Elmer E. Ellsworth – an Unfortunate Civil War First

Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 8.44.05 AMWho has the unfortunate distinction of being the first officer killed in the Civil war – none other than Elmer E. Ellsworth.

Ellsworth was a New Yorker and an attorney in civilian life, he raised and commanded the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry (the Fire Zouaves) at the beginning of the war, and he was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s how it all went down. On May 24th 1861 – the day after Virginia’s voters ratified their state’s secession, President Lincoln noticed a huge Rebel flag flying over the Marshall House Inn in Alexandria Virginia…just across the Potomac from Washington City.

Ellsworth, who had worked at Lincoln’s law firm, helped in his presidential campaign, and who had accompanied the new president to Washington, offered to go over and take care of business – which he then proceeded to do.

He led the 11th into Alexandria, deployed his men in various places around town, and took four soldiers to the inn to remove the heinous banner. Things went south (so to speak) rather quickly from this point.  When he came down the inn’s stairs with flag in hand, innkeeper and vehement Rebel James W. Jackson unloaded a shotgun into Elsworth’s chest – killing him on the spot. A Union corporal – Francis Brownell  – in turn killed Jackson. (For this act, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor).Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 8.52.17 AM

Lincoln, extremely saddened by the death of his friend, ordered an honor guard to carry him to the White House – where he lay in state in the East Room before returning to New York – where thousands came to visit his body at New York City’ s City Hall. He is buried in Mechanicville, New York.

With compliments,


9 thoughts on “Elmer E. Ellsworth – an Unfortunate Civil War First”

  1. The killing of Colonel Ellsworth became a Union rallying cry against the Confederacy, much like “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember the Maine.” In his letter dated April 18, 1864 my g-g grandfather, Adj. William B. Phillips of the 2nd. PA Provisional Heavy Artillery describes visiting the Marshall House and refers to the “murder” stating that “Alexandria is a place I shall never visit again.”

    This letter can be read at: http://wbp2ndpaha.wordpress.com/april-1864/

    of http://wbp2ndpaha.wordpress.com/april-1864/

  2. I was poking about on the Internet and found this – the transcription of a plaque at the site of the Marshal House Inn:
    The Marshall House stood upon this site, and within the building on the early morning of May 24, 1861 James W. Jackson was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
    He was the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
    The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.
    Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle, he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and the sacred soil of his native state Virginia

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