The new PBS drama “Mercy Street” has brought Alexandria, Va., front and center. Now, the city is celebrating its heritage through new visitor experiences with more than two dozen tours, exhibits and events planned through the year for fans of the Civil War series.
On the Potomac River, just minutes from Washington, D.C., the city hums with a cosmopolitan feel against an extraordinary historic backdrop. Luxurious accommodations are just steps from historic sites, galleries, boutiques and restaurants, where visitors can turn a “Mercy Street” excursion into a weekend getaway.
Mansion House Hospital
On “Mercy Street,” two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict collide at Mansion House, a luxury hotel that is transformed into a Union Army Hospital.
One of Alexandria’s richest men, James Green, built the hotel directly in front of his 18th-century mansion. A portion of the hotel was torn down in the 1970s, but the remainder still stands with the mansion and its gardens as Carlyle House Historic Park.
Through July 11, the exhibit “Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital” features the history of the site and its occupants.
Details: 703-549-2997 or carlylehouse.org
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary remained open and operational while Alexandria was occupied during the Civil War. The Green family and Union quartermaster staff shopped there to purchase everything from laudanum to cologne. Through May, visitors can take a guided tour and experience the historic space.
Details: 703-746-3852 or alexandriava.gov/apothecary
Alexandria Black History Museum
During the Civil War, thousands of African Americans escaping slavery sought refuge behind Union lines in Alexandria. The fugitives found freedom there, but it was also a city under siege. The influx overwhelmed the city. Rampant disease and deprivation took their toll on freedmen.
Through March 31, “The Journey to Be Free: Self-Emancipation and Alexandria’s Contraband Heritage” tells their story, showing the legacy of Alexandria’s contraband community and the amazing story of their burial ground that was lost and rediscovered, now memorialized as the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery.
Details: 703-746-4356 or alexandriava.gov/blackhistory
Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
Fort Ward stands as the best preserved of the system of Union forts built to protect Washington during the war. The site has exhibits, educational and interpretive programs, tours, lectures and living-history activities during the year. It also focuses on the everyday life of Civil War soldiers and civilians in occupied Alexandria.
Medical care for the Civil War soldier is an ongoing exhibit at Fort Ward Museum, which features original medical instruments and equipment from the era and information on Union Army hospital sites in Alexandria.
The Alexandria Lyceum
The Lyceum was established in the mid-19th century as a way of boosting public educational and cultural opportunities in Alexandria. During the war, it served as a hospital.
Through July 11, the Lyceum features “Alexandria’s Nurses & Hospitals During the Civil War,” an exhibit on the life of Clarissa Jones, a nurse at the hospital. It will include references to other Alexandria nurses, like Anne Reading, who worked in the Mansion House Hospital, and Jane Woolsey, who served at the Fairfax Seminary hospital.
Details: 703-746-4994 or alexandriava.gov/lyceum
Take a tour
Tours are a good way to learn about Alexandria’s history and people.
• On the “Mercy in Alexandria: Walking Tour” guests get inside access to 19th-century life. A trained military historian imparts the story behind the TV show and goes behind the scenes to locations where “Mercy Street” characters lived, worked and played. Details: 703-407-6663 or dcmilitarytour.com
• The three-hour “Beyond the Battlefield” walking tour (nearly two miles) shares real-life stories and locations of soldiers, citizens and former slaves that inspired the PBS series. Tour dates: Feb. 13, May 14, July 9, Sept. 10 and Nov. 12. Details: 703-548-1789 or leefendallhouse.org
There are plenty of other Civil War-era events:
• The “Heroines of Mercy Street” (Feb. 4) has historian Pamela D. Toler talking about the true stories of some of the remarkable men and women who worked as nurses at the Mansion House hospital. Details: alexandriava.gov/lyceum
• “Harriet Jacobs and Julia Wilbur: Friends and Allies in Civil War Alexandria” (Feb. 6) is a lecture by writer, editor and Civil War researcher Paula Whitacre on Jacobs, an African-American writer who escaped from slavery. Details: 703-746-4356
• The “Women of Alexandria, From Antebellum to the 20th Century” program explores how life changed for Alexandria residents during the four years it was an occupied city. Part 1 is Feb. 8, Part 2 is Feb. 22, Part 3 is March 7. The event is free, but donations will be accepted. Details: 703-548-0035 or nvfaa.org
• The “From Slavery to Freedom Tour” (Feb. 20) is a special tour that interprets the Lee-Fendall House from the perspective of its enslaved inhabitants. Details: 703-548-1789 or leefendallhouse.org
• Actors will read from diaries and letters of women who lived in Alexandria during the war, and award-winning bluegrass band Dead Man’s Hollow will play songs of the era at “Performance: Speak, Sister: Alexandrian Women’s Songs and Stories of the Civil War” (March 10). Details: nvfaa.org
• “Spies & Scones — A Special ‘History Mystery’ Tea” (May 21) looks at Alexandria’s Civil War spies. Amid a Victorian tea, learn about real-life secret agents like Frank Stringfellow (portrayed in “Mercy Street”), then put your own powers of detection to the test to discover the spy in the room. Detials: 703-548-1789 or leefendallhouse.org
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7889 or [email protected].