"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, August 17, 2018

Elmer Ellsworth

The painting after Alonzo Chappel hangs in the Fort Ward Museum in Arlington, Virginia. It depicts Ellsworth being shot and killed by James Jackson, proprietor of the Marshall House Hotel, on the right in the white shirt, who in turn will be killed by Frank Brunell, on the left in a Zouave uniform.

The Fort Ward Museum displays this sign giving a brief biography of Ellsworth:

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth:
From Man to Martyr

Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. He was 24 years old and a personal friend of President Lincoln. To the North, Ellsworth was a symbol of patriotism, and America's foremost parade ground soldier. He was born in Malta, New York on April 11, 1837. As a boy he hoped to attend West Point, but his dream was never realized. Consequently, as a young man, he left home for New York City, then moved to Chicago. Before the war, he commanded the U.S. Chicago Zouave Cadets, transforming a group of young men into a touring national champion drill team. Ellsworth's Cadets popularized the Zouave movement in America and awakened interest in the military at a time when the country was on the brink of war.

When war broke out, Ellsworth organized a new Zouave company. In order to find the necessary men, he recruited them from New York City's fire departments and uniformed them in Zouave dress. The regiment, commanded by Colonel Ellsworth, was soon designated as the 11th New York Fire Zouaves and sent to Washington. On May 24, 1861, during the Union occupation of Alexandria, Virginia, Ellsworth with a squad of men entered the Marshall House and tore down a Confederate flag from the roof. He was shot and killed by the hotel's proprietor, who was in turn killed by one of Ellsworth's men. The Marshall House Incident brought Ellsworth enormous fame. The story of his death was widely published and sparked the imaginations and patriotic fervor of Northerners in the early days of the war. Souvenir hunters removed sections of the Alexandria tavern, transforming Ellsworth from a dashing young soldier to a celebrated martyr. Ellsworth's funeral, held in the East Room of the White House, was attended by a bereaved President Lincoln.” – Fort Ward Museum

Ellsworth's death was widely reported at the time and similarly depicted in various newspapers. Harper's  Weekly, on Saturday, June 15, 1861, lead with a  full page spread on the "Murder of Ellsworth". On the day after Ellsworth's death they published an article on acrobatics of  Ellsworth's NY Fire Zouaves saving the Willard Hotel in Washington. Two  month earlier in March they had published a very complimentary article predicting that Ellsworth and the Fire Zouaves  would "give a good account of themselves."

“We publish herewith a picture showing the manner in which Colonel Ellsworth was murdered. It is from a rough sketch by Brownell, the gallant young Zouave who avenged his Colonel's death.”
 Harper's included this picture of Marshall House flying Jackson's 8-star flag.

The flag, was created by James Jackson based on the 7-star Confederate "Stars and Bars" with an additional star representing recently succeeded Virginia. (see my note on the Marshall House Flag.)


Currier and Ives depict Ellsworth wrapped in Jackson's flag in their 1861 print "The Death of Col. Ellsworth." (Library of Congress)

Death of Col. Ellsworth
after hauling down the rebel flag
at the taking of Alexandria May 24 1861
by Currier & Ives ©1861
Frank Leslie's Incidents of the Civil War in America published in 1862 carried this illustration of Colonel Ellsworth's coat, showing the hole where Jackson's shot penetrated Ellsworth's chest.
Ellsworth became a northern martyr celebrated in poetry and song.

James Gay wrote this poem sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, on the Sunday following Ellsworth's death.

Ellsworth's last letter to his parents was widely published. A quote from the letter appears on a patriotic envelope at the Library of Congress.

“He who noteth even the fall of the sparrow will have some purpose  even in the fate of one like me.” - Ellsworth

Jackson in his turn became a southern martyr. This portrait of Jackson hangs in the Fort Ward Museum.

Leslie's Incidents of the Civil War in American, 1862, gives us this image of Mrs. Jackson in agony upon discovering that her husband had been shot.

The plaque on building that replaced the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria memorializes Jackson, not Ellsworth.

The Marshall House
stood upon this site, and within the building
on the early morning of May 24, 1861
James W. Jackson
was killed by Federal soldiers while defending his property and
personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
He was
the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.
Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle,
he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and
the sacred soil of his native state
See Landmarks: Clash of the Martyrs.

Private Brownell, the avenger of Jackson, became a hero. He is  shown in the act of killing Jackson on another patriotic envelope at the Library of Congress.

 Father -- Col. Ellsworth was shot dead this morning. I killed his murderer. Frank.
This photo of Jackson from the Brady Handy collection at the Library of Congress shows
 Jackson in Zouave uniform trampling a Confederate Flag.

This flyer from the Fort Ward Museum tells the story of Elmer Ellsworth and the Marshall House Incident. 

See further, Ellsworth's NY Times Obituary and his entry in Rossiter Johnson's  Dictionary of American Biography.

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