A young Chicago clerk, Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth organized a company of Zouaves for the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. Zouaves were troops known for their exotic Algerian-inspired costumes and flamboyant drill. They performed at the White House in 1860. In May 1861 his New York Zouave regiment helped to take Alexandria, Virginia, where he was killed in a dispute over removal of the Confederate flag. He was a friend and election aide of Abraham Lincoln and the first prominent Union casualty of the war.
Though young, Elmer became 'like a son' to President Lincoln who was so greatly upset at the death of the young man that an elaborate funeral was held for Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth in the White House.
served with him included:
Col. Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth organized the Chicago Zouave Cadets, a group of soldiers who modeled themselves after the French Algerian infantrymen (known as Zouaves) of Colonial days. A New York native, Ellsworth moved to Chicago in the 1850s, a time when newspapers reported on the exploits of the French Zouaves in the Crimean War. He was fascinated with the North African uniforms and the Zouave reputation for drill and weapons precision. Ellsworth and his Chicago group put on a number of exhibitions including visits to West Point and the White House.
President Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying Ellsworth was "the greatest little man I ever met." In the first year of the Civil War, Ellsworth and his men were organized as a U.S. Army regiment and stationed at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Soon the regiment was part of a 13,000-man Union contingent ordered across the Potomac River to occupy Alexandria, Virginia. As the regiment crossed the river, Ellsworth spotted an exceptionally large Confederate-like flag that flew from the Marshall House, a hotel then located at King and Pitt streets in Alexandria. The Marshall House manager, Virginian James William Jackson, was an ardent secessionist. Ellsworth decided to capture the flag, so he and a group of followers entered the Marshall House, went to the roof, hauled down the flag and began their escape. But Jackson, armed with a double-barreled shotgun, met the group in the stairway. USA Cpl. Francis E. Brownell used his rifle to deflect Jackson's shotgun, but the Secessionist's weapon discharged, striking Ellsworth and killing him instantly. In turn Brownell fired his rifle at Jackson, who was struck in the head and fatally injured.
The incident was witnessed by a New York newspaper correspondent, and soon the two deaths were sensationalized by both Northern and Southern sympathizers. Souvenir seekers stole pieces of the Marshall House stairway where the two men died. Ellsworth's funeral, held in the East Room of the White House, was attended by a bereaved President Lincoln. The Marshall House incident inspired patriotic poems and songs, and Ellsworth was hailed in the North as "the first to fall." The 44th New York Regiment, known as "Ellsworth's Avengers," was raised in his honor. The regiment adopted a commemorative ballad, of which a stanza said: First to fall, thou youthful martyr, Hapless was thy fate; Hastened we, as thy avengers, From thy native State, Speed we on, from town and city, Not for wealth or fame, But because we love the Union, And our Ellsworth's name."
Pictorial History Of The Civil War"
The occupation of the "sacred soil" of Virginia soon became necessary to the safety of the national capital. It was undertaken in the latter part of May. The enthusiasm with which the loyal states had met the crisis of danger encouraged the government to push on and punish the aggression which had precipitated that crisis.
With a view of attacking, if possible, but, at any rate, of strenuously defending its position, the Confederacy held, in considerable force, the whole line from the Chesapeake to Edwards's Ferry, 25 or 30 miles above the capital. With a vigor which would have been afterward repeated with good effect, the government decided to take the offensive and to occupy Alexandria, about six miles below Washington, and join the opposite side of the Potomac.
General Mansfield, with about thirteen thousand men, led this important movement. It was an impressive scene which the night preceding the attack ushered in. Vague hints had been given out of a storm about to burst forth at a moment's warning; and, in profound stillness, under a full moon, a busy preparation was being made; scouts were sent out in every direction; the men were suddenly summoned to the novel business of war, their bayonets glittering in the cold light; upon the river, steamers were being laden with troops and the machinery of strife: then the movement was made; and when the citizens of Washington awoke on the morning of the 24th of May, the ripe result was announced of operations that had been begun and consummated while they were asleep. At about daybreak the New York Seventh touched the Virginia soil, landing at the Alexandria bridge, near which they encamped. A detachment of soldiers, with some cavalry and artillery, crossed the Potomac below Georgetown, and took possession of the Loudon and Hampshire Railroad. The Manassas Gap Railroad also, running out of Alexandria, was held by the New York Sixty-ninth, and seven hundred passengers were captured and held as hostages.
Meanwhile Colonel Ellsworth, early in the morning, entered the town with his Zouaves, severed its communication with the South both by railroad and telegraph, and so completely surprised the rebel troops that a large number of them, unable to effect an escape, were captured. Thus was an important entrance into Virginia opened to the federal army without a battle. One single life was lost, that of the brave but imprudent Colonel Ellsworth, who was shot by Jackson, the landlord of a hotel, to the roof of which he had incautiously ascended to pull down a confederate flag. "Behold my trophy," said the ardent Ellsworth, as he descended from the trap-door down the stairs. "And behold mine", replied Jackson, as springing from his hiding place, he lodged the contents of his gun in Ellsworth's breast. But the secessionist quickly paid life at the hands of private Brownell. Ellsworth was looked upon as a noble martyr in the North, and so was Jackson in the South.
A STORY OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S GRIEF
We supposed his voice had given away from some cause or other, and we were about to inquire, when to our surprise the President burst into tears, and concealed his face in his handkerchief. He walked up and down the room for some moments, and we stepped aside in silence, not a little moved at such an unusual spectacle, in such a man and in such a place. After composing himself somewhat, Mr. Lincoln sat down and invited us to him. "I will make no apology, gentlemen," said he, "for my weakness; but I knew poor Ellsworth well, and held him in great regard. Just as you entered the room, Captain Fox left me, after giving me the painful details of his unfortunate death. The event was so unexpected, and the recital so touching, that it quite unmanned me." The President here made a violent effort to restrain his emotion, and after a pause he proceeded with a tremulous voice to give us the incidents of the tragedy that has occurred. " Poor fellow"; said he as he closed his recital, "it was doubtless an act of rashness, but it only shows the heroic spirit that animates our soldiers, from high to low, in this righteous cause of ours. Yet who can restrain their grief to see them fall in such a way as this, not by the fortunes of war, but by the hand of an assassin."
Toward the close of his remarks he added, "There is one fact that has reached me which is a great consolation to my heart, and quite a relief after this melancholy affair. I learn from several persons that when the Stars and Stripes were raised again in Alexandria, many of the people of the town actually wept for joy, and manifested the liveliest gratification at seeing this familiar and loved emblem once more floating above them. This is another proof that all the South is not secessionist; and it is my earnest hope that as we advance we shall find as many friends as foes." At this moment Senator Chandler, of Michigan, was announced, and he related to Mr. Lincoln the details of the capture at Alexandria of the company of Confederate dragoons. The senator had accompanied "his boys," as he called the 1st Michigan Regiment to Alexandria, and had returned quite satisfied with the whole performance there. Though by this time the President was quite himself again, we thought it was not a fitting moment to open a discussion of the matter which had brought us to the White House, so we took our leave without referring to it.
Following is a note received from the Historian of the 5th New York Zouave Civil War Re-enactment group of Elmer Ellsworth's Zouave unit. They have a wonderful web site! Click here to visit it!
Dear Ms. Cook:
You may also
wish to visit Deb Dunbar's site dedicated to Col. Ellsworth.