Monday, May 23, 2011

May 24, 1861 (Friday): The Death of Ellsworth

Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth-National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

                        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 Colonel 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,
                                    Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding First Zouaves.
     Commanding Department, Washington

The day after Virginia seceded, Union forces moved over the Long Bridge over the Potomac into Alexandria.  Greatly outnumbered, the Confederate force retreated.  Among the 3,000 Union troops was 24 year old Elmer Ellsworth, who had worked in Abraham Lincoln’s law office in Illinois.  Ellsworth and four men went to the Marshall House Inn to remove an 8 X 14 foot Confederate flag which was visible from the White House.  The innkeeper, Jackson, shot Ellsworth as he came down the stairs from removing the flag.  Jackson was immediately shot and killed by one of Ellsworth’s men.  President Lincoln was much moved by this first death of a Union officer and the young man’s body was brought to the White House to lie in state.  The shooting of Ellsworth became a rallying point throughout the North.  Until now the war seemed abstract, but Ellsworth’s death not only personalized the conflict, but brought with it animosity toward the South.

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