When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union on May 23rd, the 11th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry was ordered to assist in the occupation of Arlington Heights and Alexandria, Virginia, directly across the Potomac River from Washington. On May 24th, the regiment boarded the steamers Baltimore and Mount Vernon and was transported across the Potomac, landing at the Alexandria Wharves under the guard of the gunboat Pawnee. The 11th New York was one of eight regiments to enter Virginia and Ellsworth’s men met no resistance as they moved through the streets.
After landing, members of Company E under Captain Leveridge were sent to take the railroad station, while Ellsworth, Major Charles Loeser, Ltn. H. J. Winser, and several men fromCompany A set out to secure the telegraph office. On the way there, Ellsworth spotted a Confederate flag atop the Marshall House Inn. Ellsworth’s group entered the inn and quickly cut down the flag, but they encountered the proprietor, James Jackson, as they descended the stairs. Jackson killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast to the chest, and Cpl. Francis Brownell responded in kind by fatally shooting the innkeeper.
After the death of Ellsworth, Noah L. Farnham, the regiment’s Lieutenant colonel, was the obvious choice to take command. He was reluctant, however, labeling it an “unwelcome responsibility”. His appointment was graded as temporary, he was not commissioned as the regiment’s colonel and remained at rank while in command. Regardless he was a popular choice both with the enlisted men and in New York.
One enlisted man wrote in a letter home, “we have great faith in Colonel Farnham, having known him long and intimately as one deserving the confidence and esteem of his associates, and fully deserving of the position that he now occupies.”
Several of the officers recruited by Ellsworth, however did not approve and caused a small controversy by resigning their commissions.