Alexandria National Cemetery

The Sad Fate of The New York Volunteers!

“I have seen Him in the Watch-fires of a Hundred Circling Camps!”

Following the Union’s defeat at the First Bull Run (or Manassas) on July 21, 1861, they embarked on an ambitious project to safeguard their capital city in the event of a Confederate attack. They initiated the construction of a formidable defensive line comprising forty-eight forts, lunettes, redoubts, and batteries strategically positioned to enclose and protect Washington. These strongholds secured crucial roads, controlled strategic valleys, and safeguarded essential city defense facilities. Additional forts were erected as time passed, resulting in 68 forts and establishing Washington as North America’s most heavily fortified city during the Civil War. 1The title of this section was inspired by Julia Ward Howe’s famous Civil War song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Construction of entrenchments at Fort Ellsworth, Alexandria, Virginia. Sketch taken from Frank Leslie’s 1895 publication, ‘The American Soldier in the Civil War.’

The Second Largest Fort in Washington’s Defenses

In the vicinity of the Potomac River, a series of forts were meticulously constructed to protect Alexandria, Virginia—an indispensable military depot and hospital hub for the Army of the Potomac. These forts were strong bastions, guarding the city’s critical infrastructure, including railways, port facilities, and major roadways.

Among the prominent defensive chains, Fort Lyon stood out as one of the largest. Positioned on Ballenger’s Hill, south of Alexandria, and spanning across Huntington Creek, it earned its name in honor of the late Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. The brave general had tragically lost his life on August 10, 1861, during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri.

A depiction of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the fall of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon on August 10, 1861, was created by Kurz and Allison circa 1893—image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Perched atop a high, flat terrain, this fort commanded a strategic vantage point over the Hunting Creek Valley while providing crucial protection to the Little River Turnpike, also known as Duke Street, and the City of Alexandria. On the opposite bank of Hunting Creek lay Fort Ellsworth, named in honor of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth from the 11th New York “Fires” Zouaves.

Colonel Ellsworth met a tragic fate on May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia voted to secede from the Union when Union forces captured Alexandria. A close friend of President Lincoln, Ellsworth took down a prominent Confederate flag flying over the Marshall House, a hotel managed by a staunch Confederate supporter named James Jackson. In the confrontation, Jackson shot and killed Ellsworth, only to be swiftly dealt with by Union soldier Francis Edwin Brownell. Brownell’s heroism earned him the Medal of Honor.

Ellsworth’s remains were respectfully laid in the East Room of the White House before being transported to New York for burial. Meanwhile, Jackson’s body was discreetly interred in the Fairfax City Cemetery to prevent any disrespect from Union soldiers.

Ballenger’s House, Fort Lyon, March 1862. From Private Robert Knox Sneden’s Eye of the Storm. Pg. 25.

Providing Firing Space for the Cannons!

In the vicinity of the fort, various homes, including Mount Eagle and Spring Bank, underwent significant alterations to accommodate the placement of cannons. These modifications entailed the removal of numerous trees to provide ample firing space for the fort’s artillery. Spring Bank, which belonged to George W. Mason and lay one mile past Hunting Creek, bore the brunt of this change, losing nearly forty acres of oak trees alone.

George W. Mason was the grandson of George Mason IV, one of the founding fathers associated with Gunston Hall. He was a staunch supporter of secession and harbored an intense hatred towards the North and all its associations. His loathing for the Union and its defenders manifested in vehement curses, where he referred to them as mud sills, Lincoln’s hirelings, and Yankee scum.

Description of the Fort

Once they finished, a volunteer from a New York group described Fort Lyon as “the greatest place to camp the group ever stayed. Standing on the trenches and looking to the right, across the river, they could see the City of Washington, with the big dome of the Capitol rising proudly towards the sky. Boats were going back and forth in the river, while Alexandria was below them, like a quiet child – its supporters of the Confederate States too scared to speak because of the soldiers and the angry cannons“. 2Benjamin Franklin Cooling III. Symbol, Sword, and Shield. Defending Washington During the Civil War. White Mane Publishing Company. Shippensburg, PA. 1965. Pages 60, 62.

Engineer Drawing of Fort Lyon, which mounted 40 cannons and had a perimeter of 937 yards. Photo from Mr. Lincoln’s Forts 3Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II. Forward by Edwin C. Bearss. Mr. Lincoln’s Forts A Guide to Civil War Defenses of Washington. White Mane Publishing Company. Shippensburg, PA. 1988. Page 61.

Upon its completion, the fort was outfitted to accommodate an impressive array of 40 guns, strategically distributed among its defenses. These armaments included ten 32-pounders, ten 24-pounders, seven 6-pounders, two eight-inch mortars, and four 24-pounder Coehorn mortars.

Throughout its occupation, the fort saw the presence of various units hailing from the New York regiments, such as the 38th, 16th, 26th, and 27th, along with select companies from the 2nd and 3rd Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, and later West Virginia regiments. Additionally, members of the New York 3rd Battalion of Heavy Artillery, often called the “German Heavy Artillery” and “Senges’ Battalion of Artillery,” were stationed at the fort.

The New York 3rd Battalion of Heavy Artillery stood out as a unique unit, predominantly composed of individuals of German descent. Noted for their love of singing, lager beer, and fondness for keeping numerous pet dogs, they brought a distinct character to Fort Lyon. Light-heartedly, one soldier jokingly remarked that the fort housed an abundance of dogs, as the German soldiers seemed to have three dogs for every man, along with a fair share of fleas to accompany them. 4Source: ibid. Page 62.

Shows a detailed drawing of Union Fort Lyon on Eagle Hill in Fairfax County, Va. This fort was the headquarters for Major General Samuel Peter Heintzelman, U.S.A. By Sneden, Robert Knox, 1832-1918. Image courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.

The Accidental Explosion that was heard as far as Washington

On June 9, 1863, Lieutenant Leo Kuhne of the 3rd New York Battalion led a group of soldiers assigned to a critical task: removing wet powder from shells stored in a specialized room known as a magazine. To expedite the process, the soldiers were initially provided wooden spoons to scoop the powder. However, Lieutenant Kuhne felt their progress was insufficient, prompting him to suggest an alternative approach. He instructed his men to employ priming wire instead of spoons.

At precisely 2:00 p.m., an unforeseen event unfolded—the friction on the powder within one of the shells triggered a chain reaction of explosions. The resulting blast launched debris, dirt, exploding shells, and even the bodies of unfortunate soldiers more than half a mile from the fort. The explosion’s impact was so formidable that it was said to be audible even in Washington.

Twenty-one men died immediately when the explosion happened. Two more were fatally injured. Seventeen others were hurt. We don’t know how many dogs died.

As reported in Newspapers

Image from the June 9, 1863, evening edition of The Alexandria Gazette

“EXPLOSION AT FORT LYONS—TWENTY MEN KILLED.–There was an explosion at Fort Lyons, two miles from Alexandria, on the afternoon of the 9th inst. It appears that the men attached to the 3d New York Independent Battalion were engaged in examining artillery ammunition at the open door of the north magazine, when, from some cause, one shell exploded, followed by a few others, and then the magazine. No damage was done to the guns or gun carriages. About twenty men were killed, and quite as many wounded, who have been removed to the hospital at Alexandria.” 5From

THE EXPLOSION AT FORT LYON. The Times’ Washington dispatch thus describes this terrible affair:
The President and Secretary of War to-day visited the scene of explosion at Fort Lyon. The incidents of this disaster deserve historical mention. A detail of twenty-six careful men were in the magazine, engaged in the examining, airing, and refilling the shells. Friction upon the powder of one fired it in the hands of a soldier, and it unfortunately flew through the open vent right into the magazine. One shell, and another exploded; then the whole store of ammunition blew up. Twenty-one of the detailed were instantly killed. Two have since died; the remaining three are frightfully injured. Officers’ tents parallel to the magazine were blown to lint, almost.

The officers within them were unharmed. Everything exposed to the lateral force of the explosion was translated. Private Musser, while pacing his beat on the parapet, was hurled through the air one hundred yards beyond the fort into a clump of bushes; with his musket in his hands. It is a positive fact that he sustained no serious injuries, and in ten minutes afterward he was back again upon his path, walking with his piece at his shoulder.7ibid.

Another sentinel was thrown fifty yards out of the fort into the ditch with his musket in his grasp. Some officers happening to pass, he gathered himself up, face and hands begrimed with powder and his clothes in shreds, and, with soldierly habit, presented arms. Another sentinel, knocked endwise, arose unharmed, with his musket blown off by a piece of shell, the barrel only remaining in his hands.8ibid.

“The wife of Adjutant Hartman, seated in a tent seventy yards distant from the magazine, was struck by a fragment of shell in the arm, breaking it in two places. Ordnance Sergeant Murphy was seated with his family at dinner in a board tent, distant from the magazine twenty yards. The tent was shivered, into splinters, yet none of the inmates were injured. Most of the temporary buildings inside the fort were demolished, and the large logs forming the roof of the magazine were scattered over the grounds. The force of the explosion was so great as to prostrate everybody in the fort.” 9ibid.

First Person Accounts

Anne S. Frobel of nearby Wilton Hill wrote in her diary: 10Wilton Hill, was located near where the former Wilton Woods School on Franconia Road is now located.

I looked up at Fort Lyon which at that moment went up in a tremendous shock. It presented a splendid appearance, just my idea of a large volcano. Indeed it looked very much like the pictures of Vesuvius during an eruption. The clouds then lifted and floated off towards the river, then the plants, and heavy logs, timbers, pieces of steel, stones, and dirt, came rattling, and thundering down the side of the fort, and embankments – then all was quiet – the stillness of death seemed there. 11Anne Froble. The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel of Wilton Hill in Virginia. Published by the Friends of Fort Ward. EPM Publications. McLean, Virginia. 1992. Page 196.

Lewis Bissell, a soldier in Company A, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery, wrote home to his family in Litchfield, Connecticut:

I went to where the magazine has been. Here there was a hole as large as a barn cellar. Around it lay mangled bodies of men. One, the first I saw, lay with a hole as large as your fist in the top of his head. His body was cut and mangled, his legs were broken and nearly torn off, both arms were gone and the skin is nearly all torn away from what remained. Another was without a head. Later, it was found outside the fort …. both his legs were gone. Another was found down by Hunting Creek bridge a distant of a half a mile. His body was picked up in four pieces . ….. The Lieutenant was so badly mangled, that the only way to identify him was by part of his shoulder strap which was about all of his clothing left. …. I went to their hospital as saw the rest of the bodies. One was so badly wounded that his entrails came out. Another has the left side of his head blown away. The brains came out leaving a hollow space. Another had his hip torn off by canister. He was mangled and riddled like a sieve. 12Mark Olcott with David Lear. The Civil War Letter of Lewis Bissell A Curriculum. The Field School Educational Foundation Press. Washington, D.C. 1981. Page 127.

The names of the Dead!

On June 10th, “at about 4:00 p.m., the funeral procession formed at the gate. They marched to mournful music played by the First Conn. Artillery as the procession moved towards the Soldiers Graveyard in Alexandria.13ibid. Page 128. The victims were buried side-by-side in a row in section A in The Soldier’s Cemetery, now called the Alexandria National Cemetery.

  1. Private Ferdinand Wetterer. Co. D. Buried in A:818. Enlisted at the age of 28 September 1862, in New York.
  2. Private Charles Reissner. Co E. Buried in A:819. Enlisted at 28 on January 2, 1862, in New York.
  3. Private Franz Lutz. Co. A. Buried in A:820. Enlisted at the age of 25, August 25, 1862, in New York.
  4. Private John Jones. Co. A. Buried in A:821. No record of his enlistment survives.
  5. Private August Friedrichs. Co. B. Buried in A:822. Enlisted at 22 on November 11, 1862, in New York City.
  6. Private Charles Wendt. Co. A. Buried in A:823. Enlisted at 30 on September 28, 1861, in New York City.
  7. Private John Dillman. Co. C. Buried in A:824. Mustered in at 36 on October 16, 1861, in New York City.
  8. Private Frederick Kuntze. Co. E. Buried in A:825. Mustered in at 28 on November 5, 1862, in New York City.
  9. Private Charles Schield. Co. C. Buried in A:826. Enlisted at 27 on October 19, 1861, in New York City.
  10. Private Paul Biewald. Co. D. Buried in A:827. Enlisted on November 1, 1862, in New York.
  11. Private Jacob Kuhn. Co. E. Buried in A:828. Enlisted at 32 on December 27, 1861, in New York City.
  12. Sergeant Emil Theil. Co. C. Buried in A:829. Mustered in at 36 on October 18, 1861, in New York City.
  13. Corporal Jacob Enternmann. Co. C. Buried in A:830. Mustered as a Private at 29 on January 5, 1862, in New York. Promoted to Corporal, date not known.
  14. Private August Moritz. Co. A. Buried in A:831. Enlisted at 28 on January 20, 1861, in New York City.
  15. Private Xavier Heim. Co. C. Buried in A:832. Enlisted at 28 on March 13, 1862, in New York City. On rolls as Haver Helm.
  16. Private Valentin Emrick. Co. E. Buried in A:833. Enlisted at 33 on January 7, 1861, in New York. Born as Emmerick.
  17. Private Christopher Ritter. Co. B. Buried in A:834. Enlisted at 28 on May 5, 1861, as a bugler in Philadelphia with the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry, transferred to the Third Battalion on September 28, 1861.
  18. Sergeant John Keonig. Co. A. Buried in A:835. Enlisted in New York City at age 38 on September 17, 1861. Mustered in as a Sergent on September 17, 1861. Promoted to 1st Sergent, date not stated.
  19. Corporal Helwig Hillebrandt. Co. D. Buried in A:836. Enlisted at 38 on August 28, 1861, in New York City. Mustered as a corporal on the same day.
  20. Ordinance Lieutenant Freiderich Leeber. Buried in A:837. No record on file.
  21. Lieutenant Leo Kuchns. Buried in A:838. Enlisted at 27 on January 20, 1861, as a private in New York City. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on April 29, 1863, with rank from October 10, 1862.

Two soldiers mortally wounded in the explosion were later buried in the cemetery.

Corporal Gottleib Messinger
  1. Corporal Gottleib Messinger. Co. E. Buried in A:842. Mustered in as a private at 27 on December 31, 1861, in New York City and promoted to corporal, date unknown, and died on June 15, 1863, from wounds from the powder magazine explosion.
  2. Private John Eckert. Co. A. Buried in A:928. Enlisted on September 28, 1861, at 22 in New York. Died on August 18, 1863, of wounds from the powder magazine explosion.
Eckert 923

The Rest of the Story!

Fort Lyon and the other 68 forts encircling Washington formed an essential protective barrier known as the “Shield” during the Civil War. As highlighted in Benjamin Franklin Cooling III’s book “Symbol, Sword, and Shield: Defending Washington During the Civil War,” this valuable defense network played a pivotal role in safeguarding the capital city.

The forts faced their most significant challenge when Lieutenant-General Jubal Early led Confederate forces in a northward invasion for the third and final time in July 1864. Despite Early’s attempts, the forts demonstrated their efficacy, effectively thwarting his plans to breach and capture the Union capital.

Early’s forces were ultimately defeated and repelled following a hard-fought battle on July 9, 1864, at Monocacy Junction in Maryland against General Lew Wallace’s Federal troops. When they later assaulted Washington on July 11th and 12th, they were met with strong resistance from the defenders manning Forts Stevens, Reno, and Derussy. Notably, President Lincoln witnessed the battle from the ramparts of Fort Stevens, marking the last time a sitting U.S. President experienced enemy fire.

Fort Stevens and Derussy, parts of which have been restored by the National Park Service, stand as reminders of this historical event and can be visited today. They are situated only four miles from the White House. Wallace’s strategic retreat towards Baltimore allowed seasoned Union VI and XIX Corps veterans to reinforce Washington, turning the tide in favor of the Union forces.

After the defeat at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Early retreated to Virginia, embittered by the war’s outcome. He sought refuge in Cuba and later Canada until 1869. Early staunchly championed the “Lost Cause Ideology” upon his return, which depicted General Lee as a hero and General Grant as a ruthless commander. He contended that the South could have emerged victorious with more soldiers. Regrettably, even today, some individuals still hold onto the sentiments of the Lost Cause Ideology.

Fort Lyon Today

Like many forts around Washington during the Civil War, Fort Lyon no longer exists. The point where the fort used to be is now where Kings Highway, James Drive, and Farmington intersect.

A portion of map numbers 171-92 from the National Archives Map Section was written by Major General John. R. Barnard, the Chief of Army Engineers. It shows Fort Lyon, Farnsworth, O’Rourke, and Willard. From David V. Miller’s book Defenses of Washington During the Civil War, published in 1976. While the roads around Fort Lyon are the same, the area has significantly changed. For example, the large open area to the right of the words Fort Lyon is now the Huntington Metro Station on Yellow Line, along with the Kiss and Ride lots and parking garages.

However, there is a sign in the designated area for dropping off and picking up passengers at the upper platform of the Huntington Metro station on the Yellow Line. The sign provides information about Fort Lyon.

Fort Lyon sign in the Huntington Metro Station parking lot on North Kings Highway. Photo by D. Heiby.

You can visit the Fort Ward Museum to learn more about the forts built around Washington during the Civil War. The museum is located at 4301 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, Virginia. The City of Alexandria manages it. The museum has preserved more than 90% of the original fort, including the Northwest Bastion, which has been restored to its original condition.

The New York 3rd Heavy Artillery Battalion

The New York 3rd Artillery Battalion joined the 15th New York Heavy Artillery, combining as companies A, B, C, D, and E on September 30, 1863.

It served in the Defenses of Washington, D. C., during the Civil War until April 1864. It participated in the campaign from the Rapidan to the James in May and June. It fought in the Battle of the Wilderness from May 5 to 7 and in Spotsylvania from May 8 to 12. It also fought at Spotsylvania Court House from May 12 to 21 and at Harris Farm (or Fredericksburg Road) on May 19. There was also an engagement at the North Anna River from May 23 to 26 and at Jericho Mills on May 23. It was stationed along the Pamunkey from May 26 to 28 and fought in Totopotomoy from May 28 to 31. It participated in the Cold Harbor battle from June 1 to 12 and at Bethesda Church from June 1 to 3. It was involved in the siege of Petersburg from June 16, 1864, to April 2, 1865. It participated in several other battles and campaigns, including the Weldon Railroad battle from June 22 to 23, 1864, and the Mine Explosion at Petersburg on July 30 (Reserve). It fought at Six-Mile House, Weldon Railroad, from August 18 to 21, and at Poplar Springs Church, Peeble’s Farm, from September 29 to October 2. It was also engaged at Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher’s Run, on October 27 to 28, and at Dabney’s Mills, Hatcher’s Run, from February 5 to 7, 1865. It took part in the Appomattox Campaign from March 28 to April 9. It fought at Gravelly Run on March 29, Boydton Road, and White Oak Road on March 31. It played a significant role in the Battle of Five Forks on April 1 and witnessed the fall of Petersburg on April 2. There was a pursuit of Lee from April 3 to 9, culminating in the Surrender of Lee and his army at Appomattox Court House on April 9. The soldiers marched to Washington, D. C., in May and participated in the Grand Review on May 23.

Lewis Bissell

Bissell served in the war as a member of Company A, 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, throughout its duration. In May 1864, the 2nd was deployed to the Army of the Potomac, and their first significant engagement took place at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, during which they suffered 323 casualties.

On September 5, 1864, my great-great-grandfather, Frederick A. Olroyd, joined Company D as a private at age 20. He enlisted in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 26, 1845. Before joining the military, he attended Sayers Military School in New Haven, Connecticut, for a year. He received a reward payment of $33.33 from the United States government for enlisting.

Following their participation in the siege of Petersburg, the 2nd battalion was relocated to the Army of the Shenandoah. It took part in the decisive battle of Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley.

On October 19, 1864, the Confederate forces, led by Jubal Early, launched a surprise predawn attack on Federal encampments around Cedar Creek, near Middletown, Virginia. Aided by heavy fog, the Confederates gained an apparent victory, capturing many men and artillery pieces. However, General Philip Sheridan arrived on the battlefield and launched a counterattack after reorganizing his troops at 4:00 p.m. The Confederate Army of the Valley was decisively defeated by the end of the day, with more than 9,000 troops killed or injured in the battle. The 2nd Regiment suffered thirty-eight soldiers killed, ninety-six wounded, and two missing.

Both Bissell and Olroyd survived the battle and continued their service. After a review on June 8th, they were assigned to the 2nd Brigade, Derussy’s Division, 22nd Army Corps, in the Department of Washington. Their duties involved guarding forts along the Potomac River’s southern area. Finally, on July 7, 1865, they were officially discharged from service at Ft. Ethan Allen, Virginia, near 4348 Old Glebe Road, Arlington, Virginia.

Copy of an original handwritten muster roll of Company D, 2nd Connecticut, embossed with a U.S. Capitol on the upper left-hand side. Note F.A. Olroyd’s name at the bottom. Also note, Captain Benjamin Hosford at the top is listed as “Killed Oct 19/64, Cedar Creek” from the personal collection of D. Heiby.

Bissell lived a long life until 1935, reaching the remarkable age of 93 before passing away. His final resting place is in the Bantam Burying Ground in Litchfield, Connecticut. Tragically, his wife’s heart could not bear the loss, and she followed him to death just five days later, finding her eternal rest next to him.

Following the war, my great-great-grandfather resided in various places, including New Haven, Connecticut, New York, and Indianola, Texas, before eventually settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1867. He served as a mail carrier, endearing himself to everyone along his route with his kind and friendly demeanor. In 1916, at the age of 64, he passed away. Throughout his life, he played crucial roles in the Joseph A Mower Post No. 1 in New Orleans of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), holding significant positions as the Senior Vice-Commander and Adjutant, earning the respect and admiration of his comrades.

Anne S. Frobel

Ann Frobel resided with her sister in their family home on Franconia Road during the war. The house, known as Wilton Hill, once stood on the land currently occupied by the offices of the Fairfax County Schools. Wilton Hill encompassed 112 acres, forming part of a farmstead with a substantial barn, a well, and other outbuildings. However, the tranquility of their abode was disrupted by the harsh realities of the war.

Union troops frequently plundered the Frobel sisters’ property, seizing livestock and food and recklessly cutting down trees and tearing fences for firewood. The constant harassment from the troops added to the sisters’ hardships during those turbulent times.

Near their home stood the All Saints Sharon Chapel Church, a vibrant congregation of the Episcopal Church that remains active to this day. It is worth noting that the Frobel sisters’ father, John, generously donated the chapel’s land and accompanying graveyard in 1849.

Ann Frobel passed away on April 16, 1907, at the impressive age of 95. Her final resting place lies in the Frobel-Mower Plot, Section M, at Ivy Hill Cemetery at 2823 King Street in Alexandria, VA 22302.

George M. Mason

Throughout the war, Mason endured its trials, surviving despite the hardships. However, the bitterness he harbored during those turbulent times continued to linger within him until his passing on March 25, 1870. His final resting place is Gunston Hall, the Mason family’s cherished ancestral home, in Mason Neck, Fairfax County, Virginia.

Spring Bank

In 1878, a devastating fire struck Spring Bank, causing significant damage to the historic property. During the chaos, George, Mason’s son, sustained burns while valiantly attempting to rescue precious family heirlooms. Fortunately, he saved the table on which George Mason IV wrote the Virginia Bill of Rights. Tragically, the family’s cherished library was lost beyond recovery. Despite the setback, they rallied and rebuilt the house.

In the following years, Fitzhugh Lee, a former Confederate General and future 40th Governor of Virginia, resided in the restored house from 1883 to 1885. Notably, Fitzhugh Lee’s mother, Ann Maria Mason Lee, held a notable connection as the great-granddaughter of George Mason IV. Ann Maria and her husband, Sydney Smith Lee, Robert E. Lee’s older brother and a renowned United States Navy officer, were laid to rest in Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery, which lies approximately 100 yards away from the Fort Lyon victims.

Sadly, the historical Spring Bank met its demise on February 7, 1972, when it was torn down. The Penn Daw Walmart now occupies the area where it once stood. For those interested in learning more about Sydney Smith Lee, further information is available at this [link].

Mount Eagle

Initially constructed in 1790 under the ownership of the Eighth Lord Fairfax, Mount Eagle holds historical significance as a destination visited by notable figures such as George Mason and George Washington. Donald MacNeil Fairfax, born on March 10, 1818, and passing away on January 10, 1894, also came into this world within the walls of this stately home.

Donald MacNeil Fairfax played a significant role in history as the officer responsible for the forcible seizure of Confederate envoys James Murray Mason and John Slidell from the H.M.S. Trent at the outset of the Civil War. This incident nearly sparked a conflict between the United States and Britain, garnering immense attention. Fairfax’s commanding officer during this event was Charles Wilkes, a notable explorer who famously discovered Antarctica.

For those intrigued by this remarkable tale, further details can be found in the blog post “The Author of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act,” accessible through the following link: [link].

The renowned Wilkes Street in Alexandria pays tribute to Charles Wilkes’s great-uncle, John Wilkes, a prominent figure in the British Parliament during King George III’s era. John Wilkes gained fame, and perhaps notoriety, as an influential member of Parliament.

For those intrigued by John Wilkes’s captivating life and legacy, a comprehensive account of him can be found in the blog titled “The Ugliest Man in Great Britain.” To delve deeper into his story, visit the blog at the following [link].

Amid the rapid growth in Fairfax County following World War II, a charming house fell victim to the changing times. In 1968, as part of their training exercises, the Fairfax County Fire Department made the deliberate decision to burn down the house. Although once a beautiful residence, it was sacrificed to further the skill development of the fire department.

Nowadays, the Montebello Condominiums’ parking lots occupy the spot where the old house once stood, marking the passage of time and the transformation of the landscape.

The Alexandria National Cemetery

The site where the explosion victims found their final rest is now recognized as the Alexandria National Cemetery. This hallowed ground serves as the burial site for Union Soldiers, where approximately 3900 soldiers rest in eternal peace. Among these brave souls are 249 United States Colored Troops, whose remarkable story can be explored further in the blog post “Oh give us a flag, All free without a slave” [Link].

The Alexandria National Cemetery holds a poignant location at 1450 Wilkes Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, serving as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by those who served their country during a tumultuous period in history.

The solemn resting place of the Fort Lyon explosion victims is situated in Section A, spanning from grave 818 to 838. Two more unfortunate souls who succumbed to their injuries were interred later in graves 842 and 923. These graves lie along the right side of the cemetery, close to the circular drive’s entrance, proceeding counterclockwise as it winds through the grounds. Captured in this poignant photo by D. Heiby.

Sources of Information

Beath, R. B. (1888). History of the Grand Army of the Republic. Bray, Taylor & Co.

Leslie, F. (1895). The American Soldier in the Civil War: A Pictorial History of the Campaigns and Conflicts of the War Between the States, Profusely Illustrated with Battle Scenes, Naval Engagements, and Portraits, From Sketches By Forbes, Taylor, Waud, Hillen, Becker, Lovie, Schell, Crane, Davis, and Other Celebrated War Artists. Stanley-Bradley Publishing Co.

Adjutant-General of the State of New York. (1898). Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1897: Registers of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Artillery in the War of the Rebellion. Wynkoop Allen Beck Crawford Co., State Printers.

Hays, G. A. (1908). Under the Red Patch: The Story of the Sixty-third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1864.

Miller, D. V. (1976). The Defenses of Washington During the Civil War. Mr. Copy, Inc.

Olcott, M., & Lear, D. (1981). The Civil War Letters of Lewis Bissell. Field School Educational Foundation Press.

Cooling, B. F. III, & Owen, W. H. II. (1988). Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to Civil War Defenses of Washington. White Mane Publishing Company.

Roberts, W. J., & Youngbluth, C. (2017). Lost Alexandria: An Illustrated History of Sixteen Destroyed Historic Homes in and Around Alexandria, Virginia. Voyage Printing.

Frobel, A. (1992). The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel of Wilton Hill in Virginia. Friends of Fort Ward & EPM Publications.

See the official website of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment for news clippings that mention Fort Lyon (2nd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, n.d.). URL: [].

  • 1
    The title of this section was inspired by Julia Ward Howe’s famous Civil War song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
  • 2
    Benjamin Franklin Cooling III. Symbol, Sword, and Shield. Defending Washington During the Civil War. White Mane Publishing Company. Shippensburg, PA. 1965. Pages 60, 62.
  • 3
    Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II. Forward by Edwin C. Bearss. Mr. Lincoln’s Forts A Guide to Civil War Defenses of Washington. White Mane Publishing Company. Shippensburg, PA. 1988. Page 61.
  • 4
    Source: ibid. Page 62.
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
    Wilton Hill, was located near where the former Wilton Woods School on Franconia Road is now located.
  • 11
    Anne Froble. The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel of Wilton Hill in Virginia. Published by the Friends of Fort Ward. EPM Publications. McLean, Virginia. 1992. Page 196.
  • 12
    Mark Olcott with David Lear. The Civil War Letter of Lewis Bissell A Curriculum. The Field School Educational Foundation Press. Washington, D.C. 1981. Page 127
  • 13
    ibid. Page 128.
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By David

Hello! My name is David Heiby, and I am a passionate public historian dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Alexandria, Virginia, and the surrounding region. With a deep love for bringing the past to life, I am honored to serve my community in this meaningful role.

Before starting this journey, I enjoyed a fulfilling career as a businessman and entrepreneur. Now retired, I have found a new sense of purpose in my work as a public historian. My passion for history was ignited at a young age growing up in the congregation of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA, where many historic figures are buried in its 18th-century burial ground. I still attend to this day.

Since 2015, I have also had the privilege of serving as the Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex in Alexandria. This cemetery holds a special place in my family's history, as it was started in the early 1800s by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, a historic congregation dating back to 1772 that is situated one mile east in the heart of Old Town. The cemetery is the final resting place of my parents, and the Meeting House is where I have worshipped for over 60 years.

As a public historian, I am thrilled to lead tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery, which has thirteen cemeteries in a complex with over 35,000 interments. It is considered the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States. These sacred grounds offer a fascinating glimpse into the story of Alexandria and its people. I also enjoy guiding tours of nearby Civil War battlefields, combining my passion for history with the compelling narratives of those who fought and fell on these hallowed grounds, bringing their stories to life. I primarily lead tours of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Antietam Battlefields, along with tracing the footsteps of those involved in the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. I am also a licensed tour guide in Washington, D.C.

To further engage the community, I manage a comprehensive website dedicated to Alexandria's cemeteries, where the stories of the many souls buried across the city are shared, and their lives are commemorated. This platform serves as a valuable resource for those interested in exploring the rich history of Alexandria through its final resting places. I am also an active Board Member of the Alexandria Historical Society and the Lee-Fendall House Museum.

Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the area, I invite you to explore Alexandria's rich history by joining one of my cemetery or battlefield tours, visiting my website to research the stories of those who have shaped our city, or connecting with me on social media. My website is a comprehensive resource for those seeking to uncover the fascinating tales and histories intertwined with Alexandria's cemeteries. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to schedule a tour. I am pleased to bring the city's captivating past to life and serve my community meaningfully.

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