The Ellsworth Monument

Col. Elmer Ellsworth

Once again, May 24 is here. One hundred sixty-one years ago, Union Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was killed at the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, becoming the first Union officer to die in the American Civil War. Funeral obsequies were held formally from Washington to Mechanicville, New York, and finally, his remains were interred at Hudson View Cemetery. Almost immediately, the nation was at war, and it took months to carve a headstone. Ellsworth’s grave was in the family burial plot, but for a while, it remained unmarked. There was money for a marker. 

Interestingly enough, the large fire at the building next to Willard’s before May 24 garnered enough positive attention in the capital to have raised several hundred dollars as a thank-you to the 11th New York for its firefighting efforts. However, the 11th and the rest of the volunteers left Washington days later for the new camps surrounding the city, so none of the money was ever spent. Instead, it sat in a bank accruing interest until the war’s end. As early as May 30, 1861, a meeting was held to recognize the need for a marker:

MECHANICSVILLE, Friday, May 30, 1861.

At a meeting of the citizens of Mechanicsville held May 30, 1861, for the purpose of taking into consideration the best means for raising a fund for the erection of a Monument to the memory of the late Col. ELLSWORTH, the following resolution was adopted:

Resolved, That a Committee of three be appointed to take the necessary preliminary steps toward erecting a suitable Monument over the grave of the lamented Col. ELLSWORTH, and that said Committee be authorized to open a correspondence with persons in different parts of the country, to devise a plan for raising funds for that purpose. 

Resolved, That Mr. LEWIS E. SMITH, of Mechanicsville, Hon. JAMES B. MCKEAN, M.C., Saratoga Springs, and Gen. EDWARD F. BULLARD, of Waterford, be appointed such Committee.

Resolved, That we invite all persons throughout the country, who may feel interested in the matter of erecting such monument, to correspond with said Committee, making such suggestions in relation to the mode of raising funds, &c., as their judgment and benevolence may dictate.

Resolved, That the foregoing resolutions be published in the New-York City, Albany, and County papers. 

REV. DAVID LYTLE, Chairman. (

In 1874 the marker was finally installed. The New York Times covered the ceremony:

The monument is an octagonal shaft of Quincy granite and has what is called a “ten-cut” finish. It stands on an eminence and is plainly visible at a great distance. On the west side of the base is the word “ELLSWORTH” in relief, in polished letters. Set into the west face of the die is a bronze medallion of Ellsworth. It is a faithful likeness. The north front of the die has this inscription:” Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, commander of the regiment of the New-York Fire Zouaves. Born at Malta, Saratoga County, N.Y., May 11, 1837. Killed at Alexandria, Va., May 224, 1861, in taking the first rebel flag of the war for the Union. The Volunteer Fire Department of New York co-operated in the erection of this monument.” On the east side of the die is a slab of white marble, on which is carved a unique and beautiful coat-of-arms, copied from a drawing made by Ellsworth. A rifle, sword, pistol, bayonet, flag, and other implements of war are tastefully arranged underneath a shield, on which appear the initials, “E. E. E.” Underneath this coat-of-arms is the well-known extract from a letter written to his parents a little before setting out on the expedition on which he met his death—“I am content, confident that He who noteth even the fall of a sparrow will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me.” Directly in front of the east side is the grave of the patriotic young soldier. At the head stands a granite slab bearing the inscription, “Elmer.” On the south side of the shaft gilt letters tell that, “The State of New-York united in commemorating the patriotism of Col. Ellsworth by contributing out of the public funds to the erection of this monument. —Chapter 760, laws of 1873.” A beautiful shield is carved midway up the shaft, and surmounting allis an eagle in bronze, with outstretched wings.

(New York Times, May 28, 1874, edited)

The eagle guarded Ellsworth’s grave until 1997—but that is a topic for another blog.

Ellsworth Obelisk, postcard

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