Discussion Death of Elmer Ellsworth

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JohnJW

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the symbolism
It's all about symbolism. Edited.

People also invest emotions in symbolism. Edited.
The Dred Scott decision was symbolic and so was the North's decision to totally ignore it. Lincoln sending the fleet to Fort Sumter and then calling up 75,000 militia was pure symbolism. John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry was purely symbolic.

Symbolism is an essential part of politics . . . and war and violence are political tools.

Napoleon used to say that "Men will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon."

A flag in the 1860s was probably the most powerful symbol of all. Consider this Medal Of Honor winner, for example:

William Harvey Carney became the first African American soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor for a heroic flag rescue. Born as a slave in Norfolk Virginia, Harvey escaped to the North and enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. During the regiment's assault on Fort Wagner (depicted in the 1989 film Glory), Carney took the regiment's flag from its fatally wounded bearer and marched on. Though he received multiple serious wounds, he carried the flag throughout the battle and eventually made his way back to Union lines. As he handed the flag to a fellow soldier, he said "boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!"
Carney.jpg
 

W. Richardson

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"The Federals lost their first officer in the war during this operation, the hyperactive and somewhat silly commander of the New York Fire Zouaves, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth."

Source: How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War, p. 36, by Herman Hattaway & Archer Jones

Respectfully,
William

One Nation,
Two countries
Confed-American Flag - Thumbnail.jpg
 
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7thWisconsin

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Fast forward to 1864, and place the incident anywhere in the theater of war: do you think it even gets a local newspaper treatment? That shows what expectations were early in the conflict, and how much they changed.
Back in the late 19th century, there were twins in my wife's family. One was named "Elmer" and the other "Ellsworth." No one living knew why until I came into the family and explained it. :smile:
 

KianGaf

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Fast forward to 1864, and place the incident anywhere in the theater of war: do you think it even gets a local newspaper treatment? That shows what expectations were early in the conflict, and how much they changed.
Back in the late 19th century, there were twins in my wife's family. One was named "Elmer" and the other "Ellsworth." No one living knew why until I came into the family and explained it. :smile:
Exactly both sides thought the whole thing would be a cakewalk, little did they know the carnage to come.
 

Krieger

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It's a pretty fascinating little event. Even while unnecessary, I understand why Ellsworth did it, given the atmosphere at the time. And in the same event, both sides claim martyrdom.
 
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James N.

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Fast forward to 1864, and place the incident anywhere in the theater of war: do you think it even gets a local newspaper treatment? That shows what expectations were early in the conflict, and how much they changed.
Back in the late 19th century, there were twins in my wife's family. One was named "Elmer" and the other "Ellsworth." No one living knew why until I came into the family and explained it. :smile:
I was interested during one of my historically-themed "flying vacations" (so-called because I would take a week's vacation and fly somewhere back East I'd never been before) when I saw a typical small New York blue-and-yellow roadside marker somewhere Upstate - I forget exactly where - that turned out to be for his nearby birthplace! Today no one would even know who it was for or why bother.
 
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Lubliner

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Contemporary Newspaper report from May 25, 1861, by the Evening Star based in Washington City will follow my brief. This movement of troops into Virginia was done in accordance with General Mansfield's plans for fortification of the Potomac, and removing all danger. It began in the early hours, with the 69th New York moving out and cutting the rail link and Telegraph between Alexandria and Leesburg. They destroyed 6 bridges, arrested a train load of sojourners, and brought three back under guard, for secessionist beliefs. Meanwhile the Zouves moved on the city and occupied it. Heavy boots trampling the stairway to the roof in the early hours, as Ellsworth's group ascended to the roof and returned with the flag, alerted Jackson, whom it can be surmised took cover on the second landing and waited to see what the disturbance was about. He saw an armed officer carrying his flag and fired.
What the paper said--

"James Jackson, who killed Col. Ellsworth, was a man of violent character, yet of generous impulses where his prejudices were not immediately aroused. He headed the the company that not long ago cut down the Republican Flag at Occaquan, and the Secession Flag was the first one thrown to the breeze in Alexandria."

Jackson had sworn to the people of Alexandria, when warned about Northern troops to come, that he would sacrifice his life in keeping it flying; which he did, though it came down anyway.

"At 9:30 last night the body of Jackson was laid out in the parlor of the Marshall House, the corpse dressed in the uniform of the artillery company which he had belonged. This company is resuscitated from a company in existence there many years ago, and the members wear the uniform worn then. The coat buttons bear the State coat of arms."

Friends and loved ones were removing the furniture that night to the country as Jackson's corpse lay within. This was late evening of the 24th. The 25th continues to say--

"Jackson's body is to be buried today. It was at 9 a. m. in charge of his family and personal friends. The Marshall House is taken today for barracks for a portion of Michigan troops. This morning a single sentinel continues in front of the house....Guards are posted over the town."

"The parties seized in their rooms at Jackson's Hotel immediately after the occurrence of the tragedy there, were taken in their respective chambers, and were not held in custody over an hour, no secession officers among them as alleged."

I think it would be safe to assume the sojourners were processed out of the Hotel by the invading force, after a thorough search and interrogation. On one final note, the eulogy given at Ellsworth's funeral is significant to both North and South in the ensuing contention. By Re. Dr. Pyne--

"These noble young men who are now rallying around the flag of our country, and who will bravely fight its battles [beg] not forget that the vital spark within them burns eternally."

Lubliner.
 
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Lubliner

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As far as Jackson's martyrdom for the South, yes, it was a big deal. As the Federal forces approached, all other confederates fled, and just thirty-six Virginia Cavalry were apprehended and captured with their horses and equipments just outside of town at Ball's Crossroads.

Jackson was the only Confederate there to stand his ground.

Lubliner.
 

James N.

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As far as Jackson's martyrdom for the South, yes, it was a big deal. As the Federal forces approached, all other confederates fled, and just 36 Virginia Cavalry were apprehended and captured with their horses and equipments just outside of town at Ball's Crossroads.

Jackson was the only Confederate there to stand his ground.

Lubliner.
The retreat by the uniformed militia from Alexandria is described by Private Edgar Warfield of the 17th Virginia in his memoir Manassas to Appomattox which I reviewed here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/manassas-to-appomattox-the-civil-war-memoirs-of-pvt-edgar-warfield-17th-virginia-infantry.131254/ "Edgar, his older brother, and his father were all already members of or joined one of the half-dozen Alexandria militia companies, all of which favored the Southern cause. The first four or five chapters deal with conditions in and around the town, culminating in its simultaneous evacuation by the militia and occupation be Northern troops. Literally, Col. Elmer Ellsworth and hosteler Capt. James Jackson were meeting their deaths while Warfield and his comrades were marching out of the city."
 

Lubliner

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The retreat by the uniformed militia from Alexandria is described by Private Edgar Warfield of the 17th Virginia in his memoir Manassas to Appomattox which I reviewed here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/manassas-to-appomattox-the-civil-war-memoirs-of-pvt-edgar-warfield-17th-virginia-infantry.131254/ "Edgar, his older brother, and his father were all already members of or joined one of the half-dozen Alexandria militia companies, all of which favored the Southern cause. The first four or five chapters deal with conditions in and around the town, culminating in its simultaneous evacuation by the militia and occupation be Northern troops. Literally, Col. Elmer Ellsworth and hosteler Capt. James Jackson were meeting their deaths while Warfield and his comrades were marching out of the city."
On venturing to read a bit further in the Evening Star, they reported that same day, May 25, 1861, the names of the men captured by Capt. Owen's squad. They list the men brought into the Navy Yard prisoners on board the steamer Baltimore, the day before. Warfield made the list, and was delivered over to the charge of Commandant Dahlgren of the Navy Yard. The steamer then returned to Alexandria to bring forty-five Infantry prisoners back to Washington. Only the last name appeared on the list, so unless it is mentioned in the book, it could be Edgar or his father.

Lubliner.
 
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Joshism

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Virginia was engaged in insurrection and rebellion, without justification. The inn was flying the flag of that rebellion. It's removal by the Union Army was justified.

If not for other factors (guests in the inn, fire danger to nearby buildings) the Union Army would have been justified burning the Marshall House to the ground because its proprietor had committed the unjustified killing of a Federal officer on the premises.
 

JohnJW

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Virginia was engaged in insurrection and rebellion without justification.

The inn was flying the flag of that rebellion. It's removal by the Union Army was justified. <snip> the Union Army would have been justified burning the Marshall House to the ground because its proprietor had committed the unjustified killing of a Federal officer on the premises.
Without justification . . . ? You may disagree with the justification they used, but they had plenty of justification and were very open and very clear about it.

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution, were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States. Ordinance
I don't believe the Union Army was justified in seizing civilian property, much less burning down the Marshall House.

There was no martial law established (as far as I know) when Ellsworth was killed in May 1861. Lincoln had taken several steps to "quell the rebellion" to include suspending habeas corpus. But I don't believe that he put the Army in charge of Alexandria.

In the absence of martial authority, what right did Ellsworth have to seize civilian property?

Looking at it from another perspective . . . . Throughout the Civil War. Lincoln insisted that the Confederacy was not a real nation. He insisted that a number of people in several Southern states were engaged in rebellion. But the states themselves were not. Nor were all the people.

Lincoln was always very clear about this.

In light of that, what justifies the Army taking action against civilian property?
 

Lubliner

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Virginia seceded by popular vote. The justification stems from the people in Virginia. Once seceded, the federal force became trespassers as soon as Virginia soil was breached by their authority. Funny how lines of jurisdiction work even today. You cross a State line and you become exempt from local law enforcement pursuit; even county lines.
This was an ongoing contest based upon a principle of belief. That flag stood for the belief of the people. The federals moved in, and based on contemporary accounts, planned on permanent occupation. Guards were set over the town. The people of Alexandria had feared a reprisal from the death of Ellsworth, and it is to the credit of the federals, no other blood was shed, and very few arrested, due to most confederate men having left the immediate vicinity ahead of the invading force.
Lubliner.
 
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Joshism

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Without justification . . . ? You may disagree with the justification they used, but they had plenty of justification and were very open and very clear about it
Yes, that's what I meant by "without justification."

I don't believe the Union Army was justified in seizing civilian property, much less burning down the Marshall House.
During times of rebellion the Federal government is very much entitled to confiscate and destroy the flag of that rebellion.

Jackson, a loud and proud supporter of the rebellion, was not a soldier and not in uniform. He essentially committed an act of guerrilla warfare by killing Ellsworth, a military officer in uniform - killed in the performance of his duties no less. Homes know to harbor guerrillas are typically burned as a warning against harboring guerrillas.
 

JohnJW

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During times of rebellion the Federal government is very much entitled to confiscate and destroy the flag of that rebellion. Jackson, a loud and proud supporter of the rebellion, was not a soldier and not in uniform. He essentially committed an act of guerrilla warfare by killing Ellsworth, a military officer in uniform - killed in the performance of his duties no less. Homes know to harbor guerrillas are typically burned as a warning against harboring guerrillas.
Really? Based on what law? Based on what precedent? You're jumping to some broad conclusions that are not that certain.

Lincoln assumed certain war powers but he was immediately challenged by his own government about the legality of what he was doing.

Ellsworth was sent into Alexandria. He moved his men throughout Alexandria and destroyed railroad facilities. He came upon the flag by accident. There is no record, as far as I know, of him being ordered to remove the flag. He did this on his own initiative.

The basic rule today is There must be some reasonably close connection between the destruction of property and the overcoming of the enemy's army.

Edited; modern politics.

Jackson was not a guerrilla. There is no evidence of any guerrilla activity in and around Alexandria. There is no evidence of him participating in any irregular warfare activity.

However, Jackson did fire at Ellsworth and then fired a second shot at the soldier accompanying Ellsworth who fired in self-defense.

What happens in martial law is that the military takes over the role of the government and police. This does not give them unlimited power according to the Geneva Convention. Had Jackson's family or the civilian government of Alexandria brought a civil proceeding against the government . . . or petitioned the federal senior commander in the area . . . I think they'd have a good case.
 
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byron ed

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Virginia seceded by popular vote. The justification stems from the people in Virginia. Once seceded, the federal force became trespassers as soon as Virginia soil was breached by their authority...
You mean, if the Feds had recognized the Confederacy as a separate country. It was still considered merely a region in rebellion, and individuals who still considered themselves citizens of the U.S. but living in that region in rebellion could yet file suit with a U.S. state court to have goods or even stolen slaves returned to them.

I would point out that the claimed "popular" vote of Virginia was not "popular" but comprised only of white males that could vote. It seems women and blacks outnumbered that minority by quite a bit, so technically it's a lie to call it a "popular" vote of Virginians. Admittedly though it's so common a lie that it seems brash to call it out. The truth eventually will out, meh.

Another point; if a region is justified to declare it's own independence as a new country, certainly the western third of Virginia was justified in merely declaring its intent to re-establish as a U.S. state. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, yes?
 
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Thread closed pending review and clean up. If and when it opens, please stay on the subject, the death of Elmer Ellsworth, and avoid modern politics and references and/or references to other topics, plenty of threads already exist for those. Further attempts to derail the thread if it re-opens will result in thread bans.

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Joshism

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I still fail to see why a rebel in a rebelling state should be allowed by the federal government to fly the rebel flag.

At the very least it's treasonous because it gives comfort to the enemy and strongly implies willingness to give aid to the enemy as well.

You can try to claim Freedom of Speech, but frankly I don't think it should be. This was occupied territory in wartime.

Jackson was not a guerrilla.
So he was a common murderer whose victim just happened to be a uniformed soldier?
 
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