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.
First Person Accounts
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.
Alexandria residents, soldiers stationed here or recuperating in the City's military hospitals, nurses and aide workers, war correspondents and others left accounts of Alexandria during the Civil War.
Read the First Person Accounts here.
From the Alexandria Library, Special Collections
The Special Collections section is located in the Barrett Library at 717 Queen Street. The library holds many interesting resources pertaining to the Civil War in Alexandria. Their Civil War holdings include history of all aspects of the conflict, with a focus on the Confederacy. Resources. This includes Virginia regimental histories; War of the Rebellion Official Record (the "OR"), which reproduces government documents dealing with the war; and information about Alexandria during the war.
Contact Special Collections about the following Civil War resources, and more.
- Oath of Allegiance in Virginia, 1862-1865. Index of those who signed an oath of allegiance to the Union during and after the Civil War.
- Civil War Era Burials - Alexandria National Cemetery. Index to 3,600 Federal burials.
- Notes on locating a Confederate ancestor. Guide to locating your ancestor.
- Battlefields of Virginia. The May 1887 excursion of the Civil War veterans of the 57th and 58th Massachusetts to the Civil War Battlefields of Virginia as documented in photos by Fred H. Foss.
- "...the frown of the citizens..." Notes and Images about the Civil War Occupation of Alexandria.
- Generals of the Confederacy. Thirty images, carte-de-visites (and more) from the White, Wellford, Taliaferro, and Marshall Families Collection.
- "Give oceans of love to all..." The prisoner-of-war letters of Brigadier General Montgomery Dent Corse, CSA, 17th Virginia Infantry to his wife, Elizabeth Beverley, along with his commission as Colonel, Active Volunteer Forces of Virginia, May 17, 1861, and his Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, July 24, 1865. Selected from the Montgomery Dent Corse Collection.
From the Carlyle House
Carlyle House, now a museum, is an elegant stone mansion built in 1753 by John Carlyle, a wealthy merchant and a founder of Alexandria. In 1961, the home was occupied by James Green and his family. Green operated the Mansion House Hotel, built directly in front of his 18th century mansion. The property was confiscated for use as a military hospital, with 500 beds.
- The Occupation of Alexandria, VA during the Civil War. On May 23, 1861, Virginia voted to become the eighth state to secede from the Union. James Green (the son of the James Green who built the hotel in front of Carlyle House), who was living at the Carlyle House at the time, described the event in his diary as "the most quiet election I ever saw in town." (Carlyle House Docent Dispatch, May 2011)
- Nurses, Spies and Soldiers: The Civil War at Carlyle House. The Mansion House Hospital, which incorporated the 1753 home of John Carlyle and the large building in front of it, was a place of strife and suffering during the Civil War. (Carlyle House Docent Dispatch, March 2011)
From the Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery
Visit the Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery for more historical resources, including:
- Slaves in the Alexandria Jail, 1861. National Republican of January 20, 1862
- Convalescent Soldiers in L'Ouverture Hospital "Express Our Views" on Burial Location.
- Brief History of Alexandria's Freed People and of Freedmen's Cemetery
- The Contraband Hospital and Alexandria's Freedmen's Aid Workers
- Record of Deaths and Burials Among the Freedmen in Alexandria, Virginia ("The Gladwin Record")
From the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom
This video, narrated by staff of the Alexandria Black History Museum, tells the story of Contrabands in Alexandria, and features Shiloh Baptist Church and the Freedmen's Cemetery.
From the Alexandria Historical Society
The Alexandria Chronicle and the earlier Alexandria History Magazine are publications of the Alexandria Historical Society. The following articles pertaining to the Civil War in Alexandria can be found on the AHS website.
The Alexandria Chronicle
- The First Union Civil War Martyr: Elmer Ellsworth, Alexandria, and the American Flag, by Marc Leepson, Fall 2011
- The Civil War Comes to Duke Street, by Ted Pulliam, Fall 2011 (see page 5)
- "This Long Agony": A Test of Civilian Loyaties in an Occupied City, by Diane Riker, Spring #2 2011
- Volusia: A Farm and the People Who Lived There During the Civil War, by Amy Bertch, Spring #1 2011
- "Hessians in our midst:" Provost Duty in Alexandria 1861-62, the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Michael Ayoub, Fall 2008
- "Aunt Lindy" - A Former Slave Who Settled in Alexandria after the Civil War, by T. Michael Miller, Summer/Fall 2002 (see page 4)
- Mary Custis Lee--17th Virginia Regiment Chapter, UDC, Honors the Six Soldiers Buried in Its Confederate Plot at Bethel Cemetery in Alexandria , by Rebecca Hatchell Kusserow, Spring 2002 (see page 11)
- Kate Hooper: Alexandria's "Angel of Mercy" , by T. Michael Miller, Spring 2002 (see page 19)
- Edgar Warfield-Alexandria's Last Surviving Confederate Soldier, by T. Michael Miller, Spring 2001
- A Heroine on the Homefront: My Mother's Experience during the Civil War, by Ada Warfield Kurtz, 1907. Spring 2001 (see page 16)
- A View of Mr. Lincoln, by T. Michael Miller, Spring 2001 (see page 16)
- The Washington and Prince Street Military Prisons-Alexandria's Andersonville?, by T. Michael Miller, Winter 1999/2000
- The Anthony Burns Affair: Alexandria, Virginia Locals at the Center of National Debate over the Fugitive Slave Act during Violent Incidents in Boston, Massachusetts, by Cliff Johns, Fall 1999
- Vignettes from the Pages of the Alexandria Gazette: A Lone Indian. Alexandrians Used as Human Hostages on U.S. Military Railroad Trains. Negro Regiment Raised in Alexandria, Fall 1999 (see page 18)
- Alexandria and Northern Virginia in the Early National Period: The Paradox of Liberalism in a Slave Society, by A. Glenn Crothers, Summer 1999
- Civil War Vignettes, compiled by T. Michael Miller, Summer 1999 (see page 18)
- President Abraham Lincoln Reviews the Troops Near Shuter's Hill, by T. Michael Miller, Summer 1999 (see page 26)
- Recollections of the Early War between the States in Alexandria, Virginia,by A. J. Wickliffe, 1880, Spring 1997
- "Bandages and Broken Bones:" The Civil War Diary of Anne Reading, Introduction by Margaret Garrett Irving, Summer 1995
- United States Civil War Military Hospitals in Occupied Alexandria, Virginia, Summer 1995 (see page 21)
- President Lincoln's Railroad Car, by Robert Slusser, Spring 1995
Alexandria History Magazine
- A Chronicle of the 17th Virginia Regiment-The Reminiscences of Col. Arthur Herbert, by T. Michael Miller, 1984
- Beleaguered Alexandria, 1861-1865, by James G. Barber, 1981
- "The Town Is Took:" McClellen's Troops on Seminary Hill by Cazenove G. Lee, 1981 (see page 11)
- Cazenove Lee Remembers Robert E. Lee, 1981 (see page 19)
Alexandria Archaeological Reports
The following archaeological site reports relate to the Civil War.
- Battery Heights, 44AX186: Fiedel, Stuart J. and Bryan Corle, Results of Archeological Survey Battery Heights, Alexandria. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 2001.
- Bontz Site/West End Village, United States Military Railroad Complex, 44AX103 and 105 (1989 Phase II investigation): Cromwell, T. Ted, A Phase II Cultural Resource Evaluation of Duke Street (Route 236), Between the 1100 and 1900 Blocks, in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. James Madison University, Archæological Research Center, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1989.
- Bontz Site/West End Village, Spring Garden Farms/United States Military Railroad Complex, 44AX103 and 105 (1989 Phase III investigation): Cromwell, T. Ted and Timothy J. Hills, The Phase III Mitigation of the Bontz Site (44AX103) and the United States Military Railroad Station (44AX105) located on the South Side of Duke Street (Route 236) in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. James Madison University Archaeological Research Center, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1989. Appendices, Public Summary.
- Bush Hill, 44AX111: Gardner, William M. and Gwen Hurst, A Phase IA Background and Documentary Study of Three Properties at 2201 Eisenhower Avenue and 2310 and 2318 Mill Road, Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 2002.
- Bush Hill, 44AX111: Gardner, William M. and Gwen Hurst, Phase IA Documentary Study of 10.67 Acres at 4840 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 1999.
- Custom Homes: Walters, Patrick and Michael Clem, A Phase I Archaeological Survey of 12 Lots on Taft Avenue and Donelson Street and Adjacent Stream Restoration Area, City of Alexandria, Virginia. Cultural Resources, Inc., Frederick, MD, 2008. Public Summary.
- Episcopal High School Faculty Housing, 44AX200: Balicki, Joseph, Kerri Holland, Bryan Corle, Archaeological Evaluation and Resource Management Plan for Episcopal High School Faculty Housing, 1200 Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Virginia. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 2006. Public Summary
- Fannon Petroleum Fuel Company (2007 investigation): Bryant, Tammy, Documentary Study of the 1300 Block of Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archaeology, Gainesville, Virginia, 2007. Public Summary.
- Fort Ward, 44AX90: Larrabee, Edward McM., Fort Ward, Alexandria, Virginia: Exploratory Excavation of the Northwest Bastion, 1961.
- Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen/Alexandria Hospital, 44AX75: Artemel, Janice G., Elizabeth A. Crowell and Jeff Parker, The Alexandria Slave Pen: The Archaeology of Urban Captivity. Engineering-Science, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1987.
- 1400 Janney's Lane, 44AX191: Jirikowic, Christine, Gwen J. Hurst and Tammy Bryant, Phase I Archeological Investigation at 1400 Janney's Lane, Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 2004. Public Summary
- Keith's Wharf/Battery Cove/Ford's Landing/"Old Ford Plant," 44AX119: Artemel, Janice G. Elizabeth Crowell, Donald A. Hull and Dennis Knepper, A Phase IIA Archaeological Study, Old Ford Plant Site, Alexandria, Virginia. Appendices. Engineering-Science, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1988.
- Keith's Wharf/Battery Cove/Ford's Landing/"Old Ford Plant," 44AX119: Cheek, Charles D. and Cecile G. Glendening, A Phase I Archaeological Survey of the Old Ford Plant Property, City of Alexandria, Virginia. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 1986.
- Keith's Wharf/Battery Cove/Ford's Landing/"Old Ford Plant," 44AX119: Engineering-Science, Inc., 1993 Maritime Archaeology at Keith's Wharf and Battery Cove (44AX119): Ford's Landing, Alexandria, Virginia Chapters I-VI, Chapters VII-X, Appendices Washington, D.C., 1993.
- L'Ouverture Hospital/Shiloh Baptist Church: Traum, Sarah, Joseph Balicki and Brian Corle, A Documentary Study, Archeological Evaluation and Resource Management Plan for 1323 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 2007. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, VA. Public Summary.
- 1226 North Pegram Street, 44AX198: Balicki, Joseph, Kerri Holland, Bryan Corle and Lynn B. Jones, Documentary Study and Archaeological Investigation, 1226 North Pegram Street and Polk Avenue (44AX198), Alexandria, Virginia, John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 2008.
- Potomac Yard: Walker, Mark K. and Marilyn Harper, Potomac Yard Inventory of Cultural Resources. Engineering Science, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1989.
- Potomac Yard/Potomac Yard Center: Adams, Robert M., Report on R, F & P Potomac Yard – Track Relocation Project. International Archaeological Consultants, Hayes, Virginia.
- Potomac Yard/Townes at Slater's Village: Cheek, Charles D. and Dana B. Heck, Archeological Observations at the Townes at Slater's Village Alexandria, Virginia. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 1996.
- 206 North Quaker Lane, 44AX193: Jirikowic, Christine, Gwen J. Hurst and Tammy Bryant, Phase III Archeological Investigations at 206 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia. Public Summary.
- Quaker Ridge, 44AX195: Balicki, Joseph, Bryan Corle, Charles Goode and Lynn Jones, Archaeological Investigations for Quaker Ridge Housing (44AX195), Alexandria, Virginia. John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 2005. Public Summary.
- Spring Garden/Old Town Village (1999 investigation): Gardner, William M., Kimberly A. Snyder, Gwen Hurst, Joan M. Walker and John P. Mullen, Excavations at the Old Town Village Site, Corner of Duke and Henry Streets, Alexandria, Virginia: An Historic and Archeological Trek Through the 200 Year History of the Original Spring Garden Development, Volume I, and Volume II (Artifact Inventory). Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 1999.
- Spring Garden/Southern Plaza/Old Town Village (1988 investigation):Seifert, Donna J., Ph.D., Cecile G. Glendening and Walton Owen, An Archæological Assessment of the Southern Plaza Project Area, Alexandria, Virginia, John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 1988.
- Stonegate Parcel C (1996 investigation): Adams, Robert M., Preliminary Archaeological Investigation of the Stonegate Development (Parcel C) West Braddock Road, City of Alexandria, Virginia. International Archaeological Consultants, Rawlins, Wyoming, 1996.
- Virginia Theological Seminary Faculty Housing, 44AX173a: Embrey, James W., Lynn D. Jones and Joseph Balicki, Documentary Study, Archaeological Evaluation and Resource Management Plan for Virginia Theological Seminary Faculty Housing, Alexandria, Virginia, John Milner Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, 2005. Public Summary - Artifact Inventory
- Weicking Property: Straka, Jeffrey and Michael Clem, Phase I Archaeological Survey and Monitoring of the Weicking Property, Lots 701, 702, 704, and 705 Arell Court, Alexandria, Virginia, KCI Technologies, Inc., Mechanicsburg, PA, 2006. Public Summary
More About Life During the Civil War
- Animal Mascots of the Civil War. When Johnny Reb and Billy Yank marched off to war, chances are that a four-footed or winged creature went with them. Wartime animal mascots demonstrated bravery and loyalty, and earned the affections of their human counterparts.
- Civil War Baseball. Playing with friend and foe in pastures, forts, and prison camps, Billy Yank and Johnny Reb could agree on one thing - they loved baseball. And once back home, Civil War veterans spread their enthusiasm for it throughout America. Read below on the beginnings of baseball!
- Fighting for Freedom, Black Union Soldiers of the Civil War. On March 2, 1863, eminent abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass sent out this powerful message in his newspaper, Douglass Monthly. Titled "Men of Color, to Arms!" it urged black men to support the nation's war and the crusade to end generations of slavery.
- Montgomery C. Meigs - Master of Efficiency. Union brigadier general Montgomery C. Meigs, architect and engineer, designed many important buildings including the Pension Building in Washington, DC. He also designed a series of lodges at National Cemeteries, including one that can still be seen at the Alexandria National Cemetery.
Ought it not be a Merry Christmas? Learn how soldiers and civilians found ways to mark the holidays during the years of the Civil War. Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site invites the public to a Christmas in Camp event each December.
- Unhappiness Abroad - Civil War Refugees. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled their homes during the Civil War. They included Confederate sympathizers in Union-occupied territory, African Americans fleeing captivity and deprivation in the South, and others displaced by the war. In Alexandria, two-thirds of the White residents left town to escape military occupation.
We are all Americans - Native Americans in the Civil War. At a time when fear of removal from tribal homelands permeated Native American communities, many native people served in the military during the Civil War. These courageous men fought with distinction, knowing they might jeopardize their freedom, unique cultures, and ancestral lands if they ended up on the losing side of the white man's war.