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Marshall House

Marshall House

The Marshall House stood at 480 King Street, operating as an inn in Alexandria Virginia. In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, the house was the site of the killing of Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth.

During the month prior to the event, James W. Jackson, the inn's proprietor, had raised a large Confederate flag from the inn's roof. Jackson had reportedly stated that the flag would only be removed "over his dead body". The flag was observed by President Lincoln and his Cabinet through field glasses from an elevated location in Washington. 

Early on the morning of May 24th, 1861, just a day after a public referendum in Virginia supported secession from the United States, Union forces crossed the Potomac and invaded Alexandria. Colonel Ellsworth, a close friend and confidant of President Lincoln, was the young commander of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves taking part in the invasion. 

Before crossing the Potomac, soldiers serving under Ellsworth's command viewed the flag from their camp, and volunteered to remove it. During the invasion of Alexandria, Ellsworth and seven of his soldiers entered the inn through an open door. Inside, the group ran into a man, and Ellsworth demanded the man tell them what sort of a flag it was that was hanging on the roof of the inn. The man, alarmed, told the soldiers he knew nothing of the flag, as he was only a boarder at the inn. Accepting this, Ellsworth and the soldiers continued on up the stairs, climbing to the roof on a ladder, and cutting down the flag with a soldier's knife. Private Francis E. Brownell led the descent from the roof, with Ellsworth following behind with the flag. 

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As they reached the first landing place, the proprietor Jackson came out of a darkened passage, held a double barreled gun at Ellsworth's chest, and fired one bullet directly into his chest. Ellsworth was killed instantly. Jackson then turned to fire at Brownell, but missed. Brownell simultaneously fired his own gun, hitting Jackson in the middle of the face. Before Jackson fell, Brownell thrust his bayonet into Jackson's body to push his corpse down the stairs. 

With this event, Ellsworth became the first Union officer to die while on duty during the Civil War. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions. 

Directly following Ellworth's death, thousands of Union supporters rallied around Ellsworth's cause and enlisted. "Remember Ellsworth" became a slogan of patriotism. The 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment dubbed itself the "Ellsworth Avengers". Meanwhile, Confederates hailed Jackson as a martyr for their own cause. 

Depiction of the death of Colonel Ellsworth

A Currier and Ives engraving depicting the death of Colonel Ellsworth, 1861

After the war, the Marshall House served as a home for a series of small businesses, still attracting tourists from the North and South. The building was largely reconstructed after a fire in 1873, which was caused by an arsonist. Less than a century later, in 1950, the building was torn down. Though the building no longer remains, the City of Alexandria has erected a wayfinding sign near the southeast corner of King and South Pitt Streets, where the inn once stood. The sign describes the history of the Marshall House, including historical photographs. 

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Looking for something else to read? Check out the history of the Capitol Pages in Washington DC! 

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