The wild, wild West End

The wild, wild West End

Its difficult to look at the West End and see anything other than a heavily trafficked Duke Street, the prefabricated chain stores of the Foxchase shopping center and rows of apartment buildings.
The West End was as bustling some 149 years ago, but theres little evidence left of what it bustled with: farmers, slaves and soldiers linked together by their experience on a farm-turned-Union Army camp. 
Local researcher Amy Bertsch of the Office of Historic Alexandria has dug through the veneer of the recent past into a world of slaves, farmers and soldiers in blue. She revealed her findings at the Morrison House Tuesday night.
Foxchase, formerly Shirley Duke, and before that Volusia, was home to all three during the War Between the States. The faces of slave Julia Hughes and her extended family peer out of the faded photographs Bertsch has found. 
In 1861, Amelia McCrae and her husband Felix Richards owned and worked the land now known as Foxchase. Though slaveholders and Virginians, the couple remained loyal to Washington not Richmond when war broke out. 
That was a surprise, Bertsch said. They were loyal to the Union, they were people into preserving the Union, but werent about to free the people they held.
Their support came with a cost and like other southern families, the Richards paid dearly for their loyalties. 
But during the war the Richards offered hospitality to the officers and soldiers stationed around Washington eventually honored with an army camp named after them.
The provost marshal of Alexandria, in 1862, ordered men to protect the Richards home, Bertsch said. He assigns sentinels from 143 New York Volunteers and has them posted to make sure the property would be protected Theres a great deal of loyalty and trust on each side.
As the fighting grew, so did the needs of the army. Union soldiers seized the familys livestock, hay, and oats. They confiscated the Richards slaves as contraband and a regiment of New Hampshire volunteers one of whom may have taken the existing photographs of the farm during the war made quick work of the lands forest, logging the timber for the war effort. 
Felix grumbled that the Granite Staters could knock down trees by merely looking at them, Bertsch said. 
Of the Richards slaves, Hughes and her family are the best known. She reared seven children on Volusia, including twins, Wilson and Levin, and another boy, Jesse. Levin remained in the Alexandria area, while Wilson and Jesse went off to war.
By Appomattox, the farm, family and slaves had been wrenched apart by the fighting. Richards had died of illness in October of 1862. The land stripped of all value, McCrae perished in a home for gentlewomen reduced by misfortune in 1910. Congress would eventually compensate McCrae after her death.
Wilson, the former slave, contracted malaria during his enlistment and never recovered, dying in 1883. Jesse died during Maj. Gen. George McClellans ill-fated campaign on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862. 
The officer who writes the Richards of Jesses death, Mark Wilks Collet, dies at the Battle of Salem Church in 1863. 
And when the City of Alexandria annexes the former farm in the early 1950s, the streets winding the Richards land were renamed in memory of Confederate heroes.