Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another Civil War Site in Old Town Alexandria

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend in Old Town Alexandria for a wedding.  I knew that I'd have a few hours of free time while my wife was getting her hair done, so I put together a Civil War walking tour after doing a little research.  The day was gloomy and rainy, but I soldiered on and visited several sites related to the Union occupation of the town.  On Prince Street I located a historical marker which tells a story connected to the "Battle of St. Paul's Church."  The marker is affixed to the restored office of the Alexandria Gazette on Prince Street.  As any good marker hunter would do, I cross referenced the Historical Marker Database (, and seeing no mention of this particular marker, I submitted an entry, which has now been published.  (A shout out to fellow blogger Craig, an editor over at the site, is in order.)  The marker entry on the database can be found here.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church

The Gazette House on Prince Street (SUV is in front)
In short, the so-called "battle" revolved around shenanigans at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  During services on February 9, 1862, the Rev. K.J. Stewart omitted the prayer for the President of the United States.  Troopers in the church from the 8th Illinois Cavalry demanded that Stewart say the prayer.  When he refused, the Union soldiers arrested him.  The congregation protested loudly, and one woman allegedly dropped a prayer book onto an officer's head.  The Union military governor, General William Montgomery, ordered Stewart released, but protesters began to gather in the streets of Alexandria.  Montgomery demanded that all demonstrations stop under threat of arrest.  The next day, the Local News, published by the editor of the long-running Alexandria Gazette, condemned the arrest.  Later in the evening, the Gazette's offices on Prince Street caught fire under mysterious circumstances.  The building was restored between 1865-67, and the facade replaced in 1922.  The marker on the former Gazette building at 310 Price Street commemorates the blaze, and directly blames Union soldiers for setting it.


Walk Forrest Walk said...

My wife & I vacationed last fall in Savannah, & Charleston. After following your accounts of the Civil War my sights are now set on VIRGINA for our summer vacation. From a very soggy Michigan have a nice day Ron...........Jim aka Forrest

Ron said...

We'd love to have you in Virginia. There are a lot of great things to see in the state, including in Northern Virginia. You might want to check out the Civil War Trails website for Virginia, as well as the Fairfax County Civil War website. And don't forget the 150th commemoration events for Bull Run in July!

Keep dry, and have a good day!


Greg Taylor said...

I too am vacationing this summer in Virginia starting with a side trip to Antietam and Harper's Ferry. I then plan to drive south through the Shenandoah Valley to Appomattox, then head north to Manassas. Unfortunately I return to Los Angeles on July 21, the day the Bull Run commeration kicks off.

In 2008 I visited the battlefields of the 1864 Overland Campaign to research the letters of my g-g grandfather, who was with Burnside's 9th Army Corps. It was an unforgetable trip. I can't wait to get back to Virginia.

Marianne said...

Ron, you know I love this particular blog! I drive past this church almost every night for my tours. Last night I had to give a bus tour (aka tornado watch - not a good thing to be out on the street for the walking tour). I'm on the bus giving tours parked outside the Lyceum, and there is the Confederate Soldier statue. I pointed it out and told "his" story to the kids from Wisconsin. In an effort to emphasize the divided nature of Virginia, I launched into this very story, so thanks!!!

Ron said...


Sounds like a great trip. I really like the Shenandoah Valley--there is a lot to see and do there, and much of the natural beauty is preserved. I haven't yet been to Appomattox, but hope to check it off the list one of these days. (And Antietam and Harpers Ferry will carry you back to another time.)

Sorry you will miss the commemoration. It promises to be a huge and once-in-a-lifetime event. I guess on the bright side, you will avoid the traffic congestion issues that will inevitably pop up around here!

Ron said...


Thanks. I am glad you enjoy the blog so much!

The St. Paul's story is a really interesting, if largely unknown, tale. It certainly shows just how tense things got around Alexandria during the war. As you can imagine, in the coming days and months, I will have many more posts to share on events in and around Old Town. It is the place that keeps on giving, and it is nice to hear you could use the St. Paul's story with your group.

Glad to hear you survived the tour, and I take it Old Town didn't flood again? I was on King St. a couple of weeks ago, and it was a mess.

Anonymous said...

Alright, Ron... you can't tell the deeper, darker story involved in St. Paul's. That's where I have to nudge into your territory. :)

My Emerson relatives attended that church, and some of my ancestors are buried in the church cemetery.

Another person who attended was a man by the name of... Wilmer McLean.

Just trying to figure out when I want to spring the story about the place.

Great pic, by the way. I've seen modern staged photos of the place, but this puts the surroundings into better perspective. Ever see the one showing it under occupation by Federal troops?

Ron Baumgarten said...

Ha! Venturing into DC suburb territory, I see? Love to hear the story, and can't wait to read your post. I am jealous of your VA connections! :) As far as I know, my family was still in Germany and Italy during the late, great unpleasantness. But still searching for some ancestors with a connection to the period.

I see your point about the timing for telling a story. I've been roughly trying to follow 1861 around here, but I was in Old Town, and this story was too good to pass up. (Plus I wanted to alert folks to the marker.)

When I was down in Old Town a couple of weeks ago, I took a tour of St. Paul's. They mentioned McLean in addition to the Battle of St. Paul's. They didn't cover the Gazette episode, however. I didn't mention it here, but St. Paul's was eventually seized by the Union and became a hospital, like a lot of churches in Alexandria.

Glad you like the pic. I enjoy snapping current shots of the Civil War sites, and hope to have more, including pics of sites in downtown Washington. I haven't seen the Civil War-era photo. Let me know if you have an idea where I can find it.


Anonymous said...


Same here regarding timing. I really enjoy the synchronization of writings with 150th dates, but, it's difficult to stay on such a structured course when there are so many other things to write about as well.

Here's that pic...

I'll have more to say, also, about K.J. Stewart, in a post sometime in the future. He's got a larger story than I realized.


Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks for passing along the link. Great pic, and an interesting contrast to the modern view.

Look forward to the post on Stewart and the church!