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EElmer Ellsworth was a Union Colonel and is thought to be the first officer to die in the American Civil War. He was a frequent and favorite visitor at the Lincoln White House, where the news of his death hit particularly hard. He had studied law under Abraham Lincoln, and offered his services to the President when the war broke out.

He recruited a regiment of New York firemen and took them to Washington to help defend the city. Once there he was dispatched across the Potomac to Alexandria, Virginia, to seize the city.

Col. Elmer Ellsworth

Col. Elmer Ellsworth

Ellsworth had, on previous occasions, joined the Lincolns in “peering curiously across the river at a large rebel banner that had mocked them for a month from the skyline of Alexandria.”  When he entered the city he was determined to remove the blight. He and one of his troopers rushed in and proceeded to rip the flag down. On their way down from the roof, they encountered the irate owner of the hotel, Jesse Jackson, who fired point-blank at Ellsworth. The trooper returned fire, mortally wounding Jackson, but the damage was done: Ellsworth was dead.

Lincoln was so saddened by his friend’s death that he ordered an honor guard to bring Ellsworth’s body back to the White House, where it lay in state in the East Room—the same place where Lincoln’s body will lay four years later.

Leadership Lessons

  1. A little research (reconnoiter) may save heartache later.
  2. Never allow your emotions to determine your actions.
  3. Do not underestimate your opponent (enemy).
  4. Take care of and honor your friends, even in death.
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