Wayfinding: Marshall House

Within minutes of arriving in the Alexandria on May 24, 1861, Colonel Ellsworth attempted to remove a secessionist flag from the rooftop of the Marshall House. As he descended the stairs after removing the flag, proprietor James W. Jackson killed Ellsworth with a gunshot to the chest at point blank range. Jackson himself was then immediately shot and bayoneted by Corporal Francis Brownell. As the first two deaths of the Civil War, both men became martyrs.

Page updated on Mar 28, 2018 at 3:39 PM

Marshall House

480 King Street (no longer standing)

Marshall House sign (click for larger image)In the early morning hours of May 24, 1861, the day after a public referendum in Virginia supported secession from the United States, Alexandria was invaded by Union forces crossing the Potomac. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, the young commander of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves taking part in the invasion, was a close confidant and friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Within minutes of arriving in the city, Ellsworth attempted to remove a secessionist flag from the rooftop flagpole of the Marshall House hostelry that once stood at this corner. As he descended the stairs after successfully removing the flag, proprietor James W. Jackson emerged from the shadows and killed Ellsworth with a gunshot to the chest at point blank range. Jackson himself was then immediately shot and bayoneted by Corporal Francis Brownell of Troy, New York, who later received the Medal of Honor for his actions as he accompanied Ellsworth on that fateful day. Thus were the first two deaths from violence, representing each side of the national conflict, during the American Civil War.

In the days and months after the altercation on King Street, both Ellsworth and Jackson became martyrs to the defense of their country on native soil. Rallying cries of “Remember Ellsworth!” and “Remember Jackson!” were used to recruit enlistments and support by Northern and Southern leaders, and the men were immortalized as heroes in popular culture and in commemorative wares of the period. In the years after their deaths, their first or last names were often chosen for newborn males throughout the country by those loyal to each man’s respective cause.

Artifacts associated with this event, including architectural items from the Marshall House, a piece of the controversial flag, and the “kepi” cap Ellsworth wore that morning are on view at Alexandria’s Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, 4301 West Braddock Road. Fort Ward is the best surviving example of the system of 168 forts and batteries known as the “Defenses of Washington” that protected the nation’s capital during the Civil War. Public transit to Fort Ward is available by taking a DASH bus from the King Street Metro Station.

Where to find this sign

In Old Town, mini kiosks are located at designated intersections along King Street, Cameron Street, and the Waterfront to provide an orientation for pedestrians. 

This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Pitt Street. (For those taking the King Street Trolley, please check the schedule as times may have changed.)

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