January 21, 2017

A Sneak Peek at PBS' "Mercy Street" Season 2

PBS’ original drama Mercy Street returns for Season 2 this Sunday, January 22, at 8 p.m. ET. Its first season is the highest rated drama for the year to date on PBS, after Masterpiece's Downton Abbey. For those who are new to the show, Mercy Street takes place in 1862 in Alexandria, Virginia. Governed under martial law, it was the longest Union-occupied city of the Civil War.

Viewers of the show gain insight into what it was like to live in Alexandria through the intersection of lives at the Mansion House. Once an upscale hotel owned by the Green family, the house had been converted into a hospital for Union soldiers. From the staunch Unionist nurse Mary Phinney, to the fiercely Southern Green daughters, to a doctor bound not to a side but to the sick, and to the experiences of contraband and enslaved people, Season 1 laid the foundation for the complicated allegiances for those living in Alexandria during the Civil War.

So what can viewers expect in the coming season of this Civil War drama? We've got the scoop, thanks to a recent private screening and Q&A at the Alexandria Film Festival with executive producer and co-creator Lisa Wolfinger and historical consultant Audrey Davis of the Alexandria Black History Museum.

What sort of themes will Season 2 explore?

There will be some weighty themes this season: survival, love, maintaining humanity in a world that’s gone mad.

The contraband story will be center stage. We are introducing Charlotte Jenkins, who is based on an abolitionist who was contraband herself. Viewers will get to see more of Samuel Diggs, too. He has a strong storyline this season.

Season 1 filmed in historic locations in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. What new historic sites will we see in Season 2?

There will be quite a few battle scenes in Season 2. We wanted to film in or at least near real places and real battlefields.

Fortunately, we were able to film on the sites of actual battlefields. Civil War buffs should recognize Cedar Mountain (Culpeper County, Virginia), Second Manassas (Prince William County, Virginia), and Antietam (Washington County, Maryland). All of these battles occurred in 1862.

The army camp scenes in season 2 of Mercy Street is filmed on Berkeley Plantation's 1,000 acres

photo by: Rob Shenk/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

Berkeley Plantation in Virginia.

What other historic sites should we look for in Season 2?

We filmed at two historic plantations in Virginia, Berkeley and Tuckahoe. Berkeley Plantation has approximately 1,000 acres of land. We didn’t film any scenes at the house, but the surrounding land will be the set for the army camp. [Ed. note: Cool historic fact: A Union soldier wrote “Taps” while camping at Berkeley Plantation in 1862.]

Tuckahoe Plantation, where Thomas Jefferson spent his early years, serves as Dr. Foster’s family plantation in Maryland. Exterior and interior shots of the Foster house are of Tuckahoe.

Can you share any little-known facts about the set of Mercy Street?

The kitchen set was actually built in an abandoned hospital. The facade of the hospital in Mercy Street was built in Petersburg, where much of the series is filmed.

Where can we find out more about the history and historic sites behind PBS’ Mercy Street?

Visit Alexandria offers guided tours inspired by Mercy Street. In addition to the tours from last year, there are 40 more options to choose from. No matter what tours you go with, you will undoubtedly learn about Alexandria during the Civil War, the history of the real Green family, and the relationship between Alexandria and urban slavery leading up to the Civil War. You can also do a self-guided tour and visit the sites on your own time.

Don't forget to tune in to your local PBS station on Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 8 p.m. ET for the season 2 premiere of Mercy Street.

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.


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