and participated in Gen. William T. Sherman's "March to the Sea."

...I have not seen a doctor in five days but I begin to think I get along better without him. We don't get any vegetables of any sort at all. From 3 to 4 dies here daily. We are in tents, five in each tent, no beds, has to lie on the hard ground, which is not a comfortable bed for sick folks...

So long as a man is able to walk he has to do his own washing or else be eaten up with lice which is very plenty in camp, in fact, it is the plentiest thing we have. We dont get our cooking done not half the time for want of wood but who is to blame I am unable to say. But one thing I do know it is one of the meanest places I have come across...They need not talk of the misery of the rebels, let them come down here and it will open their eyes...We may get a little supper if the wood comes. If not we will have to go to bed supperless as usual.

WILLIAM WALLACE

Slough General Hospital

Slough General Hospital, named for Brig. Gen. John P. Slough, military governor of Alexandria August 1862-July 1865. National Archives photo

General John P. Slough was appointed military governor of Alexandria on August 25, 1862. His assignment to oversee the security of the city and administer martial law came after the Battle of Cedar Mountain and prior to Second Bull Run. The city was in disarray and large numbers of soldiers were creating disorder. Slough took immediate action by sending patrols through the city to force unruly soldiers to return to their camps. He also established curfews and closed all establishments selling alcoholic beverages. In response to complaints from merchants, he wrote:

...when the present Military Governor took command here, there was, as there had been days previous, a 'reign of terror' in Alexandria. The streets were crowded with intoxicated soldiery; murder was of almost hourly occurrence, and disturbances, robbery, and rioting were constant. The sidewalks and the docks were covered with drunken men, women and children and quiet citizens were afraid to venture into the streets, and life and property were at the mercy of the maddened throng - a condition of things perhaps never in the history of this country to be found in any other city.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN P. SLOUGH

Military burial in the Alexandria National Cemetery

Military burial in the Alexandria National Cemetery.
Western Reserve Historical Society photo

Private Rosetta Wakeman (alias Private Lyons Wakeman) had disguised her gender and enlisted in the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. In a letter to her father, she provided a glimpse of army life in Alexandria.

I can buy anything that I want here but I have to pay double what it is worth...The weather is cold and the ground is froze hard, but I sleep as warm in the tents as I would in a good bed...We have boards laid down for a floor and our dishes is tin...

PRIVATE ROSETTA WAKEMAN,
DECEMBER 1862

Mansion House Hospital, 100 block North Fairfax Street, Alexandria

Mansion House Hospital, 100 block North Fairfax Street, Alexandria

Julia Wheelock came to Alexandria in September in search of her brother who had been wounded at the Battle of Second Bull Run (August 29-30.) After learning of her brother's death, Julia remained in the city and became an agent for the Michigan Relief Association. Her brother, Sergeant Orville Wheelock, is interred in the Alexandria National Cemetery, grave #250.

As we pass up King street we pause a moment to look at the building where the brave young Ellsworth fell...Turning from King into Washington street, we notice a soldier in full uniform with a shouldered musket, pacing to and fro in front of what appeared to be a church. We are told...that it is the Southern M.E. Church, but now used as a hospital...I hastened to the next hospital - the Lyceum Hall - but..met with the same reply as before. We cross the street to the Baptist church, which is also used for a hospital...We had gone but a few steps when...we saw a soldier's funeral procession approaching - a scene I had never before witnessed, but one with which I was destined to become familiar...He is escorted to his final resting place...by comrades...with unfixed bayonets, and arms reversed, keeping time with their slow tread and solemn notes of the 'Dead March,'...

...we all went out to Fairfax Seminary Hospital...This is a large hospital and will accommodate several hundred patients. It is situated in a delightful place,...commanding a fine view of the country for miles around. It was formerly a theological seminary; hence Seminary Hospital... The country, before the war, must have been beautiful; but now, so desolate! Fences gone, buildings in ruin, shrubbery destroyed, fields uncultivated - all showing the sad effects of desolating war...

JULIA WHEELOCK,
SEPTEMBER 30, 1862

Mary Phinney von Olnhausen arrived in Alexandria in August 1862, just after the Battle of Cedar Mountain and was assigned to the Mansion House General Hospital, the city's largest military hospital. She wrote with frustration of the treatment the wounded received when the Mansion House was filled beyond capacity after the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

The whole street (Fairfax Street) was full of ambulances and the sick lay outside on the sidewalks from nine in the morning till five in the evening. Of course places were found for some; but already the house was full; so most had to be packed back again and taken off to Fairfax Seminary, two miles out. I have been so indignant all day. - not a thing done for them, not a wound dressed...They reached town last evening, lay in the cars all night without blankets or food, were chucked into ambulances, lay about here all dy, and to-night were put back into ambulances and carted off again. I think every man who comes a soldiering is a fool!

MARY PHINNEY VON OLNHAUSEN

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1863

Building barricades along Duke Street

Building barricades along Duke Street near U.S. Military Railroad. Library of Congress photo

George Alfred Townsend, correspondent for the New York Herald, characterized the city of Alexandria in 1863:

Many hamlets and towns have been destroyed during the war. But of all that in some form survive, Alexandria has most suffered. It has been in the uninterrupted possession of the Federals for twenty-two months, and has become essentially a military city. Its streets, its docks, its warehouses, its dwellings, and its suburbs have been absorbed to the thousand uses of war.

Alexandria is filled with ruined people; they walk as strangers through their ancient streets, and their property is no longer theirs to possess...I do not know that any Federal functionary was accused of tyranny, or wantonness, but these things ensued as the natural results of civil war; and one's sympathies were everywhere enlisted for the poor, the exiled, and the bereaved.

GEORGE ALFRED TOWNSEND

Gen. Herman Haupt, chief of the US Military Railroad

Gen. Herman Haupt, chief of the U.S. Military Railroad, testing a pontoon boat along the Alexandria waterfront. National Archives photo

A violent explosion of the powder magazine at Fort Lyon on June 9 was felt by residents throughout the area. Located near the present-day Huntington Metro station, this fort was one of the largest in the Defenses of Washington.

Tuesday the Ninth of June at about 2 O'clock in the afternoon...[there] came a stunning crash...Immediately shells were flying over out heads... We learned that the explosion has occurred in Fort Lyon.

Twenty six men and a lieutenant were detailed to remove the powder from some shells. The powder had become damp and caked...as the work did not proceed as fast as the lieutenant desired, he sent one of them for some priming wires...

Ii is supposed that some... powder was ignited and exploded the shell...This explosion blew in the magazine door and the whole magazine went up. There were about eight tons of powder besides several thousand rounds of fixed ammunition in the magazine.

Out of twenty six men, twenty-two were killed outright...In addition...fourteen were wounded. Three of these died the next day.

...Brig. Gen. Barry, Chief of Artillery, came to inspect the ruins. After him came Maj. Gen Heintzelman and about two p.m. "Uncle Sam's hired man" Abe Lincoln came with...Sec. Stanton also Gen. Slough.

About 4 p.m. the funeral procession formed at the gate. The ambulances, seventeen in number, each with two coffins, were followed by officers and men. They marched to mournful music played by the First Connecticut Artillery band...It was a sad sight to see the procession move towards the soldiers graveyard in Alexandria.

PRIVATE LEWIS BISSELL,
JUNE 17, 1863

...about two o'clock today..we were startled by a most violent thundering explosion, followed by another, in quick succession, the earth shook and trembled... I was so frightened...a shell burst very near, for a little stream of blue smoke came in one door and passed out the other... I looked up at Fort Lyon, which at that moment went up with a tremendous shock...It...looked...like the pictures of Vesuvus [sic] during an eruption... Everything flew up from the center and seemed to stand still for a moment...then...pieces of steel, stones, and dirt, came rattling, and thundering down...

ANNE S. FROBEL,
JUNE 1863

In 1863, rumors ran rampant of a possible Confederate attack on the northern Virginia area, especially Alexandria.

For the last week all sorts of rumors have been afloat of the invasion of Alexandria: preparations have been making all around, rifle pits dug everywhere...even the bridge made ready to be destroyed at a moment's notice, and no one permitted to go out of town....Rifle pits are dug across all streats [sic] leading to the commissary departments, for here lie all the stores for the whole Army of the Potomac. Just at the corner of our hospital and just under my window one is dug, and a battery of four guns planned...and since I began to write up comes the orderly, counts every man in the hospital able to shoulder a gun, and arms them all, so that at a moment's warning they may be ready.

MARY PHINNEY VON OLNHAUSEN,
MAY 1863

Loading locomotives onto hoists along the Alexcandria, VA waterfront

Loading locomotives onto hoists along the Alexandria, VA waterfront. National Archives photo

As the Battle of Gettysburg raged on July 2, Private Rosetta (Lyons) Wakeman told of the expected attack on Alexandria.

They are ablockading the City of Alexandria very strong for they expect Attack here. Our regiment has laid out in the field for some time every night, awatching for the rebels...There is three regiment of infantry here and one of Cavalry and some flying artillery...

PRIVATE ROSETTA WAKEMAN,
JULY 2, 1863

The Federal government was the primary employer of Alexandria's free blacks and former slaves, known as contrabands, who migrated to the city. Although they were employed in various capacities, many worked for the U.S. Military Railroad and as stevedores on the government docks for the Office of Commissary Subsistence, which distributed food, coal and hay. As the number of contrabands in the city swelled, the government instituted a $5 per week reduction in the wages of free black workers to be applied to the support of contrabands. The free black stevedores felt the cut was unfair and appealed to Colonel Bell, commanding officer of the Commissary Subsistence, and ultimately to Secretary of War Stanton, who denied their appeal.

We...the free people of Alexandria that have been in your employment every since it was established...humbley [sic] appeal...for the addition of those five dollars that has been curtailed from our wages... we free born men...has always had our selves and families to look out for do not see why we...should pay a tax for them...while the Contrabands has all the attention from every private source[.] the government...provides house...and fuell [sic]for there wives and children and for the men themselves when out of employ[ment]... We think it hard that we should contribute to them who has all the attention[.]...we could just...get along when you gave us $25, but... as high as , it is very hard to get along at alls.[sic] [signed] your obedient servants.

FREE LABORERS WORKING AS STEVEDORES IN ALEXANDRIA,
AUGUST 1863

Civilian laborers for the US Military Railroad in Alexandria

Civilian laborers for the U.S. Military Railroad in Alexandria. The Wilkes Street tunnel is in the background. National Archives photo

In 1863, Czar Alexander II dispatched the Russian fleet on a goodwill tour of the world. The ships sailed up the Potomac in late October to call on President Abraham Lincoln and remained at anchor above Alexandria for several months. The Russian sailors visited the Defenses of Washington south of the Potomac and their ships were open to soldiers from the nearby fortifications.

Tuesday Wilson Potter and myself went down to the city and boarded one of the Russian ships lying just above Alexandria...after that...we went to the water battery just below Alexandria [Battery Rodgers] where there is a fifteen inch Dahlgren gun which weighs 49449 pounds. At the largest part it measures a little over twelve feet in circumference.

A daguerrian artist had been there a day or two before. He took a picture of it with the head of one of the men sticking out of the muzzle... A small man can crawl clear to the bottom of the bore...

PRIVATE LEWIS BISSELL,
DECEMBER 12, 1863

Corporal James Fenn of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, like many soldiers stationed in the Defenses of Washington, availed himself of the opportunity to visit nearby Washington, D.C. and Mount Vernon.

Had a pass to Washington today. Visited the Capital [sic] the Patent Office the Smithsonian Institute and other public Buildings...saw the Goddess of Libirty [sic] which is to [be] raised on the Capital next fourth of July. Saw some of the most splendid paintings I ever saw in my life at the Capital and in the Smithsonian some of the most perfect marble statues.... In the Patent Office saw everything of intrest [sic], but one thing in particular. Washington's old Military suits that he wore when he resigned his commission at Anapolis [sic]... and the first printing Press that Franklin ever owned...I think it will [pay] any one spend a week in Washington, that has never seen the public buildings.

NOVEMBER 9

Yesterday was our National Thanksgiving.

Went down to Mount Vernon yesterday and saw the residence of the Father of this country, and the tomb where now lays the sacred dust of the virtueous [sic] and noble hero, and, of humanity. I felt like obeying the injunction of one of the old to take of [sic] my shoes for the place on which I stood was holy ground.... Ate my Thanksgiving dinner at Mount Vernon.

CORPORAL JAMES FENN,
NOVEMBER 27,1863

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1864

US Military Railroad construction corps workers

U.S. Military Railroad construction corps workers planing boards along the Alexandria waterfront.
Western Reserve Historical Society photo

As a businessman, Benjamin Barton noted how Alexandria's commerce was affected by its use as a military base. His observation about the city's changing population, due largely to the influx of army personnel and civilians who migrated to Alexandria to support the Federal war effort, was echoed by many local residents.

...Alexandria has more of a business like appearance now...indeed it is quite a stirring place, of course most of the business has some connection with the National government, all the supplies of the armies, in this section of Virginia, arrive her by land and by water, the great number of steamboats, sloops, schooners and brigs required, arriving at this port, and passing up to Washington, has the appearance of a fleet opposite our City. Gaiety and amusements are going on as if there was no War- no devastation. There is a great change in the population, it is more than double in numbers, I meet so many strangers in the street that I feel like being in a strange city, very few of our old inhabitants are to be seen, many have gone away, others have nothing to call them from their homes - many have died; very few of our townsmen are in business now, none in wholesale trade, a few retail stores, owned by men of former days are scattered here and there...

BENJAMIN BARTON,
AUGUST 1864

As the war dragged on, many men who had enlisted in the Union Army early in the conflict were completing their terms of service. After three years, they were ready to return to civilian life, refusing to reenlist for the remainder of the war.

We have been detailed to work in the ditch until our time is up. We feel rather sore about it. It seems rather unjust, when we have [s]erved faithfully for three years to put us in the ditch the last two weeks...Because we would not reenlist to serve as dogs for three years more. I for one am very glad to know that I have not given my name any more...In two weeks if nothing prevents I shall once more be a free man.

CORPORAL JAMES FENN,
MAY 7, 1864

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1865

After General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, Alexandria was again inundated with thousands of Union soldiers who arrived to participate in the Grand Review to be held in Washington on May 23 and 24 to signal the end of hostilities. Men who had left Alexandria to fight for the Confederacy were able to return home for the first time in four years.

...we landed at Wheat's Wharf between Queen and Princess Streets. Here the four of us separated, each to make his way home that we had left four years before. I was delayed so much between the wharf and home by the friends I met on the way that on reaching the intersection of King and Water [now Lee] Streets, I turned up the latter street, going south, and then made my way through Smoot's Alley to Fairfax Street, on which I had lived.

My oldest sister was just leaving home on her way to school. I called to her and we returned to the house. Before we entered she called my attention to two American flags over the front door. They had been put there the day before by the authorities, who anticipated my father's return and mine, so that we would have to walk under them on entering...We four were the first arrivals from the surrender at Appomattox.

EDGAR WARFIELD,
APRIL 18, 1865

To day we see tents and camps spring up in every quarter Sherman's army coming in. The roads filled with soldiers as far back as we can see through the woods, coming-coming-coming, thousands and tens of thousands. I hardly thought the world contained so many men and the wagons, O the wagons, long lines of white wagons coming by roads and crossroads...

Tomorrow there is to be a 'grand review' of the 'grand' U.S. Army at Washington and great has been the stir of preparation...Rose Hill is literally covered with Sherman's army and such immerse, immense number of splendid horses and mules.

ANNE S. FROBEL,
MAY 1865

View of Alexandria, VA

 View of Alexandria, Virginia

The office of the military governor was abolished on July 7. General Slough wrote to the citizens of Alexandria and soldiers of its garrison:

A - to me- pleasant relationship is severed.

Believing that my services are no longer needed here, I have been, at my own request, relieved of my command as Military Governor of Alexandria.

I return to my home in the Rocky Mountains, there soon, I hope, to resume civilian pursuits.

If in the discharge of my duties here I have benefitted you, I am content. I have labored for this result. I shall ever remember with pleasurable emotions, my three years' sojourn in Alexandria.

I now say 'Good-bye' with earnest wishes for your happiness and prosperity.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN P. SLOUGH,
JULY 17, 1865

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List of Sources

Barton, Benjamin. The Letterbook of Benjamin Barton. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society. Richmond.

Bellard, Alfred. Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memoirs of Private Alfred Bellard, Boston-Toronto, 1975.

Bissell, Lewis. The Civil War Letters of Lewis Bissell, Washington, D.C., 1981.

Fenn, James W. Diary of James W. Fenn, Fort Ward Museum collection.

Floyd, Frederick. History of the Fortieth (Mozart) Regiment New York Volunteers, Boston, 1909.

Frobel, Anne S. The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel, McLean, Virginia, 1986 and 1992.

Free Laborers. From a letter to Col. Bell, RG92, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Kitching, John H. More Than a Conqueror: Memorials of Col. J. Howard Kitching, New York, 1873.

McGuire, Judith W. Diary of a Southern Refugee During the War, Richmond, 1889 &1995.

Ogden, John. The Fireside Sentinel, Vol. IV, No. 5, May 1990. Original in collection of the Alexandria Library, Lloyd House.

Slough, Gen. John P. From the Alexandria Gazette, Sept. 1862 and July 1865.

Townsend, George A. Rustics in Rebellion: A Yankee Reporter on the Road to Richmond 1861-1865, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1950.

Von Olnhausen, Mary P. Adventures of an Army Nurse in Two Wars, Boston, 1904.

Wakeman, Rosetta. An Uncommon Soldier (The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman), 1994.

Wallace, William. William Wallace's Civil War Letters, Wisconsin Magazine of History, 1973.

Warfield, Edgar. A Confederate Soldier's Memoirs, Richmond, 1936.

Wheelock, Julia. The Boys in White, New York, 1870


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Fort Ward Museum 
& Historic Site
4301 West Braddock Road
Alexandria, Virginia 22304
703.746.4848
Fax: 703.671.7350
Email 

Museum Hours
Tuesday - Saturday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.
Monday, Closed

Park Hours
Daily, 9 a.m. to sunset

Office Hours
Tuesday - Saturday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.