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 https://dragoon1st.tripod.com/cw/files/hlh_aldie.html
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.
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.
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.
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 [https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/virginia-civil-war-trails/367/]
- 1Source: Benjamin W. Crowninshield. A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. The Cambridge Press. 1891. Page 469.
- 2See https://dragoon1st.tripod.com/cw/files/hlh_aldie.html