Symposium Spotlight: Elmer Ellsworth

This week’s Symposium Spotlight previews Meg Groeling’s presentation on Elmer Ellsworth. Find out how he is regarded as a fallen leader at the Seventh Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium this August 6-8, 2021.

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, in uniform

Prior to his becoming the first conspicuous casualty of the Civil War, Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth led a short but interesting life. During his 24 years, he was a lawyer, a colonel, and a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, whom he met in Springfield, Illinois after moving there to work in Lincoln’s office and who he followed to Washington.

With an interest in military science that began well before the start of the Civil War – he would have gone to the U.S. Military Academy if he could have afforded it – Ellsworth responded enthusiastically to Lincoln’s 1861 call for troops by raising of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, which he dressed in distinctive Zouave-style uniforms, fashioned after those worn by French colonial troops.

Ironically, perhaps, for all of his drills and militia training, Ellsworth’s death came not in a battle, but instead inside the long-demolished Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. The building’s owner had a raised a large Confederate flag from its roof, which was visible from the White House. Offering to retrieve the flag for the president, Ellsworth led his 11th New York across the Potomac River and into Alexandria. Ellsworth succeeded in removing the flag, but as he descended the stairs from the building’s roof, the hotel’s owner, James W. Jackson, shot and killed Ellsworth with a single shotgun blast to the chest.

Lincoln had the body of Ellsworth, whom he called “the greatest little man I ever met,” laid in state at the White House before it was taken to his home state of New York for burial. His memory lived on throughout the war as “Remember Ellsworth” became a rallying cry for supporters of the Union, regiments were named in his honor and artifacts related to his death became popular souvenirs.

Elmer Ellsworth Quick Facts

First notable Union casualty of the Civil War

Malta, NY

April 11, 1837

Alexandria, VA

May 24, 1861

Mechanicsville, NY

Hudson View Cemetery

You can find out more information about the 2021 Emerging Civil War Symposium by clicking here.

3 Responses to Symposium Spotlight: Elmer Ellsworth

  1. I am confused by the statement that he would have attended the U S Military Academy had he been able at afford it?

    1. I am confused as well. West Point has no tuition costs, etc. I am not sure where this came from–let me check the archives.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!