Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth and Schuylkill County A little Piece of History

From the Pottsville Republican

June 14, 1913

Soldier’s Letter Arrives Fifty Years after Mailing

A soldier’s letter mailed 52 years ago, May 30, 1861, on the very date selected after the war as a Soldier’s Memorial Day arrived in Pottsville, today Saturday June 14, 1913 which by coincidence is Flag Day and another notable feature of the letter is that the envelope also contained a piece of the shirt worn by Col. E. E. Ellsworth when he was shot down while lowering a confederate flag at the Marshall House in Alexandria, Virginia, across the river from Fort Washington, where Henry Russell, the soldier who wrote the letter and a comrade of the First Defenders was stationed with his command at the time of the shooting and when he wrote the letter to his father the late Andrew Russell, Esq. Pottsville Penn. Per the directions on the envelope.
This soldier’s letter mailed more than half a century ago was in the U.S. mail that arrived on Saturday morning and was directed to Mrs. Priscilla K. Russel, widow of the dead soldier, the late Henry C. Russell, prominent resident of Pottsville. In his day, at their home “The Pines” Howard Ave. and Ninth St. and Mrs. Russell after submitting the letter to a sister of her husband Mrs. Anna R. Little, kindly gave her consent to the publication of the letter. Mrs. Little also has no objection, and to these good ladies the readers of the “Republican” are indebted for the pleasure of pursuing this interesting missive.
To fully understand the situation the explanatory letter contained in the accompanying soldier’s letter should be first read as follows.
“Pottstown, Penna. June 14, 1913
My Dear Mrs. Russell:
Enclosed please find a letter written by your husband to his father during the Civil War. I found it among my brother, M.E. Richards papers who also was a veteran of the Civil War. The letter still was sealed I suppose, it was given him to mail and was forgotten.
It affords ,me much pleasure to send this letter to you; it contains a small piece of Col. Ellsworth shirt secured after he was killed at Alexandria, Va., defending the flag. Just think! Written 50 years ago.
I know you will value it, as I would do under the same circumstances. I procured your address from Mrs. Hunt, who is a friend and life long resident of Pottsville. I thought she would know the old families.

Yours, Miss Annie E. Richards

Following the letter written by Henry C. Russell, First Defender:

Fort Washington, Maryland
May 30, 1861

My Dear Pa, I received your letter on the 25th inst., a few days ago and was very glad to know some one still “lives” in Pottsville. Letters are beginning to be few and far between. Two large mails came down today, but no letter for me. Matt Richards came down on the boat bringing those books that Mrs. Little sent to me and a large quantity of provisions for the “boys” we had collected at Washington during the past two weeks. He will return this by him.
Tomorrow is general inspection day and the men are all cleaning up guns, belts, quarters etc. Although we have not the best clothing and accoutrement's in the world our men make a first rate display. As evidence of their neatness and soldiery appearance, the orderly to the officer of the day has been, in every ……………. since our arrival, here, selected from our company. We have not yet been divided or commissioned.
During the past week we have been attending drill schools under Lieutenant Reynolds, U.S.A. At times when we drill he has said, “Sergeant, let me see you do that again”, and he likes our style of stacking arms.
Sam, (the writers brother) will be the Orderly Sergeant of our company after the Division is completed.


“Enclosed is a piece of Col. Ellsworth’s shirt stained with his own hearts blood. Sergeant W. McQuade who was on the boat when his body was carried aboard, got a large piece of it and gave me this. His clothing and that secession flag were torn into shreds by the men, as souvenirs. Keep it safely for me. We are all well.
Next week we got to work erecting a battery behind the fort. Work, work , and work is the order of the day.
Give my love to all the family, and Sam sends his love to you also. Capt. Smith has not yet replied to my communication.

God Bless you all.
Your Aff. Son
Henry C. Russell

I wonder what ever happened to the letter and the bloody shirt piece. Would have made a nice piece of history for the Historical Society.

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was a lawyer and soldier, best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War.

Ellsworth died shortly after arriving in Washington. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded, Ellsworth led his men uncontested down the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. He ordered some of his men to take the railroad station, while he and a few other soldiers went to secure the telegraph office. While doing this, Ellsworth noticed a Confederate flag flying above the Marshall House Inn. He and four others quickly went up the stairs. Ellsworth cut down the flag and was on the way down the stairs, when the owner, James W. Jackson, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Cpl. Francis Brownell, of Troy, New York, immediately killed the innkeeper. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions.

Lincoln was deeply saddened by his friend's death and ordered an honor guard to bring his friend's body to the White House, where it lay in state in the East Room, on May 24, 1861. Ellsworth was then taken to the City Hall in New York City, where thousands of Union supporters came to see the first man to fall for the Union cause. Ellsworth was then buried in his hometown of Mechanicville, New York, in the Hudson View Cemetery.

Thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" was a patriotic slogan and a New York regiment of volunteers (the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment) called itself the "Ellsworth Avengers", as well as "The People's Ellsworth Regiment."

Relics associated with Ellsworth's death became prized souvenirs. The Smithsonian and Bates College's Special Collections Library have pieces of the Confederate flag that Ellsworth was removing when he was shot—in 1894, Brownell's widow was offering to sell small pieces of the flag for $10 and $15 each. The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs has most of the flag itself and Ellsworth's uniform, showing the hole from the fatal shot.