Summary

Conflict Period:
Civil War (Union) 1
Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
Colonel 1
Birth:
11 Apr 1837 2
Malta, NY 2
Death:
24 May 1861 1
Alexandria, Virginia 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth 1
Birth:
11 Apr 1837 2
Malta, NY 2
Male 2
Birth:
11 Apr 2014 1
Malta, New York 1
Death:
24 May 1861 1
Alexandria, Virginia 1
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Birth:
Mother: Phebe Denton Ellswroth 1
Father: Ephraim Daniel Ellsworth 1
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Civil War (Union) 1

Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
Colonel 1

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Sources

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  2. Wikepedia — Contributed by bruceyrock632
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Stories

The Death of Colonel Ellsworth

Ellsworth was a man with large military ambitions, but his meteoric fame came in a way he could not have hoped for: posthumously. At the age of 24, as commander of the 11th New York Volunteers, also known as the First Fire Zouaves, Ellsworth became the first Union officer killed in the war.

He was not just any Union officer. After working as a patent agent in Rockford, Illinois, in 1854, Ellsworth studied law in Chicago, where he also served as a colonel commanding National Guard cadets. In 1860, Ellsworth took a job in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield law office. The young clerk and Lincoln became friends, and when the president-elect moved to Washington in 1861, Ellsworth accompanied him. A student of military history and tactics, Ellsworth admired the Zouaves, Algerian troops fighting with the French Army in North Africa, and had employed their training methods with his cadets. He even designed a uniform with baggy trousers in the Zouave style.

A native of New York State, Ellsworth left Washington for New York City just before the onset of the war. He raised the 11th New York Volunteer Regiment, enlisting many of its troops from the city’s volunteer fire departments (hence the “Fire Zouaves”) and returned with the regiment to Washington.

On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia voters ratified the state convention’s decision to secede from the Union, Ellsworth and his troops entered Alexandria, Virginia, to assist in the occupation of the city. As it happened, an 8- by 14-foot Confederate flag—large enough to be seen by spyglass from the White House—had been visible in Alexandria for weeks, flown from the roof of an inn, the Marshall House.

The regiment, organized only six weeks earlier, encoun­tered no resistance as it moved through the city. Barber notes, however, that “the Zouaves were an unruly bunch, spoiling for a fight, and when they got into Alexandria they may have felt they were already in the thick of it. So Ellsworth may have wanted to get that flag down quickly to prevent trouble.”

At the Marshall House, Barber adds, “Colonel Ellsworth just happened to meet the one person he didn’t want to meet”—innkeeper James Jackson, a zealous defender of slavery (and, says Barber, a notorious slave abuser) with a penchant for violence.

Ellsworth approached the inn with only four troopers. Finding no resistance, he took down the flag, but as he descended to the main floor, Jackson fired on Ellsworth at point-blank range with a shotgun, killing him instantly. One of Ellsworth’s men, Cpl. Francis Brownell, then fatally shot Jackson.

A reporter from the New York Tribune happened to be on the scene; news of the shootings traveled fast. Because Ellsworth had been Lincoln’s friend, his body was taken to the White House, where it lay in state, and then to New York City, where thousands lined up to view the cortege bearing Ellsworth’s coffin. Along the route, a group of mourners displayed a banner that declared: “Ellsworth, ‘His blood cries for vengeance.’”

“Remember Ellsworth!” became a Union rallying cry, and the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment was nicknamed Ellsworth’s Avengers. According to Barber, “Throughout the conflict, his name, face and valor would be recalled on stationery, in sheet music and in memorial lithographs.” One side’s villain is another side’s patriot, of course, so Jackson was similarly celebrated in the South and in an 1862 book, Life of James W. Jackson, The Alexandria Hero.

After the war, and after relentlessly petitioning his congressman, Brownell was awarded the  Medal of Honor.

 

Lincoln's Letter to Ephraim D. and Phoebe Ellsworth

To the Father and Mother of Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth:

My dear Sir and Madam, In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall. In size, in years, and in youthful appearance, a boy only, his power to command men, was surpassingly great. This power, combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military, constituted in him, as seemed to me, the best natural talent, in that department, I ever knew. And yet he was singularly modest and deferential in social intercourse. My acquaintance with him began less than two years ago; yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages, and my engrossing engagements, would permit. To me, he appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane, or intemperate word. What was conclusive of his good heart, he never forgot his parents. The honors he labored for so laudably, and, in the sad end, so gallantly gave his life, he meant for them, no less than for himself.

In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.

May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power. Sincerely your friend in a common affliction --

A. Lincoln

The following is a reply written to President Lincoln from Colonel Ellsworth's father:

Mechanicville June 19." 1861

Dear Sir

Pardon us the long delay in answering your kind and sympathizing letter. It has not occurred through want of inclination to write, but from the many calls made upon our time. The fact that Elmer succeeded in gaining the love & esteem of those with whom he was associated is to us one of great joy, and the reception of a letter, expressing such sentiments, from one whom we all so much respect is highly gratifying

It would be useless for us to attempt to describe our feelings upon the receipt of the sad news of Elmers death. Although the blow was severe, how severe God only knows, yet through his goodness & mercy we are enabled to say "thy will not ours be done" The sympathy of all true Christians, and lovers of that country in whose defence he perished has done much to assuage the intensity of our grief We sincerely believe that God has removed him from a life of strife to one of eternal peace.

He was indeed toward us all you represented him, kind loving & dutiful Our present comfort and future happiness always seemed uppermost in his mind. But he is gone and the recollections of his goodness alone is left us. We trust he did not die in vain, but that his death will advance the cause in which he was engaged.

With these few words accept our most grateful thanks for your kindness to and interest you have shown in our beloved son May it never repent you,

We would always be pleased to hear from you

We are with respect

Yours &c

E. D. Ellsworth,

Prior to his becoming the first conspicuous casualty of the Civil War, Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth led a short but interesting life. During his 24 years, he was a lawyer, a colonel, and a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, whom he met in Springfield, Illinois after moving there to work in Lincoln's office and who he followed to Washington.

With an interest in military science that began well before the start of the Civil War - he would have gone to the U.S. Military Academy if he could have afforded it - Ellsworth responded enthusiastically to Lincoln's 1861 call for troops by raising of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, which he dressed in distinctive Zouave-style uniforms, fashioned after those worn by French colonial troops.

Ironically, perhaps, for all of his drills and militia training, Ellsworth's death came not in a battle, but instead inside the long-demolished Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. The building's owner had a raised a large Confederate flag from its roof, which was visible from the White House. Offering to retrieve the flag for the president, Ellsworth led his 11th New York across the Potomac River and into Alexandria. Ellsworth succeeded in removing the flag, but as he descended the stairs from the building's roof, the hotel's owner, James W. Jackson, shot and killed Ellsworth with a single shotgun blast to the chest.

Lincoln had the body of Ellsworth, whom he called "the greatest little man I ever met," laid in state at the White House before it was taken to his home state of New York for burial. His memory lived on throughout the war as "Remember Ellsworth" became a rallying cry for supporters of the Union, regiments were named in his honor and artifacts related to his death became popular souvenirs.

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