This coming January, PBS will air the new mini-series Mercy Street staring Josh Radnor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a Doctor and Nurse working together in Union occupied Alexandria, VA during the Civil War. Ms. Winstead plays the part of New England abolitionist Mary Phinney. Her rival, played by Hannah James, is an entitled Alexandria woman named Emma Green who nurses soldiers alongside Phinney. Mercy Street will be an exciting piece of historical fiction noting the tensions of persons on opposite sides of the war working in close quarters. The real history of the men and women of Alexandria at the time is worth telling. In this an upcoming blogs, I propose to tell the story behind these historical characters in preparation for the series start in January.
Before discussion on the persons surrounding the story can begin, it’s helpful to set the scene on what is going on in Alexandria 1860 and 1861.
Throughout the South in 1860, there is talk of secession if and when the “abolitionist” Abraham Lincoln is elected as President. At this time in Alexandria, there is a strong sense of belonging to the Union given the significant merchant ties that the citizens have with all sections of the nation. In early 1861, the sentiment in Alexandria is going to change to a vast majority supporting secession and the new Confederate government. Two incidents are the catalyst: The firing on Fort Sumter on 12 and 13 April 1861 and the Virginia Ordinance for Secession passed on 17 April 1861. Almost overnight Alexandria turns from a loyal Southern city to a Confederate hotbed.
The Virginia Ordinance for Secession was ratified by voter referendum on 23 May. The next day is arguably the most momentous in Alexandria’s history. In response to the referendum Union troops have prepared across the river in Washington City to invade Alexandria. To be discussed in the next blog are two significant events that happen in Alexandria on 24 May that will greatly influence America’s history and set the stage for Alexandria’s most intriguing era.