I have spent the last few weeks choosing images for First Fallen: The Life of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the North’s First Civil War Hero. It is a big job, considering I have many–as in A LOT!–of images. Most of them involve Elmer wearing a uniform. He had many. He had uniforms from every militia he ever drilled, and those in several versions. Dress uniforms, day-to-day uniforms, and probably sleeping uniforms–Elmer Ellsworth never met a uniform he didn’t like. Anyone who thinks of Elmer Ellsworth probably pictures him in a uniform, much like the multiple images easily found in an internet search. There are many.
This visual situation is why it is so essential to choose pictures of my colonel in a variety of clothing–not just another uniform. Therein lies the problem. The choice is narrow at best. The earliest image of Elmer is as a child. The Chicago History Museum owns pictures of Elmer and his parents, dressed up and posing singly. Elmer looks maybe 5-6, and his hair is barely under control. It is a definite pick. Not too many have seen this image.
I have four other pictures of Colonel Ellsworth not in uniform. In one, he looks sort of full of himself. Or maybe it is the brassy gold frame surrounding the CDV that does it–I don’t know. I like that it shows his youth. He can barely support that moustache! The image is from his early years in Chicago when he was a patent clerk, so 1858-9. It is in the Saratoga Springs History Museum.
The next two are from the same sitting (or standing, in this case). Ellsworth’s suit is bespoke, as can be told from its fit. The fall of the cloth at the ankles is very deliberate, as is the cut of the vest. Elmer Ellsworth passed himself off as impecunious, but one look at his clothing and footwear puts paid to that myth. He may have been poor in Chicago at first, but he came from a middle-class background and moved upward. This CDV was made at Brady’s New York City studio in 1861, perhaps when he was recruiting for the 11th New York. The originals reside at the Smithsonian.
The last one is my favorite. Elmer Ellsworth looks like a romantic poet, I think. All I can find out about this image is that it was taken in Chicago by Shaw Artists. That dates it to the same time as the first one–late 1850s. I have tried very hard to find out who owns this image. I put it on Facebook’s helpful page, “Civil War Faces.” The folks there sharpened it up and even colorized it, but no one knew in what collection it currently resides. Without that information, I cannot use the image in the book. And yet it is perfect–a young Yankee self-made man, standing at the cusp of history, only two years away from his death. Like so many men who would wear either blue or gray, he is full of potential, hopeful for the future, and loved by family and friends. There is an immediacy to this portrait that is missing in the others.
So I ask you, dear readers–does anyone know the whereabouts of this image? If my book is to reflect the latest Ellsworth scholarship, I want to be sure the pictures chosen reflect views of Ellsworth that go beyond “the short guy in the red kepi.” Like all who fought, he was so much more. I appreciate your help.