Monthly Archives: February 2016

Alexandria in a time of war: From Mansion House to Camp Distribution

Alexandria was a lively town during the Civil War, so it’s no wonder PBS draws from the city’s history for its new drama Mercy Street. The series, inspired by real people and events, turns the lens from the battlefield and focuses instead on the Mansion House, a luxury hotel turned Union hospital. It follows the life of Mary Phinney Von Olnhausen, an inexperienced but capable nurse who is constantly faced with the challenges of working in an overburdened, chaotic war hospital.

Mercy Street

http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/home/ August 29, 2016

So, what are the reasons Civil War era Alexandria is such an interesting setting? When Virginia officially left the Union on May 23, 1861, it was a city at once in Confederate territory and adjacent to the Union Capital. President Lincoln, needing Alexandria to shield Washington DC from Confederate forces, immediately sent Federal troops to occupy it—its proximity to the Potomac River and the railroad line also made it perfect for supply shipments.

View from Potomac 1863

View of Alexandria from Potomac 1863

The influx of thousands of Union soldiers only a day after Virginia’s secession vote may not have come as a total surprise to Alexandria’s inhabitants, but it wasn’t greeted with unanimous enthusiasm either. Henry B. Whittington, a Confederate sympathizer, wrote in his diary, “This is a sad day for Alexandria, and whatever may be the issue of this contest, this unprecedented move upon the part of a Republican President will ever linger in the minds of citizens while memory lasts.”

From the Alexandria Gazette, May 13, 1862

Alexandria quickly morphed from a quaint mercantile town into a “labyrinth of wharves, quartermaster storehouses, commissaries, marshalling yards, and railroad shops. . .Churches, public buildings and abandoned mansions were converted into hospitals, prisons and headquarters.” (George Kundahl, Alexandria Goes to War) And as the war progressed, … read more »

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Journey to the Center of the State: Appomattox and Buckingham Times enters Virginia Chronicle

Those who are members of the smart set like to think they are at the center of things.  But Appomattox, a small town in Piedmont Virginia, literally is at the center of Virginia. If you don’t believe us, see the image below. If you’re like me and believe everything you read, then here’s the proof:

Road MarkerDespite the important geographical distinction, few newspapers remain from Appomattox and the Buckingham County region. In fact, it seems they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

But the Library has cleverly managed to pull together a collection of the Appomattox and Buckingham Times (1892-1909) and has made them available online, thanks in large part to a private donation which helped give wings to this initiative. Herein is one recipe for success: a generous donation to the Library of Virginia’s Foundation coupled with Team VNP’s seasoned technical know-how to process in a few short months the pages now present on Virginia Chronicle.  As with just about every title found on the database, the titles are fully text searchable and available for text correcting by enthusiastic volunteers.

We cannot thank enough those who participate in what we like to call citizen history.

When you get a chance, please visit Virginia Chronicle to view our select but important collection of issues of the Appomattox and Buckingham Times. And while you’re at it, check out Slate River Ramblings, an engaging blog about life in Buckingham County. Actually life and death. You’ll see what we mean as you fall into engrossing stories involving murder and lawless gangs terrorizing the countryside at the turn of the 20th century.Appomattoxread more »

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