"Greatest little man I ever met."
May 24, 1861 - Elmer Ellsworth died on this day. He is remembered as the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War.
When Ellsworth was a young law student, he went to work as a clerk in Abraham Lincoln's law office. Standing only 5 feet 6 inches tall, he was dwarfed by his towering boss. Lincoln would later say that Ellsworth was "the greatest little man I ever met."
When Lincoln became president, Ellsworth followed him to the White House. By this time Ellsworth had become a Colonel in the New York Voluntary Infantry, and President Lincoln held him in high regard as a trusted military advisor.
On the day after Virginia's secession was ratified by referendum, President Lincoln was looking out a White House window when he noticed a large Confederate flag flying over a rooftop in nearby Alexandria.
Miffed by the insult, Ellsworth quickly volunteered to go retrieve the flag. He marched over the Potomac and entered the home of James Jackson without incident. Ellsworth grabbed the flag and was making his way down the steps when the owner of the house shot him in the chest with a shotgun.
One of Ellsworth's infantrymen then shot the assailant. Both men died on the spot.
President Lincoln was greatly impacted by the death of his friend. Ellsworth immediately became a martyr for the Union cause.
Relics related to the Ellsworth's death, including pieces of the Confederate flag he was holding, are on display in the Smithsonian.