Room for More Heroes


To the editor:

As we approach the 150thanniversary of the start of the American Civil War, it is troubling to find inAlexandria no monument or plaque remembering the first Union officer to die inthe war, killed in Alexandria trying to bring it back into the union. Even more troubling is that his murderer is honored with a monument in our cityas a “martyr” in the cause of southern independence. Somethingis not right. 

Alexandria was the firstpiece of the Confederacy brought back under Union rule in the war. On May 24,1861, after Virginia had seceded from the United States of America, PresidentLincoln ordered Union troops to cross the Potomac and secure the southern shoreopposite Washington, including Alexandria. Colonel Ephraim ElmerEllsworth, commanding the 11th New York Fire Zouaves, a regiment of New Yorkfire fighter volunteers raised to defend the Union, led the force intoAlexandria.   

Ellsworth and his menlanded at the city docks and then moved up King Street. At the corner ofKing and Pitt they saw a large Confederate flag flying from the Marshall HouseInn. The innkeeper, James Jackson, was a well-known secessionist. Ellsworth and a couple of his men climbed the inn’s stairs to the roof and cutdown the flag. As they came back down the stairs, Jackson confronted themwith a shotgun and killed Ellsworth. Ellsworth’s men then shot Jacksondead. 

The first officer to die inthe war, Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln, having studied law withhim and campaigned for his election in 1860. “RememberEllsworth” became an early motto of the north. His body was taken tothe White House to lie in state. 

No one denies the right ofthe sons and daughters of the Confederacy’s veterans to remember theirheroes. It is altogether appropriate that they have put a plaque up on thesite of the old inn, now the Hotel Monaco. 

But it is surprising thatour city has not put up a small tribute to the man who was the first to fallthere, fighting to defend the United States of America in a cause that wouldfree the slaves.   Perhaps it is time to remember Ellsworth 150 yearslater in our city. 

 Bruce Riedel