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Col. Ellsworth's Funeral March

On May 23, 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union. President Abraham Lincoln ordered troops to occupy the port city of Alexandria. The next day, an enraged innkeeper there fired a shotgun point-blank into the chest of Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers. The innkeeper was immediately gunned down by one of Ellsworth’s men; the colonel became the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. In his new book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, Adam Goodheart explains that Ellsworth was not merely a surrogate little brother to Lincoln, but also an exemplar of the romantic idealism that characterized the generation of Americans that came of age in the 1850s. Here is how Goodheart portrays the aftermath of Ellsworth’s death:

  A torrent of emotion, penned up during the anxious weeks since Sumter’s fall, had been released, pouring out for a dead hero who had never fought a battle, but was rather, as one newspaper put it, been “shot down like a dog.” There was more to the response than just 19th-century sentimentality, more than just patriotic fervor. Across America, Ellsworth’s death released a tide of hatred, of enmity and counter-enmity, of sectional bloodlust that had hitherto been dammed up, if only barely, amid the flag-waving and patriotic anthems.

  Indeed, it was perhaps Ellsworth’s death, even more than the attack on Sumter, that made Northerners ready not just to take up arms, but to kill. For the first month of the war, some had assumed that the war would play out more or less as a show of force: Union troops would march across the South and the rebels would capitulate. Yankees talked big about sending Jeff Davis and other secessionist leaders to the gallows, but almost never about shooting enemy soldiers. They preferred to think of Southerners in the terms that Lincoln would use throughout the war: as estranged brethren, misled by a few demagogues, who needed to be brought back into the national fold. Many Confederates, however, had already expressed relish at the prospect of slaughtering their former countrymen. “Well, let them come, those minions of the North,” wrote one Virginian in a letter to the Richmond Dispatch on May 18. “We’ll meet them in a way they least expect; we will glut our carrion crows with their beastly carcasses.”

  Even after Ellsworth’s body had, at last, been laid to rest on a hillside behind his boyhood home in Mechanicsville, New York, the nationwide fervor scarcely waned. Photographs, lithographs and pocket-size biographies paying tribute to the fallen hero poured forth by the tens of thousands. Music shops sold scores for such tunes as “Col. Ellsworth’s Funeral March,” “Ellsworth’s Requiem” and “Col. Ellsworth Gallopade.”

Excerpts from "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart, to be published by Knopf

Source: Smithsonian Magazine
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Record Details

Title: Col. Ellsworth's funeral march. Cover


The title page quotes words from Colonel Ellsworth's last letter to his parents, written  the evening before his march to Virginia.

The march is dedicated fo Francis Edward Brownell, who fatally shot Ellsworth's killer.

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