Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth
Col. Elmer Ellsworth in 1861
|Born||April 11, 1837|
Malta, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 24, 1861 (aged 24)|
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1861|
|Unit||11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was a law clerk and United States Army soldier who was the first conspicuous casualty and the first Union officer to die in the American Civil War. He was killed while removing a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House inn in Alexandria, Virginia.
Before the war, Ellsworth led a touring military drill team, the "Zouave Cadets of Chicago". He was a close personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, who as President later eulogized him as "the greatest little man I ever met". After his death, Ellsworth's body lay in state at the White House. The phrase, "Remember Ellsworth", became a rallying cry and tool for recruiting Union soldiers.
Born as Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth in Malta, New York, Ellsworth grew up in Mechanicville, New York, and later moved to New York City. In 1854, he moved to Rockford, Illinois, where he worked for a patent agency. In 1859, he became engaged to Carrie Spafford, the daughter of a local industrialist and city leader. When Carrie's father demanded that he find more suitable employment, he moved to Chicago to study law and work as a law clerk.
In 1860, Ellsworth moved to Springfield, Illinois, to work with Abraham Lincoln. Studying law under Lincoln, he also helped with Lincoln's 1860 campaign for president, and accompanied the new elected president to Washington, D.C. Ellsworth stood 5 ft 6 in (168 cm) tall; the six-foot-four Lincoln called him "the greatest little man I ever met".
In 1857, Ellsworth became drillmaster of the "Rockford Greys", the local militia company. He studied military science in his spare time. After some success with the Greys, he helped train militia units in Milwaukee and Madison. When he moved to Chicago, he became Colonel of Chicago's National Guard Cadets.
Ellsworth had studied the Zouave soldiers, French colonial troops in Algeria, and was impressed by their reported fighting quality. He outfitted his men in Zouave-style uniforms, and modeled their drill and training on the Zouaves. Ellsworth's unit became a nationally famous drill team.
Following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate Army troops in mid-April 1861, and Lincoln's subsequent call for 75,000 volunteers to defend the nation's capital, Ellsworth raised the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the "Fire Zouaves") from New York City's volunteer firefighting companies, and was then commissioned as the regiment's commanding officer.
Ellsworth was killed at the Marshall House on May 24, 1861 (the day after Virginia's secession was ratified by referendum) during the Union Army's take-over of Alexandria. During the month before the event, the inn's proprietor, James W. Jackson, had raised from the inn's roof a large Confederate flag that President Lincoln and his Cabinet had reportedly observed through field glasses from an elevated spot in Washington. Jackson had reportedly stated that the flag would only be taken down "over his dead body".
Before crossing the Potomac River to take Alexandria, soldiers serving under Ellsworth's command observed the flag from their camp through field glasses and volunteered to remove it. Having seen the flag after landing in Alexandria, Ellsworth and seven other soldiers entered the inn through an open door. Once inside, they encountered a man dressed in a shirt and trousers, of whom Ellsworth demanded what sort of a flag it was that hung upon the roof.
The man, who seemed greatly alarmed, declared he knew nothing of it, and that he was only a boarder there. Without questioning him further, Ellsworth sprang up the stairs followed by his soldiers, climbed to the roof on a ladder and cut down the flag with a soldier's knife. The soldiers turned to descend, with Private Francis E. Brownell leading the way and Ellsworth following with the flag.
As Brownell reached the first landing place, Jackson jumped from a dark passage, leveled a double-barreled gun at Ellsworth's chest and discharged one barrel directly into Ellsworth's chest, killing him instantly. Jackson then discharged the other barrel at Brownell, but missed his target. Brownell's gun simultaneously shot, hitting Jackson in the middle of his face. Before Jackson dropped, Brownell repeatedly thrust his bayonet through Jackson's body, sending Jackson's corpse down the stairs.
Lincoln was deeply saddened by his friend's death and ordered an honor guard to bring his friend's body to the White House, where he lay in state in the East Room. Ellsworth's body was then taken to the City Hall in New York City, where thousands of Union supporters came to see the first man to fall for the Union cause. Ellsworth was then buried in his hometown of Mechanicville, in the Hudson View Cemetery (see: Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth Monument and Grave).
Thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" became a patriotic slogan. The 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment called itself the "Ellsworth Avengers" as well as "The People's Ellsworth Regiment".
Simultaneously, Jackson became a celebrated martyr for the Confederate cause. A plaque that the Sons of Confederate Veterans placed within a blind arch near a corner of a prominent hotel that stood on the former site of the Marshall House commemorated Jackson's role in the affair for many years. However, Marriott International removed the plaque in 2017 shortly after it purchased the hotel (see: Marshall House historical marker).
During and after the Marshall House incident, soldiers and souvenir hunters carried away pieces of the flag and inn as mementos, especially portions of the inn's stairway, balustrades and oilcloth floor covering. Relics associated with Ellsworth's death became prized souvenirs.
President Lincoln kept the captured Marshall House flag, with which his son Tad often played and waved. The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs now holds in its collections most of the flag, as well as Ellsworth's uniform. The uniform contains a hole through which a slug apparently entered.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History holds in its collections a fragment of the flag, a blood-stained piece of oilcloth and a scrap of red bunting that remain from the encounter at the Marshall House. Bates College's Special Collections Library holds another fragment of the flag.
In 1894, Brownell's widow was offering to sell small pieces of the flag for $10 and $15 each. A fragment of the flag that Brownell had given to an early mentor at the time of Ellsworth's funeral was sold during the 21st century after being retained by the mentor's family for many years. The fragment was sold during the 21st century.
The Fort Ward Museum and Historic site in Alexandria displays the kepi that Ellsworth wore when he was killed, patriotic envelopes bearing his image, most of a star from the flag that is still stained with Ellsworth's blood, and the "O" from the Marshall House sign that a soldier had taken as a souvenir. Artifacts collected during the construction process of the Hotel Monaco were preserved by local archeologists. They may be seen in the Torpedo Factory Art Center's third floor exhibit (the Alexandria Archaeology Museum), three blocks away on King Street.
The newly established county seat of Pierce County, Wisconsin, located in the undeveloped center of the county to settle the controversy between two established cities, was named Ellsworth, Wisconsin in his honor.
In addition, Ellsworth, Michigan, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, Fort Ellsworth, and possibly Ellsworth, Iowa, Ellsworth, Kansas, and Mount Ellsworth near Green River, Utah, were named in his honor, as were Fort Ellsworth, various other institutions, and various individual people.
Relic hunters soon carried away from the hotel everything movable, including the carpets, furniture, and window shutters, and cut away the whole of the staircase and door where Ellsworth was shot.
NEW YORK STATE MILITARY MUSEUM: .....
The museum's collection includes the uniform coat Ellsworth was wearing when Jackson fired a shotgun into his chest as the 24-year-old officer descended the stairs leading to the Marshall House's roof. The coat, still showing the hole where the slug entered, is on display, along with one of Ellsworth's swords and a Zouave drill manual.
Jackson's flag — originally 14 feet by 24 feet — is among the museum's collection of more than 800 Civil War battle flags, the largest state collection in the nation. Large swaths of the banner were cut up for souvenirs after Ellsworth's death; about 55 percent of the original flag survives. One of several large stars on Jackson's flag was removed and saved by Ellsworth's uncle, who later donated the item to a local Civil War veterans group. The neighboring Town of Saratoga came into possession of the star, which was donated to the museum in August 2006, reuniting it with the flag for the first time in more than 140 years.
The artifacts include uniforms, weapons, artillery pieces, and art. A significant portion of the museum’s collection is from the Civil War. Notable artifacts from this conflict include Colonel Elmer Ellsworth’s (the Union’s first martyr) uniform, ... .
The journal also includes several loose pieces of paper including one paper with a red piece of cloth pinned to it. This paper has a note claiming that "This is a piece of the flag which was raised over the mansion house in Alexandria by Col. E. E. Ellsworth just before his assassination."
FORT WARD MUSEUM AND HISTORIC SITE: .....
In addition to displays on the everyday life of Civil War soldiers, the museum features an exhibit on the "Ellsworth incident."
The exhibit includes a lock of his hair, a red kepi (cap) he wore, photographs of the young officer in uniform and contemporary published accounts of his death at the hands of James Jackson.
Most of a star from Jackson's secessionist flag, still stained with Ellsworth's blood, is on display, along with the "O" from the Marshall House sign, one of the many pieces of the structure torn off the building by souvenir-hunting Union soldiers seeking a momento from the spot where Ellsworth was slain.
Goodheart, Adam (2012). 1861: The Civil War Awakening. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc. pp. 288–289. ISBN 9781400032198. LCCN 2010051326. OCLC 973512612. Retrieved 2019-01-25 – via Google Books.