Kirkus Reviews QR Code



Pub Date: May 18th, 1960
Publisher: Little, Brown

Colonel Ellsworth -- who was the first victim of the Civil War on the Union side -- has become a legendary hero. Despite his youth (he was in his early twenties) he had been acclaimed through the nation for the imaginative approach to the question of local militia troops dramatized in the competitive journey of 3000 miles made by his Zouaves. Later, as one of the young trio closest to Lincoln- along with Hay and Nicolai in Lincoln's Springfield law office, and later in Washington, Ellsworth became an intimate of the White House family, and when he was killed, in a rather foolhardy heroic gesture, he was mourned as a son. This is as nearly the whole of his story as is likely to be told. Built on extensive correspondence- with his parents, whose poverty was a constant worry, with Carrie Spafford to whom he was engaged; and on a very detailed diary of a few months when he poured out his problems to this silent confidant. Carrie's father had insisted on a long engagement, during which Elmer was to abandon his passionate concern with things military and devote himself to the uncongenial field of the law, for which he had little taste. A diet of crackers and water; bed on the hard floor of the law office where he worked-such was the price he paid in his determination to win the girl he loved. And it was not until the Zouaves made their brilliantly successful tour, under his direction that Mr. Spafford yielded to the inevitable. The first two thirds of the biography present- to this reader- relatively unfamiliar and new material; the last third holds closely to the story as recounted by Sandburg in The War Years -- and to the primary sources quoted by Mrs. Randall and earlier biographers. This provides a small segment of American biographical history. One wonders if anything more than passing interest can be counted on.