First Person Account: An English Journalist

Read English journalist Edward Dicey's memories of Alexandria during the Civil War, from his book "Six Monthes in the Federal States."

Page updated on Mar 9, 2020 at 8:51 AM
Edward Dicey, Cover Page
Cover Page, Six Months in the Federal States. Courtesy Google Books.

First Person Account: An English Journalist

Edward Dicey, an English journalist, was a regular contributor to The Spectator and on the staff of the Daily Telegraph. His accounts of travel through Europe, the United States and the Near East was reported in these papers and published in several books.

Edward Dicey's Thoughts on Alexandria

Notes of the War, pages 23-25

Half an hour's sail brought us to Alexandria. Like most of the old Virginia and Maryland towns, it has a very English air about it: the red brick houses, the broad sleepy streets, the long straggling wharves might have been imported direct from Norfolk or Lincolnshire. The town itself was crammed with troops; but neither then nor on the other occasions when I visited it was there anything to be seen of the inhabitants. They had left the place for the most part, or lived in retirement. Closely connected as the little town is with Washington, it was bitterly "secesh;" and the citizens of Alexandria showed their dislike of the Federal army of occupation by every means in their power. The women, as may be supposed, displayed their animosity most outspokenly. Unless they were foully belied, they used to take pleasure in insulting the private soldiers with epithets which will not bear repetition. The common Yankee soldiers seemed to feel these insults from women with a susceptibility I felt it hard to account for. English soldiers, under like circumstances, would have retorted with language still more unmentionable, or would have adopted the spirit of General Butler's famous order without compunction. But the Americans appeared to writhe under these insults. The bad language of the Alexandria women was constantly complained of in the papers as a bitter personal injury. I remember one stalwart Massachusetts soldier in the hospital, who complained seriously, that when he was recovered, and went back to duty, he should be subjected again to the abuse of these Southern ladies; and said — "It was so hard to bear." It was here, by the way, that the first blood shed in the war was spilt by the murder of Lieutenant Ellsworth, when hoisting up the Union flag at the first outbreak of secession. A flag-staff, bearing the stars and stripes, had been erected on the house where he was killed; and, on that morning, it floated bravely in the sunlight, as though in honour of the approaching Union triumphs.

At the wharf, a train was waiting to convey our party. It was the first which had started, and the resumption of the traffic was the sign of returning peace and order. But the event excited no comment in that sullen, gloomy town, and only a few boys and negroes were collected together to witness our departure. Slowly we moved on through the dead streets till we reached the camps outside the town, and then passing onwards at an increased speed, we were soon in the hilly Virginia country, which a few days before had been occupied by the Confederate forces.