Alexandria National Cemetery

The First Union Regimental Monument south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Private Charles W. Needham is buried in Section A, Site 875, at the Alexandria National Cemetery. He suffered a fatal head injury during the Battle of Aldie, in a charge led by Captain Charles Francis Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of two American Presidents. Private Needham served in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and enlisted at 24 in Georgetown, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1862. If you’d like to learn more about the Battle of Aldie, you can visit this link: [Battle of Aldie]

June 17, 1863, Battle of Aldie

On June 17, 1863, the soldiers from Massachusetts fought against troops from Fitzhugh Lee’s Virginia cavalry brigade led by Thomas Mumford at the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign. Fitzhugh Lee’s father, Sydney Smith Lee, a well-known member of the Lee family and a celebrated US Navy officer, is buried in Christ Episcopal Cemetery, located a short distance from Needham (read more about Lee at this [Link}). After a four-hour battle, Mumford’s soldiers were forced to retreat, resulting in a victory for the Union. However, the 1st Cavalry suffered heavy losses during the fight, with 167 men (20 killed, 57 wounded, and 90 captured) out of 294 engaged in the action.1 Source: Benjamin W. Crowninshield. A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. The Cambridge Press. 1891. Page 469.

Wounded were transported to Alexandria over the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

Among the injured was Major Henry Lee Higginson, who, in 1881, started the Boston Symphony Orchestra (read the history of the BSO at this [link]. After the fight, Major Higginson, Needham, and the other injured members of the 1st Mass were placed on the United States Military Railroad Train and taken to Alexandria using the Orange & Alexandria Railroad tracks.

Higginson described the transit to Alexandria:

The train jerked us to and fro, and we got into Alexandria about one or two o’clock in the morning, were taken out by a lot of young men, who acted as if they were on a picnic, and who got us into ambulances with many jokes, and at last we were carried to a hospital, and got to bed somewhere. I had a little straw mattress with a deep hollow in the middle. It was a great relief, but still was very bad to lie on, for I could lie only on one side, one shoulder being hurt, the back of my head being hurt, and my back being hurt, and, on the other side, my face being cut. Our wounds were dressed, and I found in the morning, lying next to me Dr. John Perry, whose leg had been broken by a kick of his horse. On my other side lay our lieutenant, who had considerable morphine to relieve his pain and who would sit up in bed and eat peanuts. I knew that he had been shot through the side, and I watched to see them come out, but none of them came.” 2See

The Orange & Alexandria Railroad was established in 1848 to connect Alexandria and Charlottesville. Construction began in 1850 and was finished in April 1854. It joined with the Virginia Central Railroad in Orange County. During the Civil War, the U.S. Military Railroad took control of this highly contested railway in Virginia. In 1870, the O&A merged with Manassas Gap, forming the Orange, Alexandria & Manassas Railroad. When soldiers arrived at the U.S. Military Railroad Hospital in the railway yard, they were taken to one of the city’s more than 30 hospitals, hoping they would recover from their injuries.

Orange and Alexandria Railroad yard in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. The photo was taken from atop the roundhouse between 1861 and 1865. The large house in the back, to the left of the center, is 510 Wolfe Street, which Francis Lee Smith, a member of the Lee family, owned. He is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery—photo from Library of Congress.

The Lee-Fendall House Hospital

Needham was sent to the Lee-Fendall House on Oronoco Street, where he died on June 30, 1863. The Lee-Fendall House was a hospital that was a part of the Grosvenor Military Hospital located at 414 N. Washington Street during the later part of the war. According to records in the National Archives, 87 Union soldiers died in The Lee-Fendall House while it was being used as a hospital between 1863 and 1865. The house was also where the first successful blood transfusion occurred in the United States. Edwin Bentley, the Chief Surgeon of the Military Hospitals in occupied Alexandria, used the house as his quarters.

Post-war picture of Edward Bentley (July 3, 1824 – February 5, 1817). In September 1862, Bentley was placed in charge of the Third Division U.S. Army General Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, and, in 1864, all the area hospitals, including L’Ouverture Hospital. This hospital was designated for treating African American and Native American soldiers. He later helped found the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University, which opened on October 7, 1879. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery—Photo from the UAMS 

The first regimental Union Monument erected on a Southern battlefield

On June 17, 1891, soldiers who fought in the 1st Massachusetts met on the Aldie Battlefield to dedicate a monument to remember those who died or were severely hurt 28 years beforehand. The monument was put there in 1888, but it wasn’t until 1891 that there was a special event to celebrate it. This was the first monument put up by Union soldiers on a battlefield in the South. On the old and damaged west side is the name of Charles Needham, who died in the Lee-Fendall House in June 1863 and now rests in peace in the Alexandria National Cemetery.

Monument to the First Massachusetts Cavalry on the Aldie Battlefield. All told, 60-90 men were lost on the field, according to Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (great-
grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams). Photo by D. Heiby.
The gravestone of Charles Needham, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry member, was buried in Section A, Site 875, Alexandria National Cemetery—photo by D. Heiby.

Sources of Information

Crowninshield, B. W. (1891). A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company.

The Mosby Heritage Association. (2017). Raised from Obscurity: A Driving Tour of the Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. June 17-21, 1863.

See the official website of Visit Loudoun County for information on the June 1863 cavalry battles in Loudoun County (Visit Loudoun County, n.d.) URL []

  • 1
    Source: Benjamin W. Crowninshield. A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. The Cambridge Press. 1891. Page 469.
  • 2
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By David

Hello. My journey has taken me through various paths, from owning businesses to delving deep into the annals of history. For many years, I dedicated myself to researching and leading tours of Civil War Battlefields, bringing the past to life for those eager to learn.

In 2015, I assumed the role of Superintendent of the Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex in Alexandria, Virginia. This cemetery holds a profoundly special place in my heart. It's owned by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, where I was baptized and raised, and my parents are laid to rest. It's also the place where I will one day be buried. This responsibility allowed me to assist families during pivotal moments and opened a unique avenue for me. Most Saturdays, I lead tours within the complex, combining my passion for teaching history with the stories of the 35,000 souls resting there. To further share these narratives, I established this blog focusing on the lives and tales of those buried in Alexandria.

In addition to my work at the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, I am honored to serve as a dedicated Board member of the Alexandria Historical Society and the Lee-Fendall House Museum. I am a Northern Virginia Cemetery Consortium member dedicated to preserving endangered cemeteries throughout the region, representing the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex.

If you're intrigued by history or curious about the stories that shaped Alexandria, I invite you to join me on my tours, read my writings, or connect with me on Facebook or Instagram.

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