Tag Archives: Alexandria

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.

https://youtu.be/t5XOW0PTmKY

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 railroad 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, its demographics changed—many of its … read more »

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Newspaper Accounts on the Death of Lincoln

With the renewed interest in President Abraham Lincoln due to Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at newspaper coverage of the assassination and the ensuing manhunt. In the spirit of full disclosure, much of Lincoln was filmed in Richmond, Virginia and I was an extra in the film, playing a Radical Republican. See photo below.

Photo of Silver Persinger in costume as a 19th Century Congressman.

I played Republican #17 in Spielberg's "Lincoln."

To my surprise, our collection has very few Virginia newspapers from the period just after the war. Many newspapers we have from that time seemed to have stopped publishing in March 1865 as a result of worsening conditions in wartime Virginia. It is helpful to know a few dates concerning the end of the war: Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865; Lincoln was assassinated on Friday evening of April 14, 1865 and died the following day at 7:22 AM.

I was able to find several papers from the days following the assassination that have interesting information I have never come across before. I thought it would be beneficial to simply transcribe some of these accounts to satisfy public curiosity.

Over the next several days, we will feature extracts of articles from the newspapers published shortly after Lincoln’s assassination.

Masthead of The Alexandria Gazette

From The Alexandria Gazette, April 21, 1865

On page 1, appeared the following:

OFFICIAL
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, April 20, 1865,

One Hundred Thousand Dollars Reward.
The murderer of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is still at large !!!
FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid by the Department for his apprehension, in addition to any reward offered by Municipal authorities or State Executives.
TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid for the apprehension of G. A. ATZEROT, sometimes called “Port Tobacco,” one of Booth’s accomplices!
TWENTY-FIVE … read more »

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