Thomas Foulds Ellsworth was born in Ipswich on November 12, 1840, the son of Benjamin Noyes Ellsworth (1812-1902) and Laura Ann Titus. Benjamin Ellsworth was appointed the lighthouse keeper by Abraham Lincoln and served in that post for over 40 years, and Thomas grew up in the lightkeeper’s house. Thomas Foulds Ellsworth was one of four soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Battle at Honey Hill, South Carolina, on November 30, 1864. Under a heavy fire he carried his wounded commanding officer, who had become trapped under his horse, saving his life and preventing him from being captured.
Captain Ellsworth was selected to serve as an officer of a company in one of the first regiments made up of “colored soldiers” in the Union Army, the Massachusetts 55th infantry, which along with the 54th Infantry was referred to as the ‘overflow unit’ for the infamous 54th of “Glory’ fame.
Brig. Gen, A. S. Hartwell was rescued by Captain Ellsworth, the act for which the medal was awarded. He later wrote a letter Ellsworth (partially copied below):
“Concerning your leaving the service for disability incurred in the line of duty, I desire, with my wishes for your future and my thanks for your valuable services. Since you left the ranks of the 2d Massachusetts infantry, and, with a fine name for bravery and good conduct entered the 552nd infantry as a second lieutenant,you have faithfully discharged every duty, and in addition to your regular promotion, have been promoted out of order for gallant and meritorious conduct in battle. It is impossible to express the gratitude I feel to you for doing what few men would, or could do for another, and for saving me, at the least, from being left to the rebels- I am deeply thankful that my safety was not bought at the cost of life or limb to you. I remember your words when I said something to you about leaving me: `I will die first.’ I thought then you would, but I saw from your looks there was no use in arguing the point.”
In another incident during the Civil war in which a volunteer was needed to manage a dangerous river crossing, Ellsworth’s fellow soldiers called out, “Ellsworth can do it– he was born in a boat!” After the war, Ellsworth worked as an officer of the Boston Custom House. In the 1890s, he moved to Pasadena, California where he and his son ran a contracting business. The Medal of Honor was awarded to Ellsworth in 1895.
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
ELLSWORTH, THOMAS F.
Rank and Organization: Captain, Company B, Massachusetts Infantry.
Place and Date: At Honey Hill, S.C., 30 November 1864.
Date of Issue: 18 November 1895.
Citation: Under a heavy fire carried his wounded commanding officer from the field.