Elmer Ellsworth: The President’s Young Friend

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth was born April 11, 1837 in Malta, New York.  Ephraim and Phoebe Ellsworth had little inklings what fate had in store for their son.

At 17 Elmer moved to Rockford, Illinois.  Over the course of time he fell in love with a local girl, Carrie Spafford.  However, her father, Charles, being a man of means and influence wanted Elmer to be more than a lowly worker. He had to be able to support his daughter financially.  Love was not enough.

So, Elmer moved up to Chicago to study law and became a law clerk.  He did not like law. 1860 Elmer moved to Springfield, Illinois to work for a lawyer with some aspirations to be President.  The lawyer was Abraham Lincoln.

The young man continued his study of law under Lincoln’s tutelage.  He became an integral part of Lincoln’s Presidential bid.  He traveled and spoke on Lincoln’s behalf.

In May 1861 Elmer helped organize the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  This regiment consisted of volunteer firefighters.  Elmer became their colonel.

According to accounts, on May 24, 1861 President Lincoln was looking out his window with a spy glass and saw a large Confederate flag flying over Alexandria, Virginia.

The day before, Virginia had officially seceded from the Union.  The President was sad at the event and sight of the flag.

Elmer, who lived in the White House with the Lincolns, asked the President what was troubling him.  The President explained it to his young friend.  Elmer told the President that before nightfall the flag and the town would be under Union’s control.  He would present the flag to the President before supper.  He wanted the President to enjoy his supper.

Elmer and his regiment crossed the Potomac and seized Alexandria.  The flag was flying over the Marshall House Inn on the corner of King and South Pitts Streets.  Elmer’s task was simple: that flag was coming down for his President and friend.

Elmer and four of his men entered the Inn, marched upstairs and removed the flag. On the way down the stairs, the Inn’s owner, James W. Jackson, came out of nowhere with his English-made double-barreled shotgun and shot Elmer fatally in the chest.

Corporal Francis E. Brownell from Troy, New York shot Jackson fatally, but it was too late to save his colonel.  After much debate and controversy, Brownell was awarded the Medal of Honor for the killing of Jackson.  However, it was in 1877 that he finally was given the medal. Brownell died March 15, 1894 in Washington, DC.  

Elmer Ellsworth was given a state funeral in the East Room of the White House. Then his body lay in state in the City Hall of New York City.  “Remember Ellsworth” became a rally cry of the North.  The 44th New York Volunteer Regiment became known as “Ellsworth Avengers.” 

The death of Elmer affected the President and the nation deeply.  Based on what has been written, Mr. Lincoln viewed Elmer as a younger brother or son.  His grief was deep for this young man.

The rebel flag was given to Mary Lincoln who placed it in a drawer.  The sight of it brought tears.  She was very fond of Elmer.

What of the local girl, Carrie Spafford? Carrie and Elmer never married.  Another lost love almost forgotten in the annals of time.

She married a Charles S. Brett.  She died in 1911 in the same house where she was courted by Elmer. Two young lovers torn apart by war. I am certain that she never forgot her Elmer, the dashing young officer. 

A portion of Elmer’s letter to his parents the day before his death:

“Whatever may happen, cherish the consolation that I was engaged in the performance of a sacred duty; and tonight, and thinking over the probabilities of tomorrow, and the occurrences of the past, I am perfectly content to accept whatever fortune may be, confident that He who noted even the fall of a sparrow will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me…”

Here are some verses of Ellsworth and Lincoln’s favorite poem:

Yea! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,

We mingle together in sunshine and rain;

And the smiles and the tears, the song and the dirge,

Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

  Tis the wink of an eye, ’tis the draught of a breath,

From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,

From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,–

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

 From Oh! Why Should The Spirit Of Mortal Be Proud, William Knox (1789-1825)

Elmer Ellsworth was the first Union death in the Civil War.  His friend and President was the final sacrifice four years later for the bloodiest war in US History.

On this Memorial Day remember those who have served their country.  Tell a veteran—THANK YOU.  If you have a family member or friend who served and who has passed on, visit their grave and give them a moment of honour for their service.

G. D. Williams       © 2011

References:

Mr. Lincoln’s White House

http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=39&subjectID=2

Mr. Lincoln and Friends

http://www.mrlincolnandfriends.org/inside.asp?pageID=93&subjectID=9

Elmer E. Ellsworth: Citizen’s Soldier

http://www.mechanicville.com/history/ellsworth/citizensoldier.htm

Denton Family Genealogy

http://www.dentongenealogy.org/Ellsworth.htm

Saturday Evening Post

http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2011/05/21/archives/retrospective/lincolns-early-loss.html

Carrie Spafford

http://books.google.com/books?id=NopIAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA361&lpg=PA361&dq=Carrie+Spafford&source=bl&ots=GRxQxZuQ_a&sig=g3VI5iktSwupt55Uieq_28tm5Xg&hl=en&ei=llPeTYmHFKbq0QH8x43LCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CF0Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Carrie%20Spafford&f=false

OH! WHY SHOULD THE SPIRIT OF MORTAL BE PROUD: Poem by William Knox

http://www.poetry-archive.com/k/oh_why_should_the_spirit.html

Memorial Day 2011

http://memorialday2011.org/

http://dc.about.com/od/hoildaysseasonalevents/a/MemorialDay.htm

http://youtu.be/Z-6b8Qd_4-M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NyjcOUQBuA&feature=related

GOD BLESS THE USA, Lee Greenwood

http://youtu.be/Q65KZIqay4E

BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, Robert Shaw Chorale

http://youtu.be/wVsNCllEHD0

WHEN JOHNNY COME MARCHING HOME, Mitch Miller Chorus

http://youtu.be/ecIVIFLo0uE

7th Calvary March

http://youtu.be/l2CZ3f5s1Rg

OVER THERE

http://youtu.be/wbggEGUaE28

BALLAD OF THE GREEN BERET

http://youtu.be/LH4-tOqLH94

The Marines’ Hymn

http://youtu.be/CtorKpNdoqo

The Navy Hymn

http://youtu.be/1KCiMdR1ox0

Air Force Hymn With High Flight

http://youtu.be/P7_O0ccF3yQ

The Caisson Song US ARMY

http://youtu.be/yJybwgtR970

Semper Paratus US COAST GUARD

http://youtu.be/9rC9WxzBPKw

US Merchant Marine

http://www.usmm.org/

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One thought on “Elmer Ellsworth: The President’s Young Friend

  1. I first learned of Elmer Ellsworth when I was looking through the sheet music collection at the Chicago Historical Society. There were something like seven memorial tributes and a march dedicated to the Zouaves that he took on a nationwide tour. The Newberry Library has a tribute to Ellsworth published after the war was over. As I read your post and others, I begin to understand why the death of this young man caused such an outpouring of grief from all over the Union. My own contribution to this year’s interest in Ellsworth includes the covers of four of these pieces.

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