16 Roxbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
Inside Becker College, Senior Vice President David Ellis oversees the administration and financial operations of the College. He arrived at Becker with 34 years of experience working in higher education, including having served as president of Newbury College in Brookline for five years.
Outside Becker College, David’s passions are his children, sports, and exploring the American Civil War. He developed a deep interest in military history from his father, who fought in World War II and Korea, and his grandfather, who was too young to join the American Army in World War I but enlisted with the French artillery. The Ellis’s military history goes even further back—to family members who fought in the Revolutionary War, with one wounded at the battle of Bunker Hill.
Several years ago, David realized he didn’t know much about the American Civil War. He delved into Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War and made his first trip to Gettysburg in 2000 with his son. “I loved it,” he says of the tour he took of the battlefield. “It’s the premier battlefield that is also the best preserved of all of the sites.”
Over the next 10 years, during his travels through 43 of the 50 states, he made stops at Civil War battle sites—some well-known; some lesser-known and off the beaten path. While Gettysburg is one of the most well-known of the sites, more than 300 battle sites are located throughout 26 states. “A lot of fields are the same as they were back in the 1860s,” he says, adding that he is a supporter of the work of the Civil War Preservation Trust. “The Trust seeks to preserve these battlefields. The work of this organization is critical to preserving our past.” The Trust played a role in convincing Walmart not to build a supercenter next to the Wilderness Battlefield, one of the key locations of Union army encampments and headquarters for generals Grant and Meade, and stopped a casino from being built near Gettysburg National Military Park. “The trust also buys up acreage in order to preserve fields,” David says, “although some have already had developments built on them.” The last site he visited, at Bentonville, North Carolina, was the site of the last full-scale action where the Confederate army mounted an offensive against the Union army led by General Sherman. “It looks just as it did in 1865,” he says.
So why visit these battlefields and become well-versed in Civil War history? “Nowadays my kids get their information from the Internet,” he says. “My wife and I worry about that and wonder if we are losing our lessons from the past. I think it’s important to have a sense of history.” Although the Civil War was devastating in terms of loss of life—over 600,000 men, comprising two percent of the population at the time—“there was a huge diversity,” David points out. Joining the Americans were foreigners who had not been born in America, including the Germans, Irish, Canadians, Swiss, French, and Scandinavians.
“The Civil War preserved the nation,” David says. “Slavery divided us, but the war enabled us to come back together.” Of President Abraham Lincoln he says, “He was vastly underappreciated at the time. He understood the evils of slavery, and it was unfortunate that he never lived to see his vision come to pass.”
To learn more about the Civil War, David recommends the movies Gettysburg, Glory, and The Civil War (by Ken Burns), and books by renowned Civil War historians Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton, and The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, about the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.