Elmer Ellsworth
1st Civil War Casualty Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

1st Civil War Casualty Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

April 11, 1837 - May 24, 1861

Elmer E. Ellsworth, born near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., left home and went to New York City at an early age. He then moved to Chicago, Ill., where he worked as a law clerk, became interested in military science, and joined Chicago's National Guard Cadets. Made colonel of the group, Ellsworth infused the unit with his enthusiasm. He introduced his men to the flashy Zouave uniforms and drill that emulated French colonial troops in Algeria and turned the group, renamed the U.S. Zouave Cadets, into a national champion drill team. In the summer of 1860, the unit performed hundreds of quick, flashy movements with their muskets and bayonets for awed audiences in 20 cities.

In August Ellsworth went to Springfield, Ill., to study law in Abraham Lincoln's office. He helped Lincoln with his campaign for president and went with him to Washington, D.C. Lincoln called Ellsworth "the greatest little man I ever met." When the Civil War erupted, Ellsworth went to New York City and raised a regiment of volunteers from the city's firefighters.

As colonel of the New York Fire Zouaves, Ellsworth was anxious to be the first to invade the South. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded, Ellsworth led his men uncontested down the streets of Alexandria. He sent some of his men to take the railroad station while he and a few others went to secure the telegraph office. On the way he noticed a Confederate flag atop the Marshall House Inn. Ellsworth and four others quickly ascended the stairs; Ellsworth cut down the flag and was on the way down the stairs when the proprietor killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Cpl. Francis Brownell immediately killed the innkeeper.

Lincoln, grief-stricken, had an honor guard bring his friend's body to the White House, where it lay in state on May 25. The body was then moved to City Hall in New York City, where thousands paid their respects to the first man to fall for the Union. Ellsworth was buried in Mechanicville, N.Y.

Fascinating Fact: Volunteers flocked to join the Union cause in response to Ellsworth's death. "Remember Ellsworth" was a patriotic slogan, and a New York regiment of volunteers called itself the Ellsworth Avengers.

Occupation of Alexandria
May 24, 1861

1st Civil War Casualty Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth
At 2:00 A.M. on May 24, 1861, the day after the citizens of Virginia voted three to one to secede from the Union, 11 regiments of Union soldiers invaded Virginia and occupied the countryside across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The few Rebel pickets in Arlington, the town directly across the river from Washington, quickly retreated from the two Union columns that descended upon them. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's spacious estate on Arlington Heights was quickly occupied as a Union military command post. The 700 Virginia militiamen stationed six miles downstream at Alexandria, an important port and railroad center, were warned of this invasion in time for all but 35 of them to retreat through one end of town as Union troops rushed in the other.

Two Union forces converged on Alexandria. Col. Orlando B. Wilcox and his 1st Michigan Regiment marched down from Arlington and Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth and his exotically dressed 11th New York Zouave Regiment arrived at the Alexandria wharf aboard three river steamers. The Zouaves rushed ashore at daybreak and quickly secured the railroad station and telegraph office. As Ellsworth moved through the town, he spied a large Confederate flag flying from atop an inn called the Marshall House.

Ellsworth rushed into the inn with four companions, climbed the stairs to the top, and cut down the flag. As they were going back down with the flag, innkeeper James W. Jackson met them at the third floor landing with a double-barreled shotgun in his hands. Jackson was killed -- shot in the face, bayoneted, and pushed down the steps -- but not before he pulled the trigger and killed Ellsworth.

The Union invasion was a resounding success. The 24 year old Ellsworth had been a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln, and his body lay in state at the White House. Ellsworth became a Union martyr, and babies, streets, and even towns were named after him.

Fascinating Fact: "Jackson perished a'mid the pack of wolves," said a Southern report. Jackson became a martyr to the South and many poems, songs, and illustrations about the Marshall House incident were published. Enlistments soared on both sides following the deaths.


HON. GERALD B.H. SOLOMON (Extension of Remarks - September 12, 1996)


in the House of Representatives

  • Mr. SOLOMON. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to commemorate the golden anniversary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 6328. This post, I am proud to say, is based in Mechanicville, NY, in the heart of my congressional district, and is celebrating its 50th year of service. And this post personifies the outstanding efforts of the entire nationwide membership to promote a strong national defense and to help veterans and their families. And that is one reason I was so pleased to be awarded the VFW National Commander's Congressional Award several years ago.
  • The VFW, Mr. Speaker, has been an organization of exceptional merit and service to the needs of many veterans. It is only appropriate that those brave men and women who placed themselves in harms way overseas be represented by such an able organization. The members of Post No. 6328 have been receiving just such outstanding service for 50 years now. It is comforting to know that those who served the needs of our country and fought for the principles and ideals of America all over the globe can depend on the support of an organization like Post No. 6328 back home in upstate New York.
  • Mr. Speaker, the service of the Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth Post in Mechanicville is worthy of significant recognition. This post, and others like it, are the reason I fought so hard to attain Department level status for Veterans' Affairs. When Ronald Reagan signed that legislation into law, veterans were finally afforded the degree of national consideration they deserve. The efforts of VFW posts like this one, Mr. Speaker, having served the needs of veterans since 1946, assured veterans the assistance and recognition they deserved prior to approval of this Government department and continue to encourage fair consideration of veterans' issues. And it is because of their support that several short months ago, I was able to pass an amendment to increase the dollar for veterans' hospitals by $40 million. For all of this and much, much more, Mr. Speaker, we owe Post No. 6328 a tremendous debt of gratitude.
  • The famous historian George Santayana once said, `Those who do not remember history are bound to repeat it.' VFW posts all across America have not forgotten the past or those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I ask all Members in the House to rise in tribute to VFW Post No. 6328 and join me in saluting all the members, past and present, on the occasion of their 50th anniversary.

This cover of A Requiem in memory of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth is decorated with scenes recalling his brief

1st Civil War Casualty Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth - The Death of Elmer Ellsworth
and tragic Civil War service. As the commander of the 11th New York Infantry, Ellsworth led his men into Alexandria, Virginia, at dawn on May 24, 1861. Ellsworth saw a large Confederate flag flying over the roof of the Marshall House hotel on King Street. This was the first rebel flag to have been raised in the city, and allegedly it was visible from Washington, several miles to the north. With a small detail of men, Ellsworth hastened to the hotel and made his way to the rooftop flagpole, where he lowered the flag. While Ellsworth was rolling it up, the soldiers were descending the staircase when from out of the shadows they were surprised by the innkeeper, James W. Jackson. Jackson leveled a double-barrel shotgun at Ellsworth and killed him instantly with a shot to the chest. Jackson, whose second shot missed, was himself shot and bayoneted to death by Private Francis E. Brownell .