Charlottesville during the Civil War


Charlottesville provided the Confederate war effort with swords, uniforms, and artificial limbs during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It was also home to a 500-bed military hospital that employed hundreds of the town’s residents, cared for more than 22,000 patients, and was superintended by Dr. J. L. Cabell, a professor of medicine at the nearby University of Virginia. In the summer of 1861, the 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment was organized, recruiting most of its members from Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The unit served with the Army of Northern Virginia all the way through to the Appomattox Campaign (1865), including at Pickett’s Charge (1863), where it lost 60 percent of its men. African Americans, both enslaved and free, who composed a majority of the town and county’s population, were the subject of heightened white fears of violence, their movements controlled by a curfew. In 1863, black members of the biracial First Baptist Church established the Charlottesville African Church. Although the war’s fighting stayed mostly to the east and west, a raid led by Union general George A. Custer was stopped just north of the city in the spring of 1864. Early the next year, town leaders surrendered Charlottesville to Custer, preventing the community’s destruction.


Charlottesville Woolen Mills

Charlottesville was founded in 1762 and named in honor of Queen Charlotte, consort of Great Britain’s King George III. In 1819 Thomas Jefferson established the University of Virginia about a mile west of town. On the eve of the Civil War, Charlottesville’s population was only about 3,000, but it had surpassed Scottsville as the largest town in Albemarle County and home of several factories, banks, and hotels, as well as six newspapers. Still, it was “uninteresting,” according to a visiting doctor, “nothing more than a small village built mostly of frame houses.” After the Virginia Convention in Richmond voted to secede on April 17, 1861, most white Charlottesville residents enthusiastically supported the Confederacy, and the town’s light industry mobilized for the war effort.

The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company operated cotton and woolen mills that produced Confederate uniforms. Owned by John A. Marchant from 1852 until 1864, when his son, Henry Clay Marchant, bought it, the factory was burned by occupying Union forces in 1865. (Henry Marchant reopened the facility in 1867 as the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, and it became Albemarle County’s largest industry.)

The factory also produced uniforms designed especially for the Albemarle Light Horse Cavalry, including jackets for $2.75 and pants for $1.50. Marcellus McKennie opened McKennie and Company on July 1, 1861, and the firm manufactured four to five swords per week. (By comparison, T. D. Driscoll, in Howardsville, was able to make twenty-eight swords per week.)

Finally, G. W. Wells and Brothers provided artificial limbs, including one for John Bell Hood. The Confederate general lost his right leg in September 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, and while recuperating in Richmond, he received an artificial limb from Charlottesville despite the fact that one had been sent for him from France. “The Charlottesville leg is a far better looking one than the French one,” the diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut observed in February 1865.

Charlottesville General Hospital

Complaints About Medical Care in Charlottesville

Charlottesville was also home to Charlottesville General Hospital, a makeshift military medical center housed in various public and private buildings across town, including hotels, churches, and facilities belonging to the University of Virginia. The Confederate government viewed Charlottesville as a favorable location for the hospital because of its proximity to the Confederate capital and two major railroads, the Virginia Central and the Orange and Alexandria. Opened in July 1861 just in time to treat wounded soldiers from the First Battle of Manassas, it served 22,700 patients during the war. Still, getting to the hospital could be a long, dangerous, and painful journey for many soldiers. It was twenty-four to thirty-six hours by train from Manassas Junction to Charlottesville, for instance, and at least one physician suggested that food and care were not provided during the trip.

Charlottesville General Hospital employed approximately three hundred Charlottesville residents and grew to a capacity of 500 beds staffed by between fifteen and fifty doctors. Dr. J. L. Cabell, professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Virginia, managed the facility and oversaw, among others, McKennie the sword maker and Dr. Orianna Moon, the hospital’s superintendent of nurses. An Albemarle County native, Moon as a young woman was described as being antislavery, anti-religion, and pro-woman’s rights. (Her sister was the Southern Baptist missionary Charlotte “Lottie” Moon.) An 1857 graduate of the Female Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was one of only thirty-eight women that year who held medical degrees in the United States. Moon worked in Charlottesville only for a few months before relocating to Richmond in November 1861, having married her hospital colleague, Dr. John Summerfield Andrews.

General Carnot Posey

The hospital, meanwhile, continued to care for soldiers wounded in battle and sick from disease. Forty percent of patients were treated for gunshot wounds, making amputation one of the most frequently performed medical procedures; diarrhea, typhoid, measles, dysentery, and pneumonia were far more common ailments. As the war went on, there were severe shortages of medical supplies, forcing the staff to resort to indigenous plants, such as dandelions, dogwood, juniper, and persimmons, with known or suspected medicinal properties. Most of the 1,100 patients who died at the hospital during the war were buried in unmarked graves in a field adjacent to the University Cemetery. In addition, Confederate general Carnot Posey, a Mississippian who attended law school at the University of Virginia and died after being wounded at the Battle of Bristoe Station (1863), is buried in the cemetery. After his 1862 death at Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley, Turner Ashby was buried in Charlottesville; his remains were reinterred in Winchester following the war.

Military Service

19th Virginia Infantry Flag

Charlottesville residents organized the Charlottesville Artillery, a provost guard, and the 47th and the 88th Virginia militia regiments. (Marcellus McKennie, in addition to being a surgeon and sword manufacturer, was colonel of the 88th Virginia.) In April 1861, four infantry companies—two each of town and university men—organized into the Charlottesville and University Battalion. The following month, the 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment was formed mostly from Charlottesville and Albemarle County recruits, with University of Virginia and West Point graduate Philip St. George Cocke as its colonel. Composed of ten companies, the regiment included two from Charlottesville: Company A of the Monticello Guard and Company B of the Albemarle Rifles. The eleven-man regimental band, formerly the Charlottesville Silver Cornet Band, was considered by some to be the finest in the Army of Northern Virginia, but it disbanded in 1862.

The 19th Virginia fought at the First Battle of Manassas (1861) and the Battle of Williamsburg (1862), where it captured a Union battery and 200 prisoners. During the Seven Days’ Battles (1862), the regiment captured another Union battery, but during the Maryland Campaign, which included the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, the regiment suffered a casualty rate of more than 47 percent. It was worse the following summer. During Pickett’s Charge, on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863), the regiment lost 60 percent of its men killed or wounded, as well as its flag. (The Massachusetts soldier credited with capturing the colors was later awarded the Medal of Honor.) Of the approximately 1,600 men who served in the 19th Virginia’s ranks over the course of the war, only 30 were left to surrender at the Battles of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, 1865, just three days before Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant.

African Americans

Enslaved Population in Virginia

African Americans accounted for the majority of Albemarle County’s population between 1820 and 1890. According to the United States Census of 1860, the county was home to 606 free blacks and 13,916 enslaved African Americans, compared to 12,103 whites. The Civil War provided both a crisis for Charlottesville’s African Americans, who became the subject of the white population’s hostility and fear, and an opportunity.

Charlottesville’s most prominent citizens were slaveholders—from Dr. Cabell, who owned three slaves, to Uriah P. Levy, the owner of Monticello, who owned twenty-one. As such, they were invested in maintaining the antebellum social order and establishing harsh measures in instances where that order was disrupted. For instance, blacks were prohibited from smoking in public, with the punishment for noncompliance being ten lashes for slaves and a ten-dollar fine for free blacks. Curfews were set and enforced, prohibiting any slave from leaving his or her master’s property past nine o’clock at night without written permission.

Authorities also cracked down on any mixing of the races. An African American man named Jackson who was living on University of Virginia property was removed in 1863 on the grounds that he was married to a white woman. Basil L. Gildersleeve, a professor of Greek and Hebrew at the university, spoke out against so-called miscegenation in an 1864 essay. He wrote that it was only by preventing a mixture of the races “that we owe the supremacy of the white man on the continent, and that we look down so proudly on the mixed population of Mexico and the twenty-two cross-breeds of Lima.”

Shoe Soles Made by Slaves

The Confederate government, meanwhile, impressed African Americans’ labor for the war effort. Free blacks between the ages of fifteen and fifty were required to report to the courthouse, where they were examined by a doctor from the Charlottesville General Hospital who determined how and where they should work. If they did not report, they were taken by gunpoint. Against the protestations of their owners, slaves were taken, too. Between 1862 and 1864, about 940 slaves were impressed. In 1863, four slaves murdered a Confederate officer attempting to take them. In some cases, slave owners moved their African Americans rather than lend them to the Confederacy.

African Americans also took advantage of the shifting social conditions during the Civil War to establish their own Baptist congregation. About half of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s blacks, both free and enslaved, had a connection to the biracial First Baptist Church and its pastor, A. B. Brown. On April 20, 1863, these “African Baptists,” as they referred to themselves, established their own congregation within the church, the Charlottesville African Church. “They expressed their initial desire to separate from the white church so mildly and with such courtesy that, for a time, whites did not understand precisely what was happening,” the historian Charles F. Irons has written. African Americans were using the church to establish for themselves some level of autonomy.

Whites interpreted the black congregants’ agreement to retain a white pastor, John T. Randolph, as an indication that they recognized their continued subservience to church authorities. But by June the blacks had rejected Randolph, prompting the church to reiterate that any new black congregation must “not place the colored brethren beyond the care and control of the church.” Sometime between 1864 and 1867, the African Baptists fully separated from the First Baptist Church and moved into the basement of the Delevan building, at one time a University of Virginia temperance hotel and during the war used by Charlottesville General Hospital. Their new pastor was William Gibbons, a former slave. In 1867, a portion of the congregation formed Mount Zion, while, in 1884, the Delevan Church completed a new building and renamed itself the First Colored Baptist Church.

Custer’s Raid and War’s End

General George A. Custer

Charlottesville largely escaped the ravages of Civil War, but in 1864 the city became a target of a small Union military operation associated with the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. When Union general Hugh Judson Kilpatrick proposed a cavalry raid on Richmond in order to release its 15,000 Union prisoners of war, he also suggested two diversionary raids to distract Confederate defenders. Union colonel Ulric Dahlgren, a one-legged veteran of Gettysburg, would strike at Richmond from the south while another expedition, this one commanded by Union general George A. Custer, would raid Albemarle County to divert Confederate forces away from Kilpatrick and Dahlgren. At Madison County, Custer was given command of 1,500 men drawn from various units, and he promptly set out to destroy the Lynchburg Railroad Bridge over the Rivanna River and military supplies at Charlottesville, forty miles away.

On February 29, 1864, Custer crossed the Rivanna near the Earlysville–Charlottesville road and launched a surprise attack against four batteries of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion, about 200 men in winter quarters and under the temporary command of Captain Marcellus Moorman. After Custer captured their camp and destroyed their equipment, the artillerymen briefly retreated to a nearby hill. When one of their caissons accidentally exploded, they made a half-hearted counterattack and Custer withdrew, mistakenly thinking that Confederate reinforcements had arrived.

Although the skirmish lasted less than an hour, and it was but a secondary piece of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, residents designated it the “battle” of Rio Hill. The “Great Albemarle Raid” as a whole led to little appreciable results; Custer destroyed the Confederate camp but failed to divert many troops from the Richmond defenses or to reach Charlottesville. Perhaps in an attempt to salvage some good news from what turned out to be the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren fiasco, Union general George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac,

Flag Commemorating Rio Hill

declared the Charlottesville expedition a success. And in Charlottesville thankful local women presented a $500 silk flag to the Stuart Horse Artillery that read: “From The Ladies of Charlottesville To Stuart’s Horse Artillery, Our Brave Defenders.”

Following Confederate general Jubal A. Early‘s defeat at the Third Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, and fearing pillaging by advancing Union troops, town and university officials surrendered to Union generals Philip H. Sheridan and George Custer on March 3, 1865. Union forces initially occupied Charlottesville for three days. Following Lee’s surrender a month later, the town came under the jurisdiction of the Army of the James, and the new occupation force consisted of a regiment of Pennsylvania cavalry. A local newspaper sullenly conceded: “The Virginia of the past we shall not know again any more than we can revive the Middle Ages.”

Charlottesville is founded and named in honor of Queen Charlotte, consort of Great Britain's King George III.
Thomas Jefferson founds the University of Virginia about a mile west of Charlottesville.
The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company, which operates cotton and woolen mills, is owned by John A. Marchant.
April 1861
Four infantry companies—two each of town and university men—organize into the Charlottesville and University Battalion.
May 1861
The 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment is formed mostly out of Charlottesville and Albemarle County recruits, with University of Virginia and West Point graduate Philip St. George Cocke as its colonel.
July 1861
Charlottesville General Hospital, a sprawling Confederate military medical facility, opens in Charlottesville and takes over various public and private buildings throughout the town, including hotels, churches, and facilities belonging to the University of Virginia. Its first patients are Confederate soldiers wounded at Manassas.
November 1861
Dr. Orianna Moon, Charlottesville General Hospital's superintendent of nurses, relocates to Richmond, having married her hospital colleague Dr. John Summerfield Andrews.
Approximately 940 enslaved African Americans are impressed into labor by Confederate authorities in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
The 19th Virginia Infantry's regimental band, formerly the Charlottesville Silver Cornet Band, dissolves.
September 17, 1862
The 19th Virginia Infantry, composed mostly of men from Charlottesville and Albemarle County, suffers more than a 47 percent casualty rate at the Battle of Antietam.
An African American man named Jackson who had been living on University of Virginia property is removed on the grounds that he is married to a white woman.
Four enslaved African Americans in Charlottesville murder a Confederate officer attempting to impress their labor for the war effort.
April 20, 1863
The March 16 petition by black congregants of Charlottesville's First Baptist Church to establish the Charlottesville African Church is accepted by white church leaders.
July 3, 1863
The 19th Virginia Infantry, comprised mostly of men from Charlottesville and Albemarle County, suffers a 60 percent casualty rate and loses its flag during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.
John A. Marchant sells the Charlottesville Manufacturing Company, which operates a cotton and woolen mills, to his son, Henry Clay Marchant. The factory is burned by occupying Union forces the following year.
February 29, 1864
Union general George A. Custer menaces Charlottesville and Albemarle County as part of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid on Richmond. He is repulsed by local militia in a short skirmish on Rio Hill.
April 18, 1864
In an essay, Basil L. Gildersleeve, a University of Virginia professor of Greek and Hebrew, speaks out against so-called miscegenation, claiming that to prevent it is to guarantee white supremacy.
March 3, 1865
Charlottesville and University of Virginia officials surrender the town to Union generals Philip H. Sheridan and George A. Custer. Union forces burn the Charlottesville Manufacturing Company.
April 6, 1865
The 19th Virginia Infantry, comprised mostly of men from Charlottesville and Albemarle County, surrenders its thirty remaining men to Union forces following the Battle of Sailor's Creek.
Henry Clay Marchant reopens the former Charlottesville Manufacturing Company, burned during the Union occupation two years earlier, as the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. It becomes Albemarle County's largest industry.
  • Irons, Charles F. The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • Jordan, Ervin L. Jr. Charlottesville and the University of Virginia in the Civil War. Lynchburg, Virginia: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1988.
  • McKinney, Richard I. Keeping the Faith: A History of the First Baptist Church, 1863–1980, In Light of Its Times, West Main and Seventh Streets, Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville, Va.: The Church, 1981.
  • Smith, E. V., and J. P. Burke. The Civil War at Rio Hill: Happenings & Relics. Charlottesville, Va.: E. V. Smith & J. P. Burke, 1988.
APA Citation:
Jordan, Ervin. Charlottesville during the Civil War. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/charlottesville-during-the-civil-war.
MLA Citation:
Jordan, Ervin. "Charlottesville during the Civil War" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 23 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2023, April 10
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.