On this day in history, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth walked into a two-star inn-and-boarding house in Alexandria. It was early in the morning, and a man in his nightshirt and pants was the only person awake on the first floor. The colonel asked him about the massive Stars and Bars flag flying above the inn. The man professed ignorance, so Ellsworth and his small group of soldiers and newspaper reporters ascended the three flights of stairs to the roof. Ellsworth cut the flag down, and began to descend the staircases again. A different reaction met the party on their way down and within moments, both Elmer Ellsworth and a man with a shotgun were dead. Marshall House proprietor James Jackson had just made Colonel Elmer Ellsworth the first Union officer of the Civil War to die.
One would think this would be a reasonably straightforward incident to note historically, but alas, one would be wrong. The story of the commemoration of the Marshall House Incident is not mysterious, but it is convoluted. Here is how it goes.
In 2011, my first trip to Alexandria, one of the things I simply had to see was the plaque on the wall of the Monaco Hotel at the corner of Pitt and King Streets. I found it:
Really? Is this the best someone could do? This makes no sense—until the end, on the righthand side: Erected by the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers. Essentially, this plaque is a paean to the Lost Cause.
Fast forward several years—the Monaco Hotel has been sold and is now a Marriot Hotels property. It has been rechristened The Alexandrian, Autograph Collection, and bears 4.5 stars at this writing. I just spent five nights there—it is very nice. However, there is no plaque anywhere—I looked.
Instead, on a Civil War Trails marker near the King Street Station, I found this:
A bit more digging uncovered a letter from the Alexandrian explaining the whereabouts of the missing plaque:
And there you have it, readers. If you have followed my blog posts about this puzzle over the years, you will know that I have followed this issue like Kate Warnes on a case for Pinkerton. I anxiously await the advice of “leading scholars and experts.” In the meantime: