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Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth Biography

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861)

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War.Ellsworth was born in Malta, New York, grew up in Mechanicville, New York, and lived in New York City. Eventually he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a law clerk. After studying military science in his spare time, Ellsworth became a colonel of Chicago's National Guard Cadets, introducing his men to the Zouave uniforms, which French colonial troops wore.

Ellsworth's unit eventually became a national champion drill team.In 1860, Ellsworth went to Springfield, Illinois, and studied law in Abraham Lincoln's office, helping Lincoln with his campaign for president. Ellsworth went with Lincoln to Washington, D.C., when he was elected. President Lincoln nicknamed Ellsworth "the greatest little man I ever met." Ellsworth helped recruit soldiers after the secession crisis in 1861, raising a volunteer regiment from New York Ellsworth also traveled and set up a practice in Rockford, Illinois, where he was involved in the recruiting of several militia and cadet units.

It was during this time he met and became engaged to Carrie Spafford, the daughter of a local industrialist and city leader. They did not marry before he left for Washington, taking the New York regiment with him.Ellsworth died shortly after arriving in Washington. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded, Ellsworth led his men uncontested down the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. He ordered some of his men to take the railroad station while he and a few other soldiers went to secure the telegraph office. While doing this, Ellsworth noticed a Confederate flag flying above the Marshall House Inn. He and four others quickly went up the stairs. Ellsworth cut down the flag and was on the way down the stairs when the owner, James W. Jackson, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest.

Corp. Francis (Frank) Brownell of Troy, New York, immediately killed the innkeeper. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions.Lincoln was deeply saddened by his friend's death and ordered an honor guard to bring his friend's body to the White House, where it lay in state on May 25, 1861. Ellsworth was then taken to the City Hall in New York City, where thousands of Union supporters came to see the first man to fall for the Union cause. Ellsworth was then buried in his hometown of Mechanicville, New York, in Hudson View Cemetery.

Thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" was a patriotic slogan, and a New York regiment of volunteers (the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment) called itself the "Ellsworth Avengers" as well as "The People's Ellsworth Regiment."Relics associated with Ellsworth's death became prized souvenirs. The Smithsonian and Bates College's Special Collections Library have pieces of the Confederate flag that Ellsworth was removing when he was shot—in 1894, Brownell's widow was offering to sell small pieces of the flag for $10 and $15 each. The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs has most of the flag itself and Ellsworth's uniform, showing the hole from the fatal shot.

Ellsworth, Wisconsin, is named in his honor.


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