The Death of Colonel Ellsworth

The first Union officer killed in the Civil War was a friend of President Lincoln’s

When President Abraham Lincoln learned that Union Army Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth had been killed, the president exclaimed, "My boy! My boy! Was it necessary this sacrifice should be made?" (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
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A reporter from the New York Tribune happened to be on the scene; news of the shootings traveled fast. Because Ellsworth had been Lincoln’s friend, his body was taken to the White House, where it lay in state, and then to New York City, where thousands lined up to view the cortege bearing Ellsworth’s coffin. Along the route, a group of mourners displayed a banner that declared: “Ellsworth, ‘His blood cries for vengeance.’”

“Remember Ellsworth!” became a Union rallying cry, and the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment was nicknamed Ellsworth’s Avengers. According to Barber, “Throughout the conflict, his name, face and valor would be recalled on stationery, in sheet music and in memorial lithographs.” One side’s villain is another side’s patriot, of course, so Jackson was similarly celebrated in the South and in an 1862 book, Life of James W. Jackson, The Alexandria Hero.

After the war, and after relentlessly petitioning his congressman, Brownell was awarded the  Medal of Honor.

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer and author of the book Elegant Solutions.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated Brownell was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. This version has been corrected.

About Owen Edwards
Owen Edwards

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer who previously wrote the "Object at Hand" column in Smithsonian magazine.

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