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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Civil War Sesquicentennial
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Page updated Mar 3, 2015 11:44 AM

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Alexandria During the Civil War: First Person Accounts

The occupation of Alexandria by Union troops forever changed the social, cultural and economic fabric of the old seaport town. For four years, Alexandria was an occupied city, enduring the longest military occupation by Union troops of any town during the conflict. We are fortunate to have a number of first-person accounts of this trying period of Alexandria’s history. The following accounts, in the public domain, include dramatic excerpts from the diaries of relief worker Julia Wilbur, and of a secessionist housewife who fled Alexandria as Union troops arrived; a letter from a head nurse at one of the many hospitals; the writings of an English journalist and an American war correspondent; and selections from The Local News, Alexandria’s wartime newspaper. 

Diaries of Julia Wilbur, Relief Worker

Julia Wilbur, a relief worker from Rochester, NY, came to Alexandria during the Civil War. She kept a detailed diary from the 1840s through her death in 1895. These transcriptions focus on the period right before, during, and after the War. (Transcribed by Alexandria Archaeology, 2013-2014, from the originals in the Quaker Collection, Haverford College, PA.)

The complete transcription is provided, followed by yearly diary entries.​

McGuire cover page

Diary of a Southern Refugee During the War

Judith White Brockenbrough McGuire
Excerpts dated May 4, 1861 through September 30, 1862
First published in 1867.

Mrs. McGuire was the wife of the principal of Episcopal High School, and lived at a house on the school grounds on West Braddock Road, four miles west of City Hall. The family fled their home on May 24, 1861, as the Union Army occupied Alexandria. Like many Alexandrians, the McGuires were fervent secessionists and unable to remain in the occupied town. They moved to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, and never returned to live in Alexandria. During the war, the McGuire’s large home was used as a hospital and as a residence for several families of army surgeons. Mrs. McGuire’s poignant memoir was first published in 1867.

Read Mrs. McGuire’s first person account 


Clarissa JonesLetter from Clarissa Jones

Clarissa Jones, head nurse at the Baptist Church hospital.
Courtesy The National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Maryland.

Nurse Jones writes of turning away Southern sympathizing women who try to bring things to the Confederate POW patients at the Baptist Church hospital.

Read an excerpt from Nurse Jones' letter 


Edward Dicey, JournalistSix Months in the Federal States

Edward Dicey
Published in London in 1863.

Edward Dicey, an English journalist, was a regular contributor to The Spectator and on the staff of the Daily Telegraph. His accounts of travel through Europe, the United States and the Near East was reported in these papers and published in several books. 

Read Edward Dicey’s first person account


George Alfred TownsendCampaigns of a Non-Combatant, — and His Romaunt Abroad During the War

George Alfred Townsend
Published in New York in 1866.

George Alfred Townsend was a noted war correspondent and novelist. During the Civil War he wrote for the New York Herald. 

Read George Alfred Townsend’s first person account


The Local News October 15 1861The Local News

Alexandria, Virginia, published 1861-1862.

Published from the office of the Alexandria Gazette during the suppression of that paper by Union forces. Selected articles from the first month of publication provide insight into how life was changing for City residents.

Read excerpts from The Local News


Office of Historic Alexandria 

Administration Offices

Lloyd House
220 North Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703.838.6451

Office Hours
Monday - Friday
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.