Alexandria Hosts Second Civil War Sesquicentennial Community Meeting

August 29 Event to Help Plan Local Commemoration of Civil War 150th Anniversary

A second Civil War Sesquicentennial community planning meeting will be held on Saturday, August 29, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, at 101 Callahan Drive. A speaker from the Virginia Tourism Corporation will facilitate sessions to plan programs for Alexandria’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This meeting is open to all, and public participation is most welcome. Those planning to participate are requested to confirm their attendance by calling the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association at 703.746.3298 so that staff can make proper meeting space arrangements.

The primary purpose of the meeting will be to develop and coordinate a corps of local volunteers willing to work on various Sesquicentennial sub-committees to assist with planning and programming in support of Alexandria’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This is part of a statewide effort of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, to develop a greater understanding of the cause, impact and aftermath of the war based on the theme “Understanding Our Past, Embracing Our Future.” Activities associated with this initiative are planned to take place from 2011 to 2015.

As part of the August 29 program, Ellen Stanton, Chairwoman of the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission, will review suggestions and issues raised by the community at a meeting held on June 6, as well as several new concepts that have come forth to advance programming and public understanding of the Civil War in this region. Then Richard Lewis, Public Relations Manager of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, will assist with developing a local vision statement and SWOT analysis, a critical look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with creating a common vision to commemorate of one of the most significant periods in the history of Alexandria. Lewis will close the meeting with a facilitated planning session.

Alexandria’s Civil War heritage is very unique and reflects the history of the Union, the Confederacy and African Americans. The overwhelming majority of Alexandrians were loyal to the South, with one of its most prominent citizens, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, and hundreds of men from Alexandria serving with the Confederate Army.

Although Virginia had voted to secede from the Union in 1861, Alexandria played an unusual role due to its proximity to the federal capital and occupation by Union forces throughout the war. In addition to being used as a center for military supplies, transportation and medical care throughout the war period, Alexandria was also the site of a major Union earthwork fortification known as Fort Ward, built to defend the capital against an attack from the west.  Now the best surviving example of the “Defenses of Washington,” Fort Ward was restored by the City of Alexandria in the early 1960s to commemorate the Civil War Centennial.

The Union presence in Alexandria made it a destination for enslaved African Americans seeking freedom, and thousands of refugees arrived here, but without adequate food, shelter and medical care, hundreds of them died. The military authority ordered that a cemetery be established in 1864 and over the next five years, approximately 1,800 people were buried there before the federal government abandoned the cemetery. In 2007, the City acquired the site, today known as the Contraband and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial.

This community meeting will assist Historic Alexandria Resources Commission, the Office of Historic Alexandria and Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association in developing a plan that reflects these and other themes of Alexandria’s Civil War heritage.