Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (1837-1861), 11th New York Volunteers

Born in Malta, New York, in 1837, and raised in nearby Mechanicville, Elmer Ellsworth moved to Rockford, Illinois, in 1854 and then to Chicago in 1859. There he formed the United States Zouave Cadets, which, under his command, popularized the colorful Zouave uniform and acrobatic drill after a six-week Eastern cities tour during the summer of 1860, including stops across New York State. After the tour, Ellsworth moved to Springfield, Illinois, and joined Abraham Lincoln’s law office. At the start of the Civil War, he returned to New York City to recruit a Zouave regiment, the “1st New York Fire Zouaves,” or the 11th New York Volunteers, from the city’s volunteer firemen.

As Union forces, including Ellsworth’s 11th New York Volunteers, departed Washington, D.C., on May 24, 1861, to wrestle Alexandria, Virginia, from Confederate hands, Ellsworth decided to remove a large Confederate national flag from atop the Marshall House hotel. With a small party, Ellsworth climbed to the roof and cut down the flag. On his way down, the hotel’s proprietor, James T. Jackson, shot and killed Ellsworth, who was wearing this double-breasted gray wool frock coat. Ellsworth’s death made him a martyr for the Union cause and inspired recruits from across New York State to become “Ellsworth Avengers.”

 

Magnifying Glass
Officer’s Frock Coat worn by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, 11th New York Volunteers
1861
Wool, brass buttons
Magnifying Glass
A Requiem. In Memory of Ellsworth
Composed by George William Warren
Printed by Sarony, Major & Knapp, New York City
c. 1861
Lithograph on paper
Courtesy of Private Collection