The Martyr Ellsworth’s Funeral; Confederates Capture Grafton

Saturday, May 25, 1861

The dead body of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth lay in the East Room of the White House as friends, fellow citizens and the representatives for the entire North paid their respects. The sermon was given by Reverend Dr. Smith Pyne of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

President and Mrs. Lincoln arrived at noon to hear the eulogy. When a reporter asked Lincoln for a comment, “I cannot talk. Ellsworth is dead and it has unnerved me,” was the only reply he could muster. Both of the Lincolns were in tears.

After the funeral, Mrs. Lincoln was presented with the Rebel flag that was torn down by Col. Ellsworth. Though she accepted it, she could not bear to see it and quickly stored it away. Their son, Tad, however, just as quickly found it. He would sneak it from her dresser and run outside, waving a Rebel flag for all to see. Such a flag in the capital of the United States wasn’t always a welcome sight.1

At 2pm, a military procession along with the Lincolns escorted Ellsworth’s body to the Washington Depot where it made its way back to New York for burial.

After the funeral, Lincoln wrote a touching letter of condolence to Ellsworth’s mother and father. The President began, rather truthfully, by writing that their “affliction here is scarcely less than your own.” Lincoln then expounded upon their son’s finer qualities, of which there were many.

“In size, in years, and in youthful appearance, a boy only, his power to command men, was surpassingly great,” he continued. “This power, combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military, constituted in him, as seemed to me, the best natural talent, in that department, I ever knew.”

Lincoln had only known him for two years, “yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages, and my engrossing engagements, would permit.”

By the pen of Lincoln, the young colonel “appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane, or an intemperate word.”

In closing, Lincoln hoped “that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.”2

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Various Acts of Treason

United States troops (Company D, 1st Pennsylvania) in Cockeysville, Maryland, received orders to seize a secessionist company and their commander. This Rebel company was thought to be using United State muskets to arm other secessionists. The Rebels’ commander was John Merryman, a well known Copperhead.

At 2am, they rushed into his house and arrested him. Merryman admitted to being the company’s commander. The arresting officer also stated that it could be proven “that the prisoner has been drilling with his company and has uttered and advanced secession doctrines.”

Merryman was taken to Fort McHenry and charged with “various acts of treason and with being publicly associated with and holding a commission as lieutenant in a company having in their possession arms belonging to the United States and avowing his purpose of armed hostility against the Government.”3

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Confederates Capture an Empty Grafton

Union Captain Latham’s Grafton Guards had piled themselves onto a train and headed to Wheeling. Upon their arrival, they were mustered into the Union Army as Company B, 2nd Virginia. They were the first company from the interior of a southern state to join the Union.4

Meanwhile, with Grafton emptied of Union troops, four companies of infantry and one of cavalry from Confederate Col. Porterfield’s command, encamped just two miles away, occupied the town. In a letter to Richmond, Porterfield reported that Grafton was badly laid out to accommodate a military force. He would need several thousand men to properly hold the important rail hub.

He also complained that his force was undisciplined and what they lacked in such measures could not be made up in arms. Again he stated that he could not hold this place against even a few pieces of Union artillery if they were placed on the hills overlooking the town.

Porterfield would have suggested that Richmond send artillery to him, but only if it could be supported by plenty of infantry. The Union sentiment was so strong in the counties around Grafton that if the locals chose to rise up, he would be outnumbered 10 to 1.

“I will do the best I can, however, under all circumstances.”5

Fearing that a Union advance would be coming east from Wheeling via the B&O line, Porterfield ordered two bridges to be burned near Mannington and Farmington, roughly 35 miles west of Grafton.6



  1. The Lincoln; Portrait of a Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein. []
  2. Lincoln to Ephraim D. and Phoebe Ellsworth, May 25, 1861. []
  3. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 1, p574-575. []
  4. Rebels at the Gate by W. Hunter Lessing. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (part 2), p109. []
  6. Rebels at the Gate by W. Hunter Lessing. []
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The Martyr Ellsworth’s Funeral; Confederates Capture Grafton by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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