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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 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.

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 [https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/virginia-civil-war-trails/367/]

  • 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
    See https://dragoon1st.tripod.com/cw/files/hlh_aldie.html
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By David

Hello. With a passion for bringing history to life, I serve my community as a public historian and cemetery superintendent. My journey has led me to own businesses, conduct Civil War battlefield tours and research Alexandria’s cemeteries.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of serving as Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within Alexandria's Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. The Presbyterian Cemetery has close ties to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, situated one mile east, where my family has worshipped for two generations. My parents are laid to rest in this cemetery, which holds a special place in my heart.

Most weekends, you can find me leading tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, where thirteen cemeteries are located, with over 35,000 buried. Considered one of the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States, I weave my enthusiasm for teaching with the stories of those interred there. I also manage a blog focused on all the cemeteries in Alexandria where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized.

In addition, I'm an active Board Member of both the Alexandria Historical Society and Lee-Fendall House Museum. As part of the Northern Virginia Cemetery Consortium, I diligently preserve endangered burial sites throughout the region.

If Alexandria’s history captivates you, I invite you to join one of my cemetery tours, read my blog on memorializing souls buried across the city’s cemeteries, or connect with me on social media. I find joy and purpose in bringing Alexandria’s rich past to life and serving my community.

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