"An Event of ePeep Proportions: May 24, 1861 Deaths of Col. Ellsworth & James Jackson"
A Washington Post Peeps Show V Contest Entry, 2011
Currently on display in the Alexandria Archaeology Museum
While Historic Alexandria is serious about the Civil War, the Washington Post's "Peeps Show" treats all topics with a bit of irreverence. In this annual event, contestants build dioramas made largely of Peeps marshmallow chicks and bunnies. According to the Washington Post, "The more than 900 dioramas submitted touched on international news (the Chilean mine rescue), Washington-area headaches (Pepco and Metro), modern technology (Angry Birds), mainstream superstars (Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga) and underground celebs (Banksy)." To commemorate Alexandria's role in Civil War history, Alexandria Archaeology Museum educator Ruth Reeder's recreated the Marshall House Incident, in a diorama dubbed "An Event of ePeep Proportions." While not a Washington Post winner, the diorama was a huge hit at the May 2011 commemoration event in Market Square, and can be seen on display at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
The June 15, 1861 edition of Harper’s Weekly. A Journal of Civilization and this diorama capture the moment in time, around 5:30 a.m. on May 24, 1861, when Union Colonel Ellsworth was shot by secessionist James Jackson at the Marshall House in Alexandria, Virginia.
This tragic event was triggered by Virginia’s vote, the day before, to secede from the Union. The following day, Federal troops crossed the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to secure the city of Alexandria. Among those deployed was Col. Ellsworth, a young officer and close friend of President Lincoln. As Ellsworth and his men of the11th New York Fire Zouaves advanced up Cameron Street, they spied a Confederate flag flying from the roof of the Marshall House, an inn at the corner of King and South Pitt streets, where the Hotel Monaco now stands. Ellsworth took a few of his men to secure the flag with the intent of presenting it to President Lincoln.
After the soldiers stormed the Marshall House, cut down the flag, and were descending the stairs, James Jackson, the innkeeper and ardent secessionist, confronted them on the landing. Jackson shot and killed Ellsworth and immediately thereafter was shot and killed by one of Ellsworth’s men, Private Brownell. Ellsworth was the first Civil War officer killed in action and both he and Jackson quickly became martyrs for their respective causes.
The event inspired many patriotic songs, prints, and souvenirs, some of which, including a star from Jackson’s flag and Ellsworth’s kepi (cap) are on display at Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria.
Diorama by Ruth Reeder, photos by Anna Frame.