WILMINGTON — Gary Kersey, renowned lecturer on Abraham Lincoln and the time in which he lived, recently spoke to the Wilmington Rotary Club about Elmer Elsworth.
Kersey graduated from Wilmington High School and then Wilmington College. He taught history for 10 years and has now been in the auction business for 40 years.
Kersey stated that in 1861, Elmer Elsworth was probably as well known to all Americans as was Mr. Lincoln.
Elsworth was a patent attorney in Chicago. His military interests caught local attention and he was asked to work with the local militia. This group began to drill in public and began to draw great crowds – just to watch them drill.
Chicago hosted the 1859 Agricultural Exposition and invited any other militias to come be part of a contest/parade as part of the events. While only one other group came to show, 70,000 spectators enjoyed the show – which ended up being much like a circus.
Elsworth then was invited to take his militia on a tour of the U.S. and they visited 20 cities. While in Chicago, Elsworth met Lincoln, who asked Elsworth if he would campaign for him, as he planned to run for office. He completed several stump speeches in support of Lincoln.
Upon his election, President Lincoln said he would like to bring Elsworth to Washington to run a national military organization.
Living in the White House, with the Lincolns, Elsworth contracted the measles when the young Lincoln children did. While recovering, he was getting some fresh air and was on the roof of the White House and looked across the river to see a confederate flag flying in Alexandria, Virginia.
With still no national militia-type protection, and dissent that close, Elsworth went to New York, recruited some firefighters and created a national protection force for the White House/Washington, D.C.
When Virginia seceded from the Union, Elsworth’s forces the next day marched to Alexandria to secure the telegraph office, the railroad station and to take down the confederate flag.
They were successful in all three tasks; however, on the return trip with the flag, the building owner was able to shoot and kill Elsworth.
Elsworth became the first officer to die in the American Civil War.
Elsworth’s very distinctive uniforms for his militia became the subject of dolls created in the image of the militia men. These Zouque Dolls are artifacts from the time and some exist today.
People in NYC and other areas lined up for days to see the body of Elsworth — that’s how popular he was.