|The Marshall House Incident, Harper's Weekly, June 15, 1861.|
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.
Explore Alexandria's Civil War Sites
- Visit Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
- Visit the the Contrabands and Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial
- Learn about Alexandria's Union Hospitals
- Explore Alexandria's Civil Defenses of Washington by bike
- Download the Alexandria
Civil War iPhone app
Alexandria's Civil War History
- Resources for the Study of Alexandria During the Civil War
- Civil War 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.
- Alexandria During the Civil War: First Person Accounts
- Discovering the Decades: 1860s
- The History of Fort Ward
- Col. Elmer Ellsworth and the Marshall House Incident
- Emma Green and Frank Stringfellow: Alexandria's Civil War Sweethearts.
Archaeology of Civil War Sites
Slavery and Freedom
- "A Loathsome Prison:" Slave Trading in Antebellum Alexandria. Lesson Plan: Teaching with Historic Places in Alexandria, Virginia.
- The Alexandria Slave Pen: The Archaeology of Urban Captivity, by Janice G. Artemel, Elzabeth A. Crowell and Jeff Parker. Engineering-Science, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1987
- Archaeology of the Bruin Slave Jail (Site 44AX0172), by Lisa Kraus, John Bedell and Charles LeeDecker. The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Washington, D.C., 2010.
- Fighting for Freedom: Black Union Soldiers of the Civil War. Courtesy Fort Ward Museum
- Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in Alexandria National Cemetery Part I, by Edward A. Miller, Jr. Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Fall 1988.
- Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in Alexandria National Cemetery Part II, by Edward A. Miller, Jr. Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Winter 1988.
- Alexandria Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery. Alexandria Contrabands & Freedmen 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.