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Fort Ellsworth Regains Its Flag

July 11, 2002

A 34 star Union flag once again flies at the site of the first fort built to protect the nation's capital during the Civil War.

On Saturday, July 6, the Fort Ellsworth Unit Owners Association, dedicated the replica of the American Flag of the era "to honor those who served in defense of the nation." The 169 unit community on Shuters Hill covers a portion of the Civil War fort site named for that conflict's first casualty, Colonel Elmer Efraim Ellsworth.

"We've been talking for some time that we are located on the site of the historic fort and thought it was time to have a flag. We had it specially made with 34 stars, the number of states in the Union at the time of the war," Althea Burns, Vice President of the association's Board of Directors, explained.

Standing on a grassy knoll in front of the flag pole and a bronze plaque marking the historic area, Walton "Wallie" Owen, Historic Site Administrator, Fort C.F.Smith Park, Arlington, and Alexandria native, explained to the assembled crowd in his dedication speech that "such forts were built due to Lincoln's fear that the Confederacy would attack Washington.

"By 1865, Washington was the most heavily fortified city in the United States. There were 1,120 cannons overlooking the city. Fort Ellsworth was begun in May 1861, followed by Fort Ward in September that same year."

Owen noted that things operated in Washington much as they do today. "The line of fortifications was begun in 1861. In 1862 Congress created a committee to study how to defend Washington. Their report was issued in early 1863."

As co-author of "Mr.Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington," Owen stated, "Fort Ellsworth is a good example of historical sites being hidden within the urban landscape."

He also explained that Fort Ellsworth was a complicated fort to build. "It was known as a bastion fort. It was built on a star design for maximum protection."

COLONEL ELLSWORTH, commanding officer of the 11th New York "Fire Zouaves," was a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln. His unit took part in the occupation of Alexandria in May 1861. As he removed a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House, now the site of the Holiday Inn Old Town, Innkeeper James Marshall, a staunch Confederate, shot him. Upon its completion the fort was named in his honor.

"Current events have given us a greater appreciation of what the American Flag stands for. The Fort Ellsworth community wants this flag to fly as a symbol for the events of today as well as a reminder of our historic past," said Joseph Gattuso, Association President.

"This nation is not that old and the flag is very important. And, the important thing about this event is that it emphasizes the need for every community to something in their own way to show their dedication to the American ideals," he emphasized.

Following Owen's remarks the flag was raised by long-time community resident, Colonel Harris "Woody" Woods, U.S. Army (Ret) and Devin Pennypacker, a cub scout from Den Four, Pack 801, Boy Scouts of America, also a resident of the Fort Ellsworth condominiums.

"By choosing these two to do the honor of raising the flag we are going for a hometown feel for this event as well as honoring the past and the future," Burns said.

Following the raising, the crowd sang the national anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The 34 star flag will now greet residents and visitors alike as they enter the area once occupied by the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, also known as "Shuters Hill."