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Alexandria, Virginia, & The Ben Lomand Manor House

This post was written by jd on May 24, 2011
Posted Under: Travel
Civil War Federal Troops Brass Band May 2011 - Photo John O'Dell cell phone camera

Civil War Federal Troops Brass Band May 2011 - Photo John O'Dell cell phone camera

After a late sleep and a relaxing morning, Pat drove us to Alexandria, very close to Washington, but on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. It was a very quaint, very touristy town (reminded us of Nevada City), filed this day with Anniversary Celebrations of the Civil War, 150 years ago.

The town was heavily involved at the time, both confederate and union soldiers had occupied the area. There were many people re-enacting roles from that time, civilians of all types, physicians and nurses, soldiers in both the grey and the blue, provost marshals (sort of like military and civilian police combined).

Photo John J. O'Dell Samsung CL65 camera

Federal Soldiers - Photo John J. O'Dell Samsung CL65 camera

There was a military brass band, and we had just missed the appearance of “Robert E. Lee,” (Lincoln was noticeably missing from the celebration; I guess it is a town with a lot of confederate sympathizers!) One of the fascinating facts we learned was that for every soldier in the Civil War killed in battle, two more were killed by infections. Even bringing the soldiers together in units caused sickness, as people raised in more isolated areas of the country had not had smallpox, or some of the other killer diseases of the day. Another problem was that the soldiers contaminated the drinking water with fecal waste from their animals and themselves, so dysentery killed many people.

Confederate soldiers - Photo John J. O'Dell Samsung CL65 camera

Confederate soldiers - Photo John J. O'Dell Samsung CL65 camera

We also visited a wonderful “frozen in time” apothecary shop with original exterior and interior, the glassware was original too, and some of the jars had the real dregs of the medicines that were in them originally! Apparently the family that was operating it during the Civil War retained the store and it was continuously in operation for 150 years. At the end of that time they locked the door and walked away, so it was discovered later in mint condition.

A wonderful seafood dinner concluded our day, and afterwards a stroll to the waterfront where we witnessed a fascinating magician’s presentation, holding us enthralled for a good 15 minutes and leaving us totally mystified at the end.

On Sunday we got an even later start, and this time drove to Manassas, to see the newly opened Ben Lomand Manor House. Originally a plantation owner’s house, it was rented to a Scottish family, raising sheep, when the war began. The family was allowed to stay (in only one room of the house) after it became a hospital and ended up selling its sheep and produce to the confederates.

Here again, the worse enemy was infection. One man was shot, but the bullet only pushed his coat button and some of his clothing inside his chest. The surgeons (he had two as he was a higher ranking officer) removed the button and cleaned the wound. But days later gangrene started in inside his chest, and within a few more days he was dead. The man portraying the surgeon, showed us a real surgeon’s box from 1861, the limited number of tools they had to operate with were amazing. We even saw an original tourniquet, a metal tube used for tracheotomies, and a saw that cut a round hole in the skull to relieve pressure on the brain from head wounds.

When one of the first battles of the Civil War was nearby, the Confederate forces took over the house for use as a field hospital. The dining room was converted to a surgery operating room, and all other rooms became recovery rooms for soldiers. Assuming the soldiers lived through the surgery, the recovery beds were a couple of blankets on top of a layer of straw on the floor of the house. If they survived this “recovery” they were sent elsewhere to a general hospital for rehabilitation, as more wounded poured into the field hospital.

There were also some slave cabins, and other original outbuildings on the plantation, and a beautiful heritage rose garden with some very old varieties of roses and other plants of the day. An interesting note is that as the confederates left the area, the union took over the house as a military headquarters. Because the young union soldiers considered the family “traitors” for selling to and helping the confederates, they apparently wrote graffiti all over most of the walls in the house, some of which are still visible today.

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