The militia is a central component of America’s military tradition based on the belief that the “citizen soldiery” could best defend the nation in times of crisis. Yet, by the mid-nineteenth century, the militia had largely fallen into disfavor and dis-array. Elmer E. Ellsworth, a self-styled military expert, thought he had a solution that would not only revive the institution but, in the process, reinvent himself as a respectable gentleman. In the end, larger societal and political forces overtook him, and he failed to anticipate the resistance he would face. As a result, Ellsworth’s example serves as a cautionary tale about how difficult it is to mold citizens into soldiers in the midst of frenzied martialism.