Culpeper County’s own Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Stringfellow still comes off as a scoundrel in the second season of the PBS Civil War hospital drama set in Alexandria, “Mercy Street,” which airs Sundays at 8 p.m.
A spy for the Confederacy, Stringfellow, played by Jack Falahee, attempts murder twice in the first episode of the new season and is under heavy scrutiny following a failed assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln. His fiancée, Emma Green, played by actress Hannah James, of Madison County, is less than thrilled with Stringfellow’s exploits, and after some hot and heavy romance in the basement of her parent’s mansion she tells him to leave.
“As the pressures on him grow, Frank must confront what the war is forcing him to become and reconcile it with his feelings for Emma. Pretending to be other people has provided Frank plenty of cover, but now the rising stakes are making him think about who he really is,” according to a PBS synopsis of the character of Stringfellow, a real person born 1840 in the Raccoon Ford area of Culpeper.
Actress Hannah James grew up near Radiant and has learned that her historical character was much closer to home than she had realized.
“Following the war, Emma moved to Woodberry Forest School, which is a boarding school that is only 10 minutes away from my childhood farm. Through various friends of friends, I was put in contact with some of Emma’s great-great-grandchildren who had stories to share, family relics and even clothing that belonged to Emma,” James said in a recent interview with PBS. “Somehow this created an intimacy that was incredibly helpful as I walked onto set my first day.”
Of portraying Stringfellow, Falahee said he loves his passion.
“I think one thing we have to remember as we are making this show about the Civil War is that these boys really believed in what they were fighting for, whether we see it today as right or wrong,” he said. “Frank was an incredibly passionate person, an incredibly passionate soldier and an incredibly passionate lover who had this amazing life with Emma Green.”
In real life, Stringfellow was a sickly 21-year-old teacher of small stature who had to beg his way into the 4th Virginia Cavalry in 1861, according to the American Civil War Museum. A year later, he became a scout for both Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee. Stringfellow is known for his real-life exploits including dressing like a woman to hide his true identity.
After the war, he married Green and became a minister.
A volunteer nurse working in her wealthy family’s former hotel turned Union hospital, Green matures from season one to season two of “Mercy Street.”
“The extreme effects of the war on her family and on the life she had known have fundamentally changed her and hastened her transition into womanhood,” according to PBS.
Green, in the new season, begins to question her relationship with Stringfellow, “especially as she learns more about his terrorist activities,” according to PBS.
Green said she admires Emma’s strength most of all.
“She has a lot of ideas and opinions and goes with her gut.”