The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

One Special Young Man

What was Lincoln’s first military move in the East?

During the night of May 23 to 24, 1861, several thousand Union soldiers crossed from Washington, D.C., to Arlington, Virginia. They quickly occupied the empty mansion of Robert E. Lee, who was in Richmond, then moved against Alexandria, a few miles south.

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth and the New York Fire Zouaves were part of the Union effort, and when he entered Alexandria, Colonel Ellsworth expressed a desire to bring down the large Confederate flag he saw flying over the top of a three-story boarding house. The Confederate flag was so large that President Lincoln could see it from the top floor of the White House, several miles distant. Ellsworth and three of his soldiers entered the Marshall House, proceeded to the top story, and cut down the Confederate flag (whether it was the Stars and Bars or some other concoction is not known). As they reached the second-floor landing, they were confronted by James W. Jackson, the proprietor, who swiftly shot and killed Colonel Ellsworth. Seconds later, Jackson was bayoneted and killed by one of the New York Fire Zouaves. Ellsworth’s body was wrapped in the flag he had brought down and taken to Washington, D.C.


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