Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837-1861)

In a recent post about the Civil War, we used an image from our collection to illustrate a letter written by John W. Stevens of South Danvers. The image is a photograph taken of a lithograph or sketch of a young soldier, cut into an oval shape and pasted onto a piece of cardboard. On the reverse was written simply “Ellsworth.” Now we know who he is. A recent Facebook post by our colleague Camille Breeze of Museum Textile Services reveals that he is Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth. Ellsworth was the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War. A member of the New York Zouaves, he was killed on May 24, 1861 while attempting to remove a Rebel flag from atop the Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, VA. The hotel’s proprietor, a staunch secessionist, shot him. Ellsworth’s death prompted thousands of men in the North to enlist in the Civil War.

Ellsworth is currently the subject of three different exhibitions: “Col. Elmer Ellsworth and The Marshall House Incident” at the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site in Alexandria displays most of one blood-stained star taken from the flag Ellsworth was removing when he was shot. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. presents “The Ellsworth Incident” as part of a larger exhibition commemorating the start of the Civil War. The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY, displays most of the rest of the Rebel flag, which was cut up for souvenirs after his death. Also on display is the uniform Ellsworth was wearing when he was killed. It still bears the large bullet hole where the slug entered his chest. Click here for more information on the exhibits commemorating Col. Ellsworth.

Souvenirs bearing Ellsworth’s image were largely reproduced in the North to commemorate the first Union martyr of the Civil War. No doubt it was a patriotic soul in Peabody who had acquired this photograph, which is why it is today part of the Peabody Historical Society’s collection.