Sunday, January 22, 2012

Alexandria's Jail and Contrabands

Last month, Kate Masur  recounted in the New York Times Opinionator Senator Henry Wilson's December 1861 crusade against the "sordid conditions" in the Washington city jail faced by African-Americans.  In Washington, African Americans were regularly detained by the city's constables as suspected fugitives and held without charges in the city jail through 1862.  Not entirely surprisingly, this practice also occurred south of the Potomac in Union occupied Alexandria.  150 years ago this month, Senator Wilson, a Massachusetts Republican, rose on the Senate floor to read into the record a scathing critique of the situation in Alexandria's jail.

Alexandria's city jail was located at the northeast corner of Princess and St. Asaph Streets.  Built in 1827, it was designed by Charles Bullfinch.  The facility was used by the City of Alexandria into the late 1980s when it was sold to developers.  Although most of the building was demolished to make way for townhouses, one of the prison yard walls was retained and there is a small plaque.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Regiment of New York Frenchmen at Tenleytown

On January 8, 1862 President and Mrs. Lincoln attended a celebration hosted by the 55th New York Infantry at Tennalytown, D.C. to mark their receipt of a new regimental flag.  Newspaper reports from the winter of 1861-62 are full of stories about various regiments being presented with regimental flags in events attended by prominent home state politicians.  What made this particular  flag presentation unique was that the regiment was comprised heavily of French-born New Yorkers who had answered their adopted homeland's call for volunteers.  The flag presentation ceremony was scheduled for January 8th to coincide with the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, a battle in which French Creoles had fought with Americans against the British.  This at a time when Washington was stridently trying to ensure that England and France did not intervene in the war on the Confederacy's behalf.  Besides, this regiment also knew how to dine.

Photograph of the camp of the 55th New York Infantry, near Tennallytown, D.C.  At the time, the regiment was part of General Peck's Division. Civil War era records often spell the area as "Tennallytown."   (Library of Congress)