Historic Civil War Grouping, NY Captain KIA at Chancellorsville


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In our 20+ years of business we have had few items with a more poignant history, fully
supported by included documentation. The centerpiece of the collection is the M1850
Foot Officer’s Sword and scabbard carried by Captain Daniel S. Ellswoth of the 86th New
York Infantry Regiment; the very sword he was carrying at the time of his death. Next is a
period 5″ x 7″ cabinet photo of Ellsworth carrying this exact sword, with “Capt
Ellsworth/New York/1861″ hand-written in faded period pencil on the back. Also included
is a binder containing 10 original letters hand-written in the field by Ellsworth to his family,
dating between December, 1861 and February, 1863. One letter, written shortly after the
Battle of Fredericksburg, relates “…one shell burst so close to me that the gravel knocked
my hat off”. The sabre, a standard field grade model marketed by the famous firm of
Schuyler, Hartley, and Graham, features gilt cast brass guard pierced and decorated with
floral motif, sharkskin-wrapped grip (wire missing), and 30″ slightly curved single-edged
blade with long single fuller, etched with foliage, stands of arms, and “Stand by/the Union”
in script on both sides with the retailer’s name on the ricasso. Numerous shallow edge
nicks on blade with areas of light pitting primarily toward the point. Original black leather
scabbard (dry and most of the seam open) with brass mounts, the uppermost mount
period engraved in script “Capt Danl. S. Ellsworth/86th NY Vols./3d Army Corps./Killed at
the Battle of Chancellorsville/May 3d, 1863./Presented by/his Father/to/E.G. Durfy.” E.G.
Durfy of Hornellsville, NY, was Ellsworth’s employer for the 5 years prior to his enlistment.
The two were obviously very close as some of Ellsworth’s letters fondly refer to him.

A typed copy of Ellsworth’s obituary is included which relates the story of his death early
on the morning of May 3rd, 1863, while leading his men a ball passed through his temples.
His lieutenant, 2nd Lt. Matthew Vincent, witnessed his falling and, upon viewing the
wound and assuming him dead, ordered his body carried to the rear. The soldiers who
carried him from the field, however, saw signs of life- “He breathed and grasped his
sabre”, and his wounds were dressed in the makeshift hospital set up in a house behind
the Union lines. In the confusion of the Union defeat the hospital was burned by shellfire
and, though it was determined that all the dead and wounded had been evacuated,
Ellsworth’s body was lost and never recovered, despite several days of searching. At
Ellsworth’s passing Vincent remarked “I could not have felt more had it been my own
brother, but he fell while doing his duty. He was boldly cheering on his men. At the time
when the Captain fell, we were hotly engaged with the Rebel infantry at a distance of
about 15 rods. The bullets flew like a shower of hail. The Captain was at his post.”

Daniel S. Ellsworth of Hornellsville, NY enlisted in the 86th NY Infantry (aka Steuben
Rangers) on August 29th, 1861 and was commissioned Captain of Company D on
November 12, 1861. The regiment originally was posted in the Washington, DC area and
was heavily engaged at 2nd Bull Run, suffering 107 casualties. The regiment was part of
the Army of the Potomac’s Third Corps and served in Virginia, suffering 88 casualties,
including Ellsworth, at Chancellorsville, and participated in the Battle of Gettysburg where
it suffered an additional 64 casualties. The unit mustered out on June 27th, 1865, having
suffered a total of 632 casualties during the war.