Elon Farnsworth was an officer who experienced a meteoric rise to a general’s star only to be killed five days later in a suicidal charge. A civilian veteran of the Mormon expedition, Farnsworth was appointed first lieutenant and adjutant of his uncle’s regiment, the 8th Illinois Cavalry, on September 18, 1861.
Having been promoted captain on December 25, 1861, he attended services on February 9, 1862, at Saint Paul’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia. When Reverend J. R. Stewart refused to read the required prayer for the U.S. President, Farnsworth ordered him arrested. The preacher was subsequently released.
Farnsworth served in all his regiment’s campaigns. During the Chancellorsville Campaign, he participated in Stoneman’s Raid and on the retreat saved the horse artillery’s ammunition chests by floating them over a river. On June 28, 1863, Farnsworth was jumped from captain to brigadier and given command of the lst Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The reason for this unusually rapid advancement, other than his staff association with General Pleasonton, the new cavalry chief, does not appear in the records.
After several days of chasing rebel cavalry, Farnsworth was ordered to charge the Confederate right flank at Gettysburg on July 3. Questioning his division commander, General Kilpatrick, about the wisdom of this move of cavalry against infantry behind stone walls, Farnsworth had his own bravery challenged. Making the doomed charge with the lst West Virginia Cavalry, he was struck by five bullets and killed. Farnsworth had been right!