Seeing the Civil War

Tag: Alexandria VA

Wikipedia says: Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. Located along the western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately 7 miles (11 km) south of downtown Washington, D.C.

…The first fatalities of the North and South in the American Civil War occurred in Alexandria. Within a month of the Battle of Fort Sumter, Union troops occupied Alexandria, landing troops at the base of King Street on the Potomac River on May 24, 1861. A few blocks up King Street from their landing site, the commander of the New York Fire Zouaves, Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, sortied with a small detachment to remove a large Confederate flag displayed on the roof of the Marshall House Inn that had been visible from the White House. While descending from the roof, Ellsworth was shot dead by James W. Jackson, the hotel’s proprietor. One of Ellsworth’s soldiers immediately killed Jackson. Ellsworth was publicized as a Union martyr, and the incident generated great excitement in the North, with many children being named for him. Jackson’s death defending his home caused a similar sensation in the South.

Alexandria remained under military occupation until the end of the war. Fort Ward, one of a ring of forts built by the Union army for the defense of Washington, D.C., is located inside the boundaries of present-day Alexandria. After the creation by Washington of the state of West Virginia in 1863 and until the close of the war, Alexandria was the seat of the so-called Restored Government of Virginia, also known as the “Alexandria Government”. During the Union occupation, a recurring contention between the Alexandria citizenry and the military occupiers was the Union army’s periodic insistence that church services include prayers for the President of the United States. Failure to do so resulted in incidents including the arrest of ministers in their church.

In 1861 and 1862, escaped African-American slaves poured into Alexandria. Safely behind Union lines, the cities of Alexandria and Washington offered comparative freedom and employment. Alexandria became a major supply depot and transport and hospital center for the Union army. Until the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, escaped slaves legally remained the property of their owners. Therefore, they were labeled contrabands to avoid returning them to their masters. Contrabands worked for the Union army in various support roles.

After all slaves in the seceding states were liberated, even more African Americans came to Alexandria. By the fall of 1863, the population of Alexandria had exploded to 18,000—an increase of 10,000 people in 16 months.

As of ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Alexandria County’s black population was more than 8,700, or about half the total number of residents in the county. This newly enfranchised constituency provided the support necessary to elect the first black Alexandrians to the City Council and the Virginia Legislature.