Bull Run at Gettysburg: Augustus Van Horne Ellis

21 06 2021
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Capt. Augustus Van Horne Ellis, Co. I, 71st NYSM from FindAGrave

In a few weeks, the National Park Service will be placing two boat howitzers on the field at Manassas National Battlefield Park to represent the position occupied during the Frist Battle of Bull Run of two boat howitzers of Co. I, 71st New York State Militia. The tubes which are right now being prepared for placement at the left end of the James Rifles of Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery on Matthews Hill have been relocated from a monument installation outside the Fairfax County Courthouse. You can read all about it here.

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From left, Brandon S. Bies, Andrew Bentley, Jim Burgess, and Jason Edwards, all with the National Park Service’s Manassas National Battlefield Park, disassemble two Civil War cannons that were given to the Manassas Battlefield. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

You can find the position on the D. B. Harris map here, but below is a smaller section of the map. Look at the far right of the line of guns (little crosses) farthest north.

Harris Map Matthews Hill Detail

Harris map detail courtesy of Manassas National Battlefield Park

This recent development reminded me that I have had a draft post sitting around for years – yes, literally years.

On December 3 of whatever year that was, I was at Gettysburg, tromping the field with friend John Banks. Our travels took us up Big Round Top, through the Triangular Field, along the old trolley path, and up through Devil’s Den. Not quite as many Bull Run connections on this route as on Hancock Avenue the day before, but I always manage to root them out. In this case, let’s take a look at the monument to the 124th New York Infantry that sits on Houck’s Ridge above the site of the regiment’s July 2, 1863 action, what Harry Pfanz dubbed “The Triangular Field.”

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Atop the monument sits the unmistakable likeness of the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis. I say unmistakable, because here is the most well known image of Ellis:

BS_EllisAV1863_01

I know, right?

As you’ve read in the link, at First Bull Run then Captain Ellis was in command of two 12-pdr Navy boat howitzers attached to the 71st New York Infantry. There were at least four Ellis brothers in the 71st at the battle: Julius E., Samuel C., and John S. all served in Co. F. Julius, the captain of the company, was mortally wounded. (You can read an account of the battle by brother John here.) The ultimate fate of Co. I’s boat howitzers that were lost at the battle is murky (mention of the “recovery” of the lost boat howitzers in the 71st NYSM Regimental History).

At Gettysburg, Ellis’s “Orange Blossoms,” as they were called due to the large number of recruits from Orange County, NY, were part of the Ward’s Brigade, Birney’s Division, Sickles’s Corps of the Army of the Potomac. On July 2, 1863, they were positioned along Houck’s Ridge above Devil’s Den. Across and up the triangular field in front of them came Texans of John Bell Hood’s division of James Longstreet’s First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. The “Orange Blossoms'” position and situation was critical. After slowing the advance of the 1st Texas Infantry at short range, Major James Cromwell, who explained that the field officers of the regiment, including Ellis, were mounted because “The men must see us today,” repeatedly requested permission to lead a charge. Initially denying him, Ellis finally assented. Unable to resist, he also joined in. The move stopped the enemy advance, but Cromwell was shot down when the reforming Texans fired another volley. Ellis encouraged his men to rescue their major, and as the Texans were pushed back, the colonel was killed instantly by a bullet to the head. His and Cromwell’s bodies were recovered and placed on a boulder to the rear of the regiment, and the 124th NY returned to their original position, the Confederate advance in that part of the field successfully, but expensively, repulsed. Of the 238 officers and men taken into battle, the “Orange Blossoms” lost 92 in killed and wounded.

Legend has it that the monument to the 124th New York on Houck’s Ridge (one of two monuments to the regiment on the field), with the full portrait sculpture of Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis, sits atop the boulder on which he and his major were placed by their men. If that legend isn’t true, it should be.

Augustus Van Horne Ellis at Fold3

Augustus Van Horne Ellis at FindAGrave

Augustus Van Horne Ellis at Wikipedia

71st New York State Militia Regimental History

An account of Ellis’s death at Gettysburg

Some info on this type of gun


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8 responses

22 06 2021
Jim Kadel

Thanks for your interesting and informative (draft) post.
Curiosity question: Why, in this age of technological advances (especially related to chemical coatings/preservatives) are Civil War bronze cannons on our battlefields not polished and coated to preserve their original appearance?

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22 06 2021
Harry Smeltzer

I’m unfamiliar with coating. Polishing needed to be done pretty much daily as the green patina forms very quickly. I imagine cost is a primary deterrent.

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22 06 2021
Jim Burgess

Polishing over time will remove metal and ultimately obscure any markings on the gun tube. One of the two boat howitzers currently being restored at Manassas has lost most of its markings due to past polishing and its history is difficult to document as a result. While the Army did polish its bronze tubes, Navy regulations dictated that the bronze boat howitzers should not be polished. The green patina actually protects the metal underneath so it is best to keep it. A wax coating on bronze cannon offers further protection but must be reapplied periodically.

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22 06 2021
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Jim!

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1 07 2021
Allan S Shikhvarg

“Atop the monument sits the unmistakable likeness of the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis. I say unmistakable, because here is the most well known image of Ellis”…

In case if someone might still try to ‘mistake’ the name ELLIS right under the sculpture itself should dispel any further notion of such :)

Great article – thanks Harry. In some ways (IMHO) a shame that Fairfax monument is being torn down, but at least the the guns will find a good home on the Field of Honor!

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1 07 2021
Harry Smeltzer

Allan, so nice to hear from you! Hope you are well.

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15 07 2021
Christopher Van Blargan

His accomplishments included rounding both southern capes if I remember correctly.

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7 08 2021
Boat Howitzers of the Co. I, 71st New York State Militia | Bull Runnings

[…] on the left of the James Rifles of Reynolds’s Rhode Island battery on Matthews Hill (see here). And I shared a video I shot with Dana Shoaf of Civil War Times magazine and Manassas National […]

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