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Civil War Tour
Alexandria 1861- 1865:
An Occupied City

Lee's Boyhood Home

Tour Stops Include

  • Site where the first Union officer was killed

  • Washington Street Prison, Prince Street Prison

  • Locations of Alexandria's military hospitals

  • Lee's boyhood home, Lee-Fendall House, Lloyd House

  • The Restored Government of Virginia 

  • Homes associated with the history of slavery and the Underground Railroad

  • Plus historic churches and many other iconic spots of interest in Old Town

Lee-Fendall House
Civil War Proclamation

More Information

  • Tour Type: Private Tour

  • Time: 2 hours

  • Cost: Group rates begin at $190. Click here for pricing information. 

  • Distance: 1.5 miles (~22 blocks)

  • This is a professionally guided walking tour.

  • We will pass by historic locations.   

St. Paul's Church

Civil War Topics

  • Alexandria as a center of supplies and logistics

  • The defenses of Washington D.C.

  • Contrabands and emancipation

  • Martial law and a city under occupation

  • We will use stories and experiences in Alexandria to discuss the Civil War broadly

Alexandria and the Civil War

Alexandria, Virginia. May 23, 1861

Tension hung in the air as Virginia citizens took to the polls. The votes were tallied, and the results were in. Virginia elected to leave the Union. Meanwhile, the USS Pawnee floated menacingly on the Potomac River with guns pointed at the shores of Alexandria. One month prior to Virginia’s secession, Col. Robert E. Lee decided to resign his US Army commission and cast his fate with his native Virginia. Lee was raised in Alexandria. One of his last stops before heading to Richmond was at the church where he was confirmed in 1853.

On May 24, 1861, Federal soldiers crossed the Potomac River. They marched up King Street. Young, enlisted men looked around the city in nervous anticipation. They were volunteers with little training and no experience in war.

Many of them were firefighters from New York. Most had never seen the south. Alexandria was like a foreign country to them. Their enlistments were only 90 days, and then they would be free to go home.

Gun shots erupted from a hotel on King Street. Looking up at the hotel, there was a towering 30-foot-high flagpole where the Stars and Bars had been proudly flying mere moments before the firefight broke out. One of Union regimental commanders fell dead along the stairwell. The mood quickly turned to anger mixed with uncertainty.

The first Union officer had been slain. Now the reality of war was becoming apparent to the green soldiers. It must have been hard for the New York troops to comprehend, but the death of their leader was one of the first casualties of the war. Until the final surrender was signed at Appomattox in 1865, there would be 600,000 more deaths that followed throughout hundreds of bloody battles and skirmishes.

From 1861- 1865, Alexandria was totally transformed by war. It was a city under permanent military occupation and martial law. For Alexandria’s citizens that fought for the Confederacy, they would not return home until 1865. For the free citizens that lived in the city, many would resent the imposition of a “foreign” army. Other citizens supported the Union war effort. They enthusiastically embraced Alexandria’s role as a center for logistics, medicine, and as the “restored government” of Virginia.

Finally, Alexandria became a beacon of hope for thousands of formally enslaved Americans. Since the early 1800s, Alexandria was at the center of a massive business, which supported the South’s “peculiar institution” and the growth of “King Cotton.” At the same time, both free and enslaved men and women had been active leaders in the abolitionist movement. Many people risked their lives in this fight with an enduring hope to fulfill the promise of America’s founding principles.     

In this interactive guided tour, we will go back in time and take a walk through a city upended by war. We will look at places and events that pertain to the lives of people who lived through the Civil War. This tour contains rich and fascinating stories focused on the experiences of people living in a war-torn city. We will discuss Alexandria’s role in supporting both the Confederate and Union war effort. We will also explore the legacy of the war and see the traces of its aftermath as they exist today.  

In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln said, "Now we are engaged in a great civil war." On this tour, guest participation will be encouraged as we discover and learn about Alexandria's experience as a city at the center of America's "great civil war."

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