Alexandria During the Civil War
Within days of Virginia's secession from the Union in the spring of 1861, Federal troops arrived in Alexandria to take possession of the city. Union military forces arrived on May 24, 1861, and Alexandria became a logistical supply center for the federal army. Troops and supplies were transported to Alexandria via the port and the railroad and then dispersed where needed at the front. Wounded soldiers, brought back on the trains, crowded the available hospitals and temporary medical facilities in and around the town. Many of the largest buildings in town, including The Lyceum, were confiscated for use as hospitals and for other official purposes and many new warehouses were constructed along the waterfront. It was during this era that several forts were constructed in Alexandria as a part of the defenses of the City of Washington. Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site contains one of these restored forts. From 1863 to 1865, the City was the capital of the Restored Government of Virginia, which represented the seven Virginia counties remaining under federal control during the Civil War. By the end of the Civil War, Alexandria's economy was in shambles but the city itself had been spared the destruction witnessed by many other places in Virginia such as Richmond and Fredericksburg.
Although Alexandria was a major slave-trading center prior to the Civil War, it also had a history of several free black communities. African-American life flourished with the establishment of churches, social and fraternal organizations, and businesses. Many early Alexandria African-Americans were skilled artisans. During the Civil War, African American refugees flooded into Union-controlled areas, including Alexandria and Washington. Although many of the freedmen found work and some served in the Union army, others arrived destitute, malnourished, and in poor health. After hundreds of freed people perished in the area, a parcel of undeveloped land was seized from a pro-Confederate owner for use as a cemetery. This cemetery is now the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial, open to the public.
- The History of Fort Ward. Fort Ward is the best preserved of the system of Union forts and batteries built to protect Washington, DC during the American Civil War.
- Union Hospitals in Alexandria. This resource includes historical information on Alexandria's Civil War hospitals and rest camps, first-person accounts, historic images, Quartermaster maps, and images of the sites today.
- Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery. This cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Alexandria to escape from bondage during the Civil War. A Memorial opened in 2014 on the site of the cemetery, to honor the memory of the Freedmen, the hardships they faced, and their contributions to the City.
- The USCT and Alexandria National Cemetery. Upon hearing that African American soldiers were going to be buried at the new Freedmen’s Cemetery and not the Soldier’s Cemetery (now Alexandria National Cemetery) 443 soldiers at L’Ouverture hospital signed a petition to be buried at the Soldier's Cemetery.
- Civil War Crimean Ovens. Two intriguing discoveries were made by archaeologists in Alexandria in 2003 and 2004. These were underground heating structures built by Union troops during the Civil War to heat hospital tents. It is believed that these are the first features of this exact type to be excavated. These structures were called Crimean Ovens and may have been somewhat experimental in nature.
- Emma Green and Frank Stringfellow: Alexandria's Civil War Sweethearts. Emma Green and Frank Stringfellow, portrayed in the PBS series "Mercy Street," were real Alexandria residents during the Civil War. Learn more about their real-life story.