Alexandria Kicks Off Civil War Commemoration May 21

Page archived as of November 23, 2015

“Life in Civil War Alexandria” Event to Be Held in Old Town on Anniversary of Alexandria’s Military Occupation

Civil War 150 bannerDiscover how Alexandria was transformed by the Civil War on the 150th anniversary weekend of Alexandria’s occupation by Federal troops! “Life in Civil War Alexandria: A 150th Commemorative Event,” a kick-off for Alexandria’s Civil War Commemoration, will be held on Saturday, May 21, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Old Town at Market Square, 301 King Street.

This extensive living history event will feature an opening ceremony; music by the Federal City Brass Band and the Washington Revels; interpretations of Robert E. Lee, a Civil War photographer, an army surgeon, Union and Confederate soldiers, and African American civilians; as well as a U.S. Military Railroad portrayal; the Victorian Dance Ensemble; and a variety of other interpretive activities to help tell the story of Alexandria’s experience during the Civil War.

This free event will also offer information tables on Civil War historic sites, museums, events and organizations in the local area. Also, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, 134 North Royal Street, and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, 105-107 South Fairfax Street, will offer free Civil War tours of their sites, businesses that remained open during the war. Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 North Fairfax Street, will host the program, “Spies and Scouts of the Civil War,” where visitors can decode secret messages and try their hand at disguise, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about “Life in Civil War Alexandria,” visit or call 703.746.4554.

Geographically, politically and socially, Alexandria was directly in the path of the American Civil War with the Union, the Confederacy, and African Americans all having a major role in Alexandria’s history. Because of Alexandria’s strategic importance as a railroad center and port, federal troops took over the town, arriving on the morning of May 24, 1861, the day that Virginia’s secession from the Union went into effect. This same day, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of the New York Fire Zouaves and Alexandria innkeeper James Jackson, an ardent secessionist, were both killed in an incident at the Marshall House hotel on King Street that made them martyred heroes in the North and South.  

For four years, Alexandria, Robert E. Lee’s hometown, was occupied by Union forces, the longest military occupation by Union troops of any town during the conflict. Alexandria was transformed into a huge logistical supply center for Federal armies fighting in Virginia. Private homes, churches, and local public buildings were commandeered for military barracks, hospitals and prisons, while thousands of African Americans came to the former slave trading town seeking freedom and security behind Union lines.

For more information about Historic Alexandria’s Civil War Commemoration events or Alexandria’s Civil War history, please visit or download a map and program here.