Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Images On Glass

One of the wonderful things about doing research in this century is the Internet. All I have to do is type a person or a subject into the search box, add the word "images" and there it is! I was looking for images of the White House a few days ago, hoping to unearth an Ellsworthian gem of some sort, and I found this--fall, D. C., those clouds, the spookiness of it all.

I can remember when the faces in CDVs and daguerreotypes looked funny and old-fashioned. Now they look as familiar to me as the pictures of last year's students. If I had time enough and knew how to do it, I'd photoshop the beards off all the generals in the Civil War and see their faces, sans hair. I think it would be interesting--nothing else.

Since this week starts October, I will be looking for some spookier images. The "Rock Star Summer" chapter is getting a huge rewrite, so looking for some odd stuff will help break up the time.

A student asked me today what I was going as for Hallowe'en. My stock answer is "a teacher," but this year I told him I was going to be going as an historian. BOO!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

falling out of the sky

I was listening to the news this evening, and it was announced that the exact place the defunct satellite fell last week had been identified. That made me think of other things falling out of the sky

This is a woodcut from an envelope of Union-themed stationary. It refers to the comet seen just at the start of the Civil War. It was easily visible in the D. C. area, and many of the soldier diary and letter collections from 1861 mention seeing it from camp, or on patrol.

It seems like the Union is headed for some more rough times in this century. The paycheck I get on October 1 will be smaller due to salary cuts. It is all pretty worrisome, but reading about the past helps me put things into perspective.

This is not the first bad time, and not the last. At least in this century we know where our soldiers are, and remains can be identified. No one will ever have to wait for over four years to find out if Billy or Johnny would march home. Still, things seem ominous.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rock Star Summer

All most people know about Elmer Ellsworth is that he died. He actually did a lot more than just that--during the summer of 1860 he headed a group of Chicago-based men called the US Zouave Cadets. They were just over 50 in number, and toured over twenty Northeastern cities presenting their Zouave Drill to crowds of what quickly became adoring fans. When I read 1861, by Adam Goodheart, he talked about Ellsworth's tour: It would be more than a century before New Yorkers would swoon like this for a few out-of-town boys newly arriving in the metropolis.

I laughed out loud! The Beatles and Ellsworth's Zouave Cadets--just brilliant! (as is 1861--read it!! NOW!!) This sentence forms the central idea of the First Fallen chapter about the Cadets' tour. There is so much detail concerning this tour that it was difficult to write and be correct. I think it is important to have dates and times, and their schedule was pretty busy. When I wrote it the first time, the structure was what I was concerned with. Rereading it for a second writing is very daunting. Now I have to get all those details to mesh nicely with a light-hearted voice that lets a reader see the tour as important, fun, long, hot, tiring--and did I say fun? No trashed hotel rooms or hookers, no mirrors of coke or bottles of Jack Daniels, but for these men, it was a chance to see much of the world as they knew it, to be feted and adored, and to be famous for a moment or so.

I am not exactly sure when the 60s Summer of Love was--maybe 1967? But 1860 was the very last Summer of Peace that America would see for five brutal years. A rock star tour seems an appropriate way to commemorate it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

those little cuties . . .

Awww--aren't they cute little good boys? But they gave Ellsworth the measles, and then look what happened!! Please check to find out, and please comment. These fine folks have been very positive to my endeavors, so Follow them also. And--I have added Schroeder Publications below. It is They are very nice and a good "primary source" source.

Check out the Guest Blog, and continue to spread the word. After all, we need a new generation of babies named Elmer Ellsworth! Enough with the Jasons, Justins, and Jennifers! Enough, I say!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BFFs John Hay , George Nicolay. Elmer Ellsworth

The gentlemen pictured were Elmer Ellsworth's best friends, John Hay (sepia) and George Nicolay (b & w). They met him in Illinois, campaigned for Lincoln together, worked for Lincoln as secretaries (Hay & Nicolay) and law clerk (Ellsworth), and kept each other's spirits high. When they all got safely to Washington, DC, it was Hay and Nicolay who nursed Ellsworth back to health when he got measles. And--it was hay and Nicolay who, along with Lincoln, wrote some of the most heartfelt, grieving words ever written about another man's death. Hay and Ellsworth hit the town regularly together, while Nicolay, who was engaged and a more serious sort of guy, let Ellsworth use his address at the White House for Ellsworth's fiancee to write to him. These were good men.

Here is the news about First Fallen: I was invited to do a guest blog for which is another, more followed blog than mine. There is a link to this fine effort below, under "My Blog List,"so scroll down. My blog, "A Curious Case of the Measles," will be published this Thursday, September 22. Please check it out, comment, and start following It is with your support that this book will find a publisher. Thanks in advance.
Your Obedient Servant, Meg Thompson

First Fallen: the Life and Times of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth: weekend in the wilderness

First Fallen: the Life and Times of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth: weekend in the wilderness

Sunday, September 18, 2011

weekend in the wilderness

The invitation to write a guest blog for Emerging Civil War is just great! I have spent the weekend working and reworking the article, and I think I almost have it. I even needled a publisher, Schroeder Publications, about First Fallen. Now all I have to do is figure out how to put a link to both sites on THIS blog--huzzah!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

measles--oh dear

On March 20, 1861, Elmer Ellsworth got the measles! He locked himself in a room at Willard's and prepared to die, thinking it was smallpox, which had killed his brother the year before. Good buds John Hay and George Nicolay soon smoked him out, and were there 'round the clock to nurse him to health. Ellsworth was terribly afraid his eyesight would be affected, as he mentions in weak, silly letters to Carrie, his fiancee. But--everything turned out all right. Well, except that it took Ellsworth almost a month to get better, Fort Sumter fell on April 13, and the world was collapsing into a chasm of secession. The combination of measles and Sumter decided Ellsworth's next actions--to NYC, and beyond! He came back two weeks later at the head of over a thousand lean, mean, fighting machines--the New York Fire Zouaves!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

such a dandy

When EE took his U. S. Zouave Cadets on their 1860 Summer ROCK STAR Tour of the Northeast, he designed several uniforms for them. They needed a dress uniform, a uniform in which to perform, and an "undress" uniform, for informal sightseeing at the locations where they were performing. Just how he got the money donated is beyond me! He must have been a charmer of serious ability, and there is a lot of historical evidence which leads me to think that perhaps this was true. He was always elegantly dressed, and he made sure his Zouaves were as well.

The night before he died, he was getting dressed (about 2:00 AM), and suddenly he told his aide-de-camp that no--he was going to change. After all, this was going to be his first real military foray--the occupation of Alexandria, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. and he wanted to look his best. He turned around, opened his trunk, and pulled out a brand new, fresh-from-the-tailor Union officer's uniform. He smilingly told his aide that if he was going to die, it might as well be in his best uniform. Less than eight hours later he was dead.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Willie, Tad and the measles

Above is, IMHO, a charming set of photos. They are Willie and Tad Lincoln, AL's young sons who were just kids when their dad was President. EE was sort of a kid as well. He had the run of the Lincoln house in Springfield when he was working on the Lincoln Presidential campaign, and when EE accompanied AL to Washington, he was not only in charge of crowd control for Abe, he was a stalwart guardian of the Lincoln family on that last part of the journey through Baltimore when Lincoln was not on the train.

When everyone got to DC and was settled in, the boys came down with a case of the measles. Elmer Ellsworth caught them! Not quite realizing what was wrong with him (after all, his brother had died of smallpox just 2 years earlier), EE holed up in his room at Willard's Hotel and prepared to die. John Hay pounded on the door of the hotel room loudly enough to finally get EE's attention. He told Ellsworth the truth--it was measles!! Still, measles killed many adults back then, and both Hay and Nicolay came many days to nurse their friend back to health. It was during this convalescence that Ellsworth finally made up his mind to resign his Army commission as head of the Militia Office and go to New York to raise his own regiment of soldiers. He told Hay that he was certain that patriotism was NOT dead, but merely sleeping. Ellsworth's irresistible clarion call to arms was just what was needed to awaken it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


No matter if it is 1861 or 2001, the New York Fire Department has answered the call. People die for their country with pride and honor, before then, and now, and in the future. When Lincoln called for First Responders in 1861, the Fire Fighters of New York City stepped up. When the Towers were hit in 2001, again, the New York Fire Fighters stepped up. I know the job is often passed through families, so I am guessing that several present-day firefighters are related to those men of 1861. There is no end to the number of times a nation can say, "Thank you."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

the Buchanan White House

When AL came to the White House in 1861, it had been decorated by President Buchanan's niece, and was a little the worse for wear. The above picture is a drawing of a Buchanan reception held in the East Room for ministers of, I believe, Japan. The carpet, although expensive woven Brussels wool, was very bright, containing gold and orange as well as red and deeper colors. The drapes were a darker red, and there was a lot of gilding on the woodwork. Mary Lincoln thought a more subdued approach would be fitting for the Lincoln East Room, but nothing had been done about redecorating (after all, the Southern states were dropping out of the Union daily, and there was Fort Sumter . . .) by May 24. Elmer Ellsworth lay in state in the East Room for most of the 25th--the first civilian so honored. Nevertheless, it was Buchanan's East Room as far as decorative touches were concerned. Ellsworth's bier was hastily made of raw wood and covered with cloth. The casket, with a glass window on the top half of the lid (smaller picture to the left--not EE's casket, but similar) was laid on the bier for viewing through the glass window over Ellsworth's face.

Just seeing these images is so helpful in creating a mental picture of the past.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Raising Chicago

After the chapters about EE in Chicago--the early years, shall we say--and then his sojourns in Rockford, Springfield, etc. which led to his eventually being able to create the U.S. Zouave Cadets, are rewritten, they must be joined. I have mentioned things in one chapter that should have been in the other, and vice versa, so it is frustrating and time-consuming, to say the least. It is like making a quilt, sort of: there is the general, allover design, then the individual blocks have to be pieced together, and finally the quilt-top if constructed. If that is any good, then I have to do all the finish work or there is no quilt at all--just a mess of blocks stitched together. It is sometimes quite daunting. I lose confidence in myself--now I know how General Hooker felt after the Battle of Chancelorsville--only I have no concussion upon which to lay the blame. Actually, I don't think he ever blamed his head injury, but now that science has shown us how serious even one bad concussion can be, it is no wonder that he "lost all sense" of what was happening.

The picture above is of Chicago. As the population of the city began to swell--all those Self-Made Men, etc. coming to work there, Chicago began to have sanitation problems. This resulted in a terrible cholera outbreak in the 1850s. Chicago itself is built on a very flat plain, and there is no natural runoff anywhere except the lake. So, the gallant engineers of Chicago--perhaps including those with whom EE travelled when he left NYC, decided to raise the city. Yep! Raise the city. And they did it, too. Block by block, the entire city of Chicago (at that time) was raised and filled in underneath so that a durable and workable infrastructure as regards water and sanitation could be built. No one in the South would ever have come up with that particular idea, much less have pulled it off. Yankee ingenuity indeed! And a picture to prove it!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 Tiger! Zouave!

There they are! B'hoys en masse! This is from a reenactment group that represented the NY Fire Zouaves at the 150th First Bull Run. They have a good page on Facebook with a lot more pictures. I used to reenact--it is a wonderful hobby/experience. EE would be proud!