ELLSWORTH, Elmer Ephraim (1837-1861), Union Officer. Autograph letter signed ("E.E. Ellsworth") to Adjutant General Y.S. Mather, Chicago, 12 June 1859. 1 page, 4to (9 13/16 x 7 13/16), four small paper-clip stains, integral blank with evidence and mounting, otherwise in very fine condition.
A RARE AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF ELMER ELLSWORTH, LINCOLN FAMILY FRIEND KILLED WHILE SEIZING A CONFEDERATE FLAG IN THE FIRST MONTH OF THE WAR
"The greatest little man I ever met" -- Abraham Lincoln
In 1859, twenty-two year old Elmer Ellsworth selected volunteers from Chicago to form an elite unit of zouaves which subsequently toured the country, dazzling crowds with their precision military drill. Honors, trophies and an appearance on the White House lawn highlighted a sensational string of inspired performances.
Here, two years before his death, Ellsworth writes concerning uniforms for his famous Chicago Zouaves: "Your dispatch announcing shipment of equipments etc. came duly to hand. We find that the belts do not accord with the trimings of our uniforms at all. We have an opportunity of effecting an exchange by paying a difference of $2.45 per sett of Equipments, for which we can obtain White belts of the same style and material, Pattent Leather Cartridge Boxes & bayonet sheaths. We desire very much to make this arrangement."
Abraham Lincoln befriended Ellsworth and offered him a post in his Springfield law office. Ellsworth even impressed Mary Lincoln and made frequent visits to the Lincoln home where he was accepted like a son. After campaigning for Lincoln in 1860, Ellsworth was invited to join the President-elect and his family on the train that carried them to Washington and the White House.
When Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union in April, 1861, following Fort Sumter, Ellsworth hurried to New York City and raised a regiment from New York City's fire departments. Outfitting his men in colorful zouave uniforms (paid for with funds he personally raised), Ellsworth offered his "Fire Zouaves" for national service. Shortly after the regiment arrived in Washington, Lincoln called upon him to lead the first Union offensive of the war. In the city of Alexandria, immediately across the Potomac, lived many with strong Confederate loyalties who defiantly displayed their allegiance by flying the rebel flag. Ellsworth's regiment was sent across the Potomac on transports on the morning of May 24 to occupy the town. The small Confederate garrison in Alexandria promptly fled. When a Confederate flag was spotted, flying above the Marshall House Hotel, the young Colonel and a small group of men promptly raced up the stairs and cut down the banner. During their descent, they were confronted by the hotel's owner, James Jackson, who fired a shotgun at Ellsworth's chest, killing him instantly.
The shocking news of Ellsworth's death was delivered to Lincoln immediately. When the reporter of the New York Herald entered the office to speak with Lincoln, he was turned away by the grieving President: "He did not move until we approached very closely, when he turned round abruptly, and advanced toward us, extending his hand: 'Excuse me, but I cannot talk.'...to our surprise the President burst into tears, and concealed his face in his handkerchief...'I will make no apology, gentlemen,' said he, 'for my weakness; but I knew poor Ellsworth well and held him in high regard'." (quoted in Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, p. 243). Across the Union, bells tolled for Ellsworth, the first officer to die in the war to save the Union. His death became a rallying cry, and innumerable prints, posters, stirring verses and songs in honor of the martyr were employed to arouse patriotism in the North.