Avenge Ellsworth!

This is a piece I finished a short while ago from a Volume 2 chapter levered off the Kent State University tragedy in 1970. The focus is on ‘militias and armies’:

Perhaps the climax of the militia as a traditional military formation came at the outset of the Civil War. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth was a Yankee born into a poor family of Connecticut settlers in Saratoga County, north of Albany NY. He had wanted to go to West Point as a youth, but had neither the connections nor the education that might make this possible. Instead, he drifted to Albany and then New York City, working in retail establishments.

In 1858, when he was 22, he was working in Rockford IL, west of Chicago and was a Major in the Rockford City militia. By this time, the militia experience was caught up in city and town life as the country drifted toward secession and war. Part of this revival of militias was a kind of ‘showtime’, as the news accounts of the dashing Franco-Algerian Zouaves who fought in the recent Crimean War in Europe captured the country’s attention. Ellsworth trained his Rockford City Greys in some of the Zouaves’ spectacular drill methods and became the talk of the town. A visitor from Chicago, who was associated with that city’s militia, just then on the point of dissolving, saw Ellsworth’s Zouave drills as a way to revive interest, recruitment and support for the dispirited group. Ellsworth, who had been on the verge of moving to Chicago to train as a lawyer because the father of his fiancée demanded it, threw the girl over and seized his main chance.

As Chicago’s militia revived under Ellsworth’s drills, his fame began to spread. Ellsworth renamed the Chicago company the United States Zouave Cadets.

In 1860, the team went on a barnstorming tour of the North, sent off by an approving crowd estimated at 10,000 people. The tour continued triumphantly through Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo and upstate New York. In New York City, the Zouaves performed indoors and their performance finished to “uncontrollable and long prolonged cheering, shouting, whistling, and huzzahing” by the audience. They were even asked to come to West Point to perform in front of General Winfield Scott, the US army commander. Then, President Buchanan invited them to come to Washington DC to perform in front of the White House.

When the troupe returned to Chicago, they were greeted by the ‘Wide Awakes’and the ‘Ever-Readys’, two unofficial groups who were training in anticipation of war. The Mayor of Chicago greeted the Zouaves in front of another crowd of 10,000 in the Wigwam, the convention center where Lincoln would be nominated.

Ellsworth actively campaigned for Lincoln in the 1860 election and accompanied the President-elect to Washington DC in 1861. Then, he was made a Colonel in the Army. Shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter, he and some other soldiers spotted a Confederate flag flying above a building in Alexandria, Virginia. They went across the Potomac River to pull it down, and in the resulting melée, Ellsworth was shotdead, becoming the first officer to be killed in the Civil War. His death enraged the North and ‘Avenge Ellsworth!’ became a popular 1861 recruiting slogan, attracting volunteers to the regular army, not to the Zouaves militias. 


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