July 8, 2015

The Hotel Monaco Plaque

Having lived in this area for over 30 years I have adopted Alexandria as my home.  It has a rich history dating before the American revolution. I enjoy visiting its historic homes, walking down the cobblestones of Union Street admiring the colonial warehouses, looking for rails in the streets that served now abandoned industries, and visiting its civil war sites.  I am actively involved with local museums building models to help visualize it history.
Brian Kammerer's print depicting Ellsworth at the Marshall House
hangs on  the walls of my home. I am proud to say
I have artist's proof number 1 of this print.

Amid all this amazing history there is one travesty, and that is the plaque on the front of the  Monaco Hotel, the building that now stands on the site of the Marshall House. The Daughters of the Confederacy erected the plaque in an attempt to memorialize the man that shot and killed the first Union soldier in the war. The victim was Lt Ellsworth, a Union officer. The plaque claims that the shooter died defending his property. If you knew nothing about that incident, which most visiting tourists don't, you would have no idea what really happened and why the murderer died.  

Here is what wikipedia says of the incident and it is more or less correct, 

"...For some anxious Unionists, that flag was becoming a symbol of the administration's slowness to move against the gathering forces of the Confederacy. On May 24, 1861 (the day after Virginia's secession was ratified by referendum), with an order that came a day prior, Ellsworth found himself and his troops victorious in the face of a retreating confederate army in Alexandria. And on this day, Ellsworth would cut down the banner that he had seen countless times from the other side of the river. 
On May 24, Ellsworth led the 11th New York across the Potomac and into the streets of Alexandria uncontested. He detached some men to take the railroad station while he led others to secure the telegraph office. On his way there, Ellsworth turned a corner and came face to face with the Marshall House Inn, atop of which the banner was still flying. He ordered a company of infantry as reinforcements and continued on his way to the telegraph office. But suddenly, Ellsworth changed his mind, turned around, and went up the steps of the Marshall House. 
He entered the house accompanied by seven men. Once inside, they found a "disheveled-looking man, only half dressed, who had apparently just gotten out of bed" and who informed them that he was a boarder, upon Ellsworth's demand to know what the Confederate flag was doing atop the hotel. Ellsworth and four men then went upstairs to cut down the flag. As Ellsworth came downstairs with the (very large) flag, the sleepy "boarder" who was actually the owner of the house and one of the most ardent of secessionists in Alexandria, James W. Jackson, killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast to the chest. Corporal Francis E. Brownell, of Troy, New York, immediately stabbed Jackson with the bayonet on the end of his gun. Brownell was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions."

Now, the Alexandria City government is finally taking action to correct this historical distortion. The nation's recent wave of introspection to examine how many of its citizens view the the civil war has led Alexandria to reexamine many of its monuments and traditions.  See this Washington Post article for more information. I find it a bittersweet irony that the actions of a lunatic racist murdering nine people in South Carolina would result in a long overdue look at the Civil War and its causes.

For more information about this issue I recommend Professor David Blight's book, "Race and Reunion."  It is an exhaustively thorough look at how views on the cause of the civil war evolved over time.

If you don't have time for this extensive book, check out Professor's Blight's youtube lecture on the subject.


  1. Very informative and enlightening. I am sure there are many other plaques and memorials around the country that portray the same type of misguided lop-sided accounts. This is especially true here in Charleston, SC, where this all seems to be coming to a head. I am going to check out the "Race and Reunion" book now. Thanks for the pointer.

  2. I am generally agains taking down such markers, as well as monuments, and instead prefer to put them in proper context. Moreover, the Ellsworth episode is a matter of interpretation--Southerners did view Jackson as a martyr for their cause at the start of the war. I anticipated such actions in Alexandria about 5 years ago. Here is my take on the issue. Still stands today:


    1. Ron,
      Thanks for the link. It is a good summary of the issue.

    2. Thanks! (And sorry for the typo--it should read "against.") By the way, I have the same print, although not #1. I bought it from Brian when I met you both in Old Town Manassas during the battle's 150th. Of course, I am an Ellsworth guy!

  3. The wiki text sounds almost verbatim from the book "1861, A Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart. Good to hear that some corrections are finally happening (Post the recent 150th which normally ought to have made people think of these things).