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Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth
April 11, 1837(1837-04-11) – May 24, 1861 (aged 24)
ElmerEllsworthphoto01.jpg
Col. Elmer Ellsworth (1861)
Nickname E.E. Ellsworth
Place of birth Malta, New York
Place of death Alexandria, Virginia
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars American Civil War
Death of Col. Ellsworth, a Currier and Ives engraving, 1861
Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia - place where Elmer Ellsworth was shot to death. (photo 1861)
Last letter written by Elmer Ellsworth before he was killed. (1861-05-23)

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was a lawyer and soldier, best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War.

Contents

Early life

Ellsworth was born in Malta, New York, then grew up in Mechanicville, New York and lived in New York City. Eventually, he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a law clerk.

Career

After studying military science in his spare time, Ellsworth became a colonel of Chicago's National Guard Cadets, introducing his men to the Zouave uniforms, which French colonial troops wore. Ellsworth's unit eventually became a national champion drill team.

In 1860, Ellsworth went to Springfield, Illinois and studied law in Abraham Lincoln's office, helping Lincoln with his 1860 campaign for president. Ellsworth went with Lincoln to Washington, D.C., when he was elected. President Lincoln nicknamed Ellsworth "the greatest little man I ever met." Ellsworth helped recruit soldiers after the secession crisis in 1861, raising the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment from among New York City's firefighters.

Ellsworth also traveled and set up a practice in Rockford, Illinois, where he was involved in the recruiting of several militia and cadet units. It was during this time he met and became engaged to Carrie Spafford, the daughter of a local industrialist and city leader. They did not marry before he left for Washington, taking the New York regiment with him.

Death

Ellsworth died shortly after arriving in Washington. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded, President Lincoln observed from the White House a large Confederate flag prominently displayed in the neighboring town of Alexandria Virginia. Offering to retrieve the flag for Lincoln, Ellsworth led his men uncontested down the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. He ordered some of his men to take the railroad station, while he and a few other soldiers went to secure the telegraph office and the Confederate flag flying above the Marshall House Inn. He and four others quickly went up the stairs. Ellsworth cut down the flag and was on the way down the stairs, when the owner, James W. Jackson, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Cpl. Francis Brownell, of Troy, New York, immediately killed the innkeeper. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions.

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 it lay in state in the East Room, on May 24, 1861. Ellsworth 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, New York, in the Hudson View Cemetery.

Thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" was a patriotic slogan and a New York regiment of volunteers (the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment) called itself the "Ellsworth Avengers", as well as "The People's Ellsworth Regiment."

Relics associated with Ellsworth's death became prized souvenirs. The Smithsonian and Bates College's Special Collections Library have pieces of the Confederate flag that Ellsworth was removing when he was shot—in 1894, Brownell's widow was offering to sell small pieces of the flag for $10 and $15 each. The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs has most of the flag itself and Ellsworth's uniform, showing the hole from the fatal shot. The Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, dedicates a section of their museum to Ellsworth, displaying the kepi he wore when he was killed, patriotic envelopes bearing his image, a piece of the Confederate Flag (on which Ellsworth's blood is visible), and the "O" from the Marshall House sign that was taken from a soldier as a souvenir.

Selected works

  • Ellsworth, Elmer E. (1861). Complete instructions for the recruit in the light infantry drill: as adapted to the use of the rifled musket, and arranged for the United States Zouave cadets. Cornell University Library. p. 76 pages. ISBN 142971185X. 

Honors

Ellsworth, Illinois, Ellsworth, Michigan, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, and Fort Ellsworth were named in his honor.

See also

References

  • Randall, Ruth Painter, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth: A biography of Lincoln's friend and first hero of the Civil War, (Boston: Little Brown, 1960).
  • Bio of Ellsworth

External links

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