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 Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

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Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

  • Birth 11 Apr 1837 Malta, Saratoga County, New York, USA
  • Death 24 May 1861 Alexandria, Alexandria City, Virginia, USA
  • Burial Mechanicville, Saratoga County, New York, USA
  • Memorial ID 4668

Military Figure. He is best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War, while serving in the Union Army. He grew up in Mechanicville, New York and lived for a time in New York City, New York. In 1854 he moved to Rockford, Illinois where he worked for a patent agency. In 1857 he became drillmaster of the "Rockford Greys," the local militia company and studied military science in his spare time. He then helped train militia units in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. He 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 and his unit eventually became a nationally famous drill team. In 1859 he moved to Chicago, Illinois to study law and work as a law clerk. The following year he went to Springfield, Illinois, to work with Abraham Lincoln. He studied law in Lincoln's office and assisted him with his 1860 campaign for US President. After Lincoln won the presidency he accompanied him to Washington DC in 1861. After the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, he helped to recruit solders for President Lincoln's call-up. He raised the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the "Fire Zouaves") from New York City's volunteer firefighting companies, and returned to Washington DC as their colonel. He, along with the Lincolns, had observed a large rebel banner that had mocked them for a month from the skyline of Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River. On May 24, 1861 (the day after Virginia's secession was ratified by referendum), he found himself and his troops victorious in the face of the retreating Confederate forces in Alexandria and he decided to cut down the banner that he had seen many times from the other side of the river. He led the 11th New York across the Potomac River and into the streets of Alexandria uncontested. After detaching some men to take the railroad station, he led others to secure the telegraph office. On his way there, he 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 then changed his mind, turned around, and went up the steps of the Marshall House. He entered the house accompanied by seven men and 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. He proceeded up the stairs, cut down the flag, and as he came down, the "boarder," who was actually James W. Jackson, the owner of the house and one of the most ardent of secessionists in Alexandria, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Jackson was then immediately killed by one of Ellsworth's soldiers with a bayonet. They each became martyrs for their respective cause. Lincoln, deeply saddened when he heard the news of his death, ordered an honor guard to bring his body to the White House, where he lay in state in the East Room. He 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. He was portrayed by actor Adam Croasdell in the 2012 film "Saving Lincoln."

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 7 Mar 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4668
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (11 Apr 1837–24 May 1861), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4668, citing Hudson View Cemetery, Mechanicville, Saratoga County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .