Assassination of Colonel Ellsworth - Hand colored engraving, ca. 1861. First Union Officer killed in the Civil War at the Marshal House, Alexandria Virginia. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, pages 40 and 41, by James W. Jackson, on Friday, May 24th, 1861. From sketches and assisted by Francis E. Brownell of the Ellsworth Zouaves. Contains, "Ellsworth trampling on the Secession Flag, after having torn it down. Body of Ellsworth lying in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., Soldiers firing a salute over the grave of Ellsworth, at Mechanicsville, N.Y., Jackson's wife mourning over his body, Ellsworth's Zouaves consoling her while keeping off the Secession crowd, Body of Ellsworth lying in state in the Governor's Room, City Hall, New York. The Francis Skiddy, bearing Ellsworth's body, in a terrific thunderstorm on the Hudson River. Carrying the body of Ellsworth on muskets to the boat of Alexandria, Va. The death of Jackson at the hands of Francis Brownell - Ellsworth avenged, and Funeral Procession marching down Broadway to the steamer Francis Skiddy.
Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth:
Residence was not listed; a 25 year-old Lawyer.
Enlisted on 4/20/1861 at New York City, NY as a Colonel.
On 5/7/1861 he was commissioned into Field & Staff NY 11th Infantry
He was Killed on 5/24/1861 at Alexandria, VA
(Killed by Mr. Jackson, proprietor of the Marshall House hotel)
Born 4/23/1837 in Mechanicsville, NY
Buried: Mechanicsville, Saratoga County, NY
Report of Lieut. Col. N. L. Farnham, First Zouaves, New York Militia.
ALEXANDRIA, VA., May 24, 1861--5.18 p. m.
SIR: It is my painful duty to inform you that Col. Ellsworth, late commanding officer of the First Zouave Regiment, New York Militia, is no more. He was assassinated at the Marshall House after our troops had taken possession of the city.
I am ignorant of the details of the orders issued to the regiment, and await further instructions. My men are posted advantageously in the streets.
I remain, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
NOAH L. FARNHAM, Lieut.-Col., Commanding First Zouaves.
Brig. Gen. MANSFIELD, Commanding Department, Washington
Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was a law clerk and United States Army soldier, best known as the first conspicuous casualty and the first Union officer killed in the American Civil War. He was killed while removing a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Inn of Alexandria, Virginia, at the behest of Abraham Lincoln, as the flag had been visible from the White House as a defiant sign of the growing rebellion.
Before his death, as tension built up toward the war, Colonel Ellsworth had been the leader of a famous touring military drill team known as the "Fire Zouaves" and was a close personal friend of Lincoln. Lincoln called him "the greatest little man I ever met", and his body lay in state at the White House after his death. Following his death, "Remember Ellsworth" would become a Union rallying cry. While the first conspicuous death of the Civil War, the first casualties of the war occurred more than a month earlier during the Baltimore riot.
Born as Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth in Malta, New York, Ellsworth grew up in Mechanicville, New York, and lived in 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. Carrie's father demanded that he find more suitable employment, so he moved to Chicago, to study law and work as a law clerk.
In 1860, Ellsworth went to Springfield, Illinois, to work with Abraham Lincoln. He studied law in Lincoln's office and helped Lincoln with his 1860 campaign for president. Ellsworth was only 5' 6" tall, but Lincoln called him "the greatest little man I ever met". He accompanied Lincoln to Washington, D.C. in 1861.
Ellsworth became drillmaster of the "Rockford Greys", the local militia company, in 1857. 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 gaudy Zouave-style uniforms, and modeled their drill and training on the Zouaves. Ellsworth's unit became a nationally famous drill team.
The Civil War broke into open warfare in April, and on April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion. Ellsworth helped recruit these soldiers: he raised the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the "Fire Zouaves") from New York City's volunteer firefighting companies, and returned to Washington as their Colonel.
Ellsworth died shortly after returning to Washington. He had, on previous occasions, joined the Lincolns in "peering curiously across the river at [a] large rebel banner that had mocked them for a month from the skyline of Alexandria. [...] For some anxious Unionists, that flag was becoming a symbol of the administration's slowness to move against the gathering forces of the Confederacy." On May 24, 1861 (the day after Virginia's secession was ratified by referendum), with an order that came a day prior, Ellsworth found himself and his troops victorious in the face of a retreating Confederate army in Alexandria. And on this day, Ellsworth would cut down the banner that he had seen countless times from the other side of the river. (This was not the later-designed, more famous "Battle flag", but rather the official "Stars and Bars" flag that more closely resembles the Union flag.)
On May 24, Ellsworth led the 11th New York across the Potomac and into the streets of Alexandria uncontested. He detached some men to take the railroad station while he led others to secure the telegraph office. On his way, there, Ellsworth turned a corner and came face to face with the Marshall House Inn, atop of which the banner was still flying. He ordered a company of infantry as reinforcements and continued on his way to the telegraph office. But suddenly, Ellsworth changed his mind, turned around, and went up the steps of the Marshall House.
He entered the house accompanied by seven men. Once inside, they found a "disheveled-looking man, only half dressed, who had apparently just gotten out of bed" and who informed them that he was a boarder, upon Ellsworth's demand to know what the Confederate flag was doing atop the hotel. Ellsworth and four men then went upstairs to cut down the flag. As Ellsworth came downstairs with the (very large) flag, the sleepy "boarder" who was actually the owner of the house and one of the most ardent of secessionists in Alexandria, James W. Jackson, killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast to the chest. Corporal Francis E. Brownell, of Troy, New York, immediately shot Jackson or stabbed him with the bayonet on the end of his gun. 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 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.
Thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" was a patriotic slogan: the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment called itself the "Ellsworth Avengers", as well as "The People's Ellsworth Regiment."
Inventory Number: SCU 024