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Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery, Alexandria

This archaeological site is one of the only known burial grounds in the U.S. to be established and administered by the federal government for the interment of African American “contrabands" and "freedmen” during and immediately following the Civil War. The U.S. Army established the cemetery in March 1864 on property taken from a cousin of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. It became the final resting place for 1,711 black migrants, refugees, and freedom seekers who died in Alexandria and environs. In the mid-1950s a gas station and commercial building were constructed here, and the burial ground was nearly forgotten until the latter 1980s when the Office of Historic Alexandria discovered newspaper articles recounting its establishment.
   The cemetery also once contained the graves of 118 United States Colored Troops (USCT) who died during the Civil War. In 1864, however, fellow convalescing USCTs protested the denial of their rights to full burial honors in a military cemetery, resulting in the reburial of the veterans in what is today's Alexandria National Cemetery. The City of Alexandria has purchased most of this cemetery property and is embarked upon a five-year process of archaeology, research, and design and interpretation at the site to create the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial.
(Photo: 2009, Jerry Dieruf, City of Alexandria, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities)