‘Martyrs’ on our Potomac

On May 23, 1861, Virginia’s voters ratified the state’s ordinance of secession.

Perhaps you will remember that one of my favorite subjects is: Things that happened on May 24:

Confederate militia had held Alexandria, Virginia, since shots were fired at Fort Sumter. Only the “Long Bridge” over the Potomac separated them from tens of thousands of Union soldiers mustering in the capital.

Shortly after midnight on May 24, 1861, a force of thousands of Federal troops crossed the Potomac.

New York Militia Major General Charles Sanford marched to Arlington Heights and established headquarters in Robert E. Lee’s vacated home.

The few Virginia militia who remained in Alexandria retreated to Culpeper.

New York Fire Zoave Colonel Elmer Ellsworth marched with his troops down Main Street in Alexandria to cut the telegraph wires to Richmond. Ellsworth was a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s.

Ellsworth espied the Sic Semper Tyrannis secessionist flag flying over an inn called Marshall House. He entered the edifice, and climbed the stairs to remove the flag. James W. Jackson, the proprietor of the house, announced that the flag would be removed over his dead body. After the exchange of gunfire which followed, both Ellsworth and Jackson lay dead.

Lincoln wept at Ellsworth’s funeral the following day, and the northern press hailed him as a martyr. Later, the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers erected this plaque:

ADDENDUM/ERRATA:

Please forgive my haste in the original post. According to this Currier and Ives print from 1861, the flag flown over the Marshall House was in fact the Confederate “Stars and Bars.”

Apparently one of the stars of the flag can be seen at the Fort Ward museum in Alexandria. If the flag had stars, it couldn’t have been the Virginia state flag. Sorry.