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Authors

Adam Stauffer

Abstract

On the morning of May 24, 1861, a group of Union cadets marched into the city of Alexandria, Virginia. The cohort looked peculiar in their flamboyant Zouave uniforms with bright blue shirts and flashy red sashes. They were led by a dashing young colonel named Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth and charged with occupying the city. Noticing a Confederate flag flying high on the roof of a hotel called the Marshall House, Ellsworth and a few of his men entered the building, determined to bring it down. The trip up the stairs was easygoing and the flag was quickly retrieved without incident. But on the way down everything went wrong. The innkeeper, a Confederate sympathizer named James W. Jackson, appeared with a shotgun and fired, piercing Ellsworth’s heart. As he stumbled backward he uttered his final words: “My God!” Almost immediately, Corporal Francis Brownell aimed his rifle directly at Jackson’s forehead and shot his colonel’s murderer. In the coming conflict scores of men and boys would be slaughtered in similar fashion causing Americans to rethink the grim and brutal realities of modern war. The deaths of Ellsworth and Jackson constituted the first official battle fatalities of the Civil War, but many more followed. [excerpt]

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