Saturday, May 16, 2015

Perspective

Hotel Monaco, Alexandria, Virginia
In December of 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union.

By March of 1861, after Abraham Lincoln's election to the Presidency, six more states followed South Carolina in leaving the Union.

On 12 April 1861, Confederate forces under P.G.T. Beauregard bombard Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War begins. (I won't belabor what everyone calls this war, as all historians know, the victor gets to name the battle/war. The North won, the South lost. Thus, The Civil War. My own personal sympathies lean towards States Rights. The Federal government has usurped far too much power for my tastes.)

On May 23rd, Virginians ratified their own articles of secession. The Confederacy was now just across the Potomac from Washington D.C.!

Across the river, a large Confederate flag flew atop the Marshall House, an inn in the town of Alexandria, Virginia. Clearly visible from the capital of the Union. Our story begins here.

First flag of the Confederacy. This was the flag flying over the Marshall House.

One of my earliest memories of the Civil War was reading about the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry. This was a state unit whose uniform was based on light infantry units of the French Army known as Zouaves.
The Zouaves of the French Army were first raised in Algeria in 1831 with one and later two battalions, initially recruited solely from the Zouaoua (or Zwāwa), a tribe of Berbers located in the mountains of the Jurjura Range. The Zouaoua had formerly provided soldiers for the deys of Algiers and in August 1830 the commander of the French expeditionary force which had occupied the city recommended their continued employment in this role. The existence of the new corps was formally recognized by a Royal decree dated 7 March 1833. In 1838 a third battalion was raised, and the regiment thus formed was commanded by Major de Lamoriciere. Shortly afterwards the formation of the Tirailleurs algériens, the Turcos, as the corps for Muslim troops, changed the enlistment for the Zouave battalions, and they became a purely French body. W


The way I heard the story as a young boy has the 11th New York being ordered across the Potomac as part of occupation of Alexandria. The Confederate forces withdrew without contesting the Union occupation of the city.

 Well, the troops withdrew without a fight...
On May 24, Ellsworth led the 11th New York across the Potomac and into the streets of Alexandria uncontested. He detached some men to take the railroad station while he led others to secure the telegraph office. On his way there, Ellsworth turned a corner and came face to face with the Marshall House Inn, atop of which the banner was still flying. He ordered a company of infantry as reinforcements and continued on his way to the telegraph office. But suddenly, Ellsworth changed his mind, turned around, and went up the steps of the Marshall House.

He entered the house accompanied by seven men. Once inside, they found a "disheveled-looking man, only half dressed, who had apparently just gotten out of bed" and who informed them that he was a boarder, upon Ellsworth's demand to know what the Confederate flag was doing atop the hotel. Ellsworth and four men then went upstairs to cut down the flag. As Ellsworth came downstairs with the (very large) flag, the sleepy "boarder" who was actually the owner of the house and one of the most ardent of secessionists in Alexandria, James W. Jackson, killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast to the chest. Corporal Francis E. Brownell, of Troy, New York, immediately stabbed Jackson with the bayonet on the end of his gun. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions. W
Two men died, Ellsworth and Jackson. Both were considered to be martyrs.

Corporal Brownell received the Medal of Honor.

Yes, the requirements for that medal have been tightened considerably since the Civil War. 

The key players on that day: 
Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, 11th New York
Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (April 11, 1837 – May 24, 1861) was a law clerk and United States Army soldier, best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War. He was killed in the process of removing a Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginian hotel. W

James W. Jackson (Source)
James W. Jackson (ca. 1824-1861) was an ardent secessionist and the proprietor of the Marshall House, an inn located in the City of Alexandria during the time of the American Civil War. During the capture of Alexandria, Jackson used an English-made double-barrel shotgun to kill Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth as he descended the stairs of the hotel with the Confederate flag he had just removed from the flagpole over the roof. In retaliation, Francis E. Brownell of Ellsworth's 11th New York Zouave regiment killed Jackson. Both men became martyrs for their respective causes. W
Corporal Francis E. Brownell, 11th New York, Medal of Honor
Francis Edwin Brownell (1840 – March 15, 1894) was a soldier and recipient of the Medal of Honor for killing James W. Jackson, after he shot Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, colonel of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Brownell's actions marked the first action in the American Civil War to merit the award. W
So my earliest memory of this event (speaking as Northerner) is of the valiant Colonel Ellsworth being shot down by a cowardly hotelier. Who was then bayoneted to death by one of the Colonel's men.

What seems clear to a young boy isn't so clear to that same boy some fifty years later.

On Friday afternoon we were in downtown Alexandria and I mentioned that I'd like to see the site of this momentous event.

So The Nuke, The Sea Lawyer and Your Humble Scribe set a course for the corner of South Pitt and King Streets.

The Marshall House no longer exists. Now it's a modern hotel.



Having visited many historical sites in my day, I expected to find a plaque of some sort at the location of the old inn. Well, there was a plaque, but it wasn't quite what I expected..


Um, paging Colonel Ellsworth...

Corporal Brownell?

It's all about perspective ya know.

While I wasn't exactly surprised, I was, a little.

A Virginian no doubt will understand.

As a Yankee, I don't.

But given the current state of the Union, I understand more than I care to.

Perspective.



22 comments:

  1. It's amazing what a little knowledge . . .and geographical location will do for one's perspective.

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    1. Very true. I have an interest in the Indian Wars, Colorado specific. The different viewpoints on, say, the Sand Creek Massacre and the Battle at Summit Springs seem like different events depending on where you stand.

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    2. You both make excellent points.

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  2. Thanks for this Sarge!

    I also well remember the story but that plaque sheds a different light on things.

    That bayonet looks like it would do the job, and Brownell has a pretty tough game face...

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    1. Corporal Brownell seemed a serious fellow. I'm sure Mr. Jackson found him so.

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  3. Stupid war! Millions killed or maimed. Bad blood between states for over a century. Slaves freed maybe 10-15 years sooner than might have happened, but implicit slavery and racism extended a century and in some ways still exists today, and which may not have been as severe without the war and the animosity it created.

    Without the war I somehow think the North and South would have eventually joined again with some compromises.

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    1. That is an Historical twist that I've never before seen advanced. Balkanized, yes -joined together, not bloody likely.

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    2. There have been a few alternate history books written on those possibilities.

      No one can really say what might have been.

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  4. As they say beneath the Capitol dome in Washington, where you stand on an issue may depend on where you sit.

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  5. An Englishman, I know very little about the US Civil War; I wasn't even aware that for some it has another name! But I found this story riveting. Thanks.

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    1. The War of Northern Aggression is how it's usually referred to down here.

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    2. No matter what you call it, it was a nasty business.

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    3. Oh and BP, take your pick:

      - The Civil War
      - The War Between the States
      - The War of Northern Aggression

      I'm sure there are others.

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  6. You really shouldn't be surprised at all. If you check the small print in the lower right corner, the plaque was erected by the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers.

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    1. The fact that the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers put the plaque there doesn't surprise me at all. 'Twas the fact that it's still intact I found surprising.

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  7. Very interesting story. The plaque gives it a twist that I understand completely. My parents were from Texas, their parents from Georgia. My great grandfathers met at a POW camp, their children later to marry. The essence of the war resides within our family. I even moved to FL after seventy plus years on the left coast.

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    1. Same here. A great great uncle in a New Hampshire regiment and a great-grandfather in a New York regiment.

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  8. Years ago, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine on the Civil War. She was from Massachusetts and said the war was fought over slavery. Being a Texan, I informed her the Civil War was fought over states rights. She told me she had never heard of that. Geeze, what did they teach in Yankee schools?

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    1. In mine, they taught both.

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    2. Kenneth AlmquistMay 18, 2015 at 7:56 PM

      From the Texas Declaration of Causes for leaving the Union:

      “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

      “That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.”

      Read the entire thing here: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_texsec.asp

      It seems like in 1861, the people of Texas agreed with your friend rather than with you.

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    3. An interesting document...

      Not sure I get your point though. I did not put forth my opinion on the issue one way or the other.

      The post is about perspective, not race or what caused the war or anything else.

      As far as what the people of Texas believed in 1861, I wouldn't know what they "believed," though it's obvious what their politicians believed.

      Those two things are not necessarily one and the same.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)