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Elmer Ellsworth: A Martyr's Legacy Reflected in Badges and Prints of the Early Civil War


The #AmericanCivilWar (1861-1865) was a tumultuous period that not only shaped the nation's destiny, but also left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of its people. One that arguably is still felt today. Among the many tales of those who shaped the events of the war, the story of #ElmerEllsworth stands out as a poignant example of one man's actions having an impact on a nation. This blog post delves into Ellsworth's life, his martyrdom, and the unique ways in which his legacy was commemorated through badges and prints during the early 1860s.


Elmer Ellsworth, born in 1837 in what is now referred to as Upstate #New York ,  grew into a young man with a charismatic personality and had ambition to seek prominence for himself within America's high society. Ironically, he had no military experience going in when he joined the war effort and very little in the way of any significant work experience in any other fields. He was similar to the example of a kid people keep telling to "get a real job," who never seems to do so but somehow survives and continues to seek glorious things for themselves with little effort. His popularity came from his building of what some would argue would be considered a "social trademark" of sorts within various #militias of the pre-war years, which were little more than military-themed social clubs for men. To his credit, Ellsworth saw the potential for these groups as a means of gaining a foothold in the high class. But how did he accomplish this, you may ask? Well, he combined the social aspects of the militias with the #Francophile culture that was present in high society at the time (in part due to #France having the most well-regarded militaries in Europe and the world at the time) with the added entertainment factor of putting the militia companies through an agile military drill, which they would then demonstrate or perform for spectators. He even went so far as to campaign to promote drill competitions amongst the various militias of the time (something not done previously), which was like he created his own sport and making himself the figurehead of it. He chose to adopt the #Zouave style of drill for this, that of the #Imperial French #NorthAfrican soldiers, and also the style of their elaborate uniforms. His career then began as not just a drillmaster but that of a poster boy for the craze of Zouave Militia service, and somehow he quickly gained recognition for his martial skills and charisma. He then went on to use it to fuel the #1860 campaign for the election of #republican #AbrahamLincoln to the presidency, with whom he developed a personal friendship. Ellsworth's close association with Abraham Lincoln soon elevated his status further and eventually led to his being commissioned a lieutenant in the regular #Army #dragoons upon the outbreak of the war in #1861. This, though, would not be how Ellsworth's military career would take off; he soon left the dragoons to help form what would later be considered one of the most elite regiments of the Federal Army, the 1st NY Fire Zouaves, as it's elected colonel. In short, a young man growing in celebrity used it to recruit some of the most physically capable men in NYC (firefighters) into a legit military unit and caught the proverbial wave of patriotic fervor sweeping the country with the war's outbreak, while backed by the president himself, to potentially lead it into battle to preserve the Union and obviously gain the notoriety for himself he had always sought.


On May 24, 1861, Ellsworth met his untimely end while leading a detachment of his Zouave soldiers under orders into #Alexandria #Virginia to remove a large secessionist flag hanging from a window of the hotel. The way the events played out is said to have been that Ellsworth, upon spotting the #Confederate flag flying atop the Marshall House Inn, was determined to remove the symbol of rebellion himself and present it to Lincoln directly. He entered the building with a few of his men and successfully took down the flag, and as he descended the stairs, the hotel owner, James Jackson, emptied a barrel of his shotgun into Ellsworth, killing him instantly. Jackson was then immediately dispatched by the one who would later be dubbed "Ellsworth's Avenger," a man named F.E. Brownell. With his death under these amazing circumstances, Ellsworth became one of the first notable casualties of the conflict and an immediate #martyr.



The news of Ellsworth's death sent shockwaves throughout the nation. His body was laid out within the #whitehouse itself, along with the captured rebel flag and those Americans who stood for the Union morned. It should be pointed out that at the time, various means of spreading favor for the war effort were practiced by both sides. Emblems, pins, or cockades of various styles and colors were worn, symbolizing support for either the Union or the Confederacy. This would soon include metallic pins in the shape of Ellsworth's persona, sometimes painted or left glinting. Also, with photography being the newest technological means of preserving a person's image, small circular badges were procured with Ellsworth's photograph, some labeling him with the word "martyr," and also some on the reverse with Brownell's face marked by the word "avenger." Still, people sought other ways to honor his sacrifice through commercial products in the form of ink-stamped versions of Ellsworth's image, both alive and dead, with the words "Remember Ellsworth." Even that of the brave Zouave solider was sold all in the form of note or letter paper and #mailingenvelops, making Ellsworth again a poster child of sorts, but this time he was not able to relish in his popularity.


*If you would like to learn more of Ellsworth and the Zouaves of the Federal Army during the civil war give a listen to the Untold Civil War Podcast and the Civilweird Podcast who address the topic in further entertaining detail.






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