After the debut of Confederate ironclad Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads, the US Army commissioned Ellet colonel of engineers to convert towboats as rams. Ellet led his new ram fleet at Memphis, 6 June 1862, where it played an important role in opening up the Mississippi River for the Union. He died 21 June at Cairo, Illinois from a knee wound sustained in this action.
His brother, Alfred Washington Ellet, born 11 October 1820, then took over the ram fleet and, as Brigadier General of Volunteers, continued operations on western rivers until 1864. Returning to civilian life, he died at El Dorado, Kansas 9 January 1895.
His son, Charles Rivers Ellet was born at Philadelphia on 1 June 1843, was studying medicine when the Civil War began and served as an Army Assistant Surgeon, but transferred to his father’s ram fleet when it was formed in 1862. Promoted colonel later that year, he commanded ram Queen of the West, escaping when it was captured below Vicksburg in February 1863. The next month, he passed Vicksburg in command of ram Switzerland, but died of ill health at Bunker Hill, Illinois, 29 October.
Family members Lt. Colonel John A. Ellet and Edward C. Ellet also rendered valuable service during the Civil War.