General Richard S. Ewell - prudent commander, or the goat?

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frontrank2

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On the first day of Gettysburg, General Lee gave instructions to General Ewell to take Culp's Hill," if practicable." Ewell was the newly minted Second Corps commander of the ANV , since Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville two months earlier. This was Ewell's first major engagement as a corps commander, and his interpretation of Lee's orders dictated that his men were in no condition for an attack on the Federal position there. And we all know that the 12th Corps under Gen. George S. Greene went on to fortify Culp's Hill and make it exceedingly difficult for the Confederates to take it, which they never did. On account of his inaction, Gen. Ewell went on to garner heavy criticism after the battle was over, some even blaming him for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Opinions anyone?

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frontrank2

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Lee gave Ewell a discrectionary order. Don't hand someone discretion if you aren't prepared for them to use it.
On face value, I totally agree with you. But, from stuff I've read over the years, this was Gen. Lee's manner in which he would give an order that he expected to be carried out, Evidently Jackson would understand Lee's intentions, but Ewell, not so much.
 

ivanj05

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On face value, I totally agree with you. But, from stuff I've read over the years, this was Gen. Lee's manner in which he would give an order that he expected to be carried out, Evidently Jackson would understand Lee's intentions, but Ewell, not so much.
But that's a Lee problem, not a Ewell problem. Communication works two ways. For all of Lee's virtues as an army commander, Gettysburg showed the limitations of Lee's commmand style. You can't just slot Ewell in as commander of the corps and expect him to think and respond just like Jackson anymore than you can expect Jackson to rise from the grave and eat the brains of the Union army. "If practicable" would sound like a discretionary order to virtually any subordinate in any field in any walk of life. If that isn't how Lee meant it, then that's not how he should have said it.

Now you can argue about the choice Ewell made in using his discretion, but that's still a matter of arguement and not certainty.
 

frontrank2

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Very true. I've always given some slack to Gen. Ewell for that instance. And ultimately I think it was Lee who was the one responsible. But unfortunately for Ewell, he caught a lot of flak from his contemporaries for his failure at Gettysburg.
 
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NedBaldwin

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Ewell was the newly minted Second Corps commander of the ANV , since Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville two months earlier. This was Ewell's first major engagement as a corps commander,
His first engagement as a Corps commander was 2nd Winchester, a very successful victory:



Opinions anyone?
Ewell was a much better commander than he is often given credit for. He was a good judge of his situation and made the correct call at Gettysburg.
 

rpkennedy

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I agree with ivanj05 that Lee gave Ewell the discretion of whether or not to attack and has to accept the consequences of that discretion.

That being said, I generally agree with Ewell's decision not to attack based on what he knew at the time. Rodes' Division had been fighting all afternoon and a couple brigades had been badly cut up, Early's Division hadn't sustained many casualties but had done some hard marching in the morning and early afternoon and had been fighting all afternoon, and Johnson's Division wasn't expected to come up for a couple hours. Not to mention that he was receiving reports that there were Union troops on his left flank, out the Hanover Road, tying up most of Gordon and Smith's Brigades.

Now, take what he knew about the enemy. He knew that they had fought a cavalry division and the First and Eleventh Corps. He was looking up at a hill that was covered in an unknown number of troops and numerous artillery pieces. Add in the fact that there was no place to form up for an attack on Cemetery Hill without being directly under the eyes of those artillery pieces because of the town itself.

With all of that, I can't really fault Ewell for making the decision he did.

R
 
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Jamieva

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His first engagement as a Corps commander was 2nd Winchester, a very successful victory:




Ewell was a much better commander than he is often given credit for. He was a good judge of his situation and made the correct call at Gettysburg.
Granted Milroy wasn't much of a challenge for ANV troops.
 
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dlavin

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I just got done reading about 2nd Winchester in Trudeau's Gettysburg. It didn't appear that there was much resistance from the Union commander there so I guess you could say Ewell did a good job there
 

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On the first day of Gettysburg, General Lee gave instructions to General Ewell to take Culp's Hill," if practicable." Ewell was the newly minted Second Corps commander of the ANV , since Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville two months earlier. This was Ewell's first major engagement as a corps commander, and his interpretation of Lee's orders dictated that his men were in no condition for an attack on the Federal position there. And we all know that the 12th Corps under Gen. George S. Greene went on to fortify Culp's Hill and make it exceedingly difficult for the Confederates to take it, which they never did. On account of his inaction, Gen. Ewell went on to garner heavy criticism after the battle was over, some even blaming him for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Opinions anyone?

View attachment 72982
That is a very good question. Jackson was known for pushing troops beyond what most people thought possible. Ewell, being new to Corp command acted much more reserved than Jackson would have or Lee would have liked him to have.
Early in Lee's command of the ANV mistakes were common and mostly blamed on verbal or vague orders. It took a while for Jackson and Longstreet to figure out the amount of discretion Lee actual would allow. Once they figured this out the army began to perform increasing efficient as a fighting machine. Jackson himself left his officers completely in the dark as to his battle plans and confided in no one. He was even vague with Lee. So I don't think Ewell was in a position at that time to perform as a seasoned Corps commander. (He served with Jackson since January of 62 but I think its fair to say Jackson did not take him under his wing and mentor him into a competent successor) Sure everyone including Lee would have loved for him to have taken the hill. In an interview after the war Lee made a statement had Jackson have been there he would have taken the high ground. This is probably true of Jackson. A very good question indeed.
 

ivanj05

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Again, that seems like far more of an issue with Lee's command style than with Ewell's readiness or lack thereof for corps command.
 
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rpkennedy

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That is a very good question. Jackson was known for pushing troops beyond what most people thought possible. Ewell, being new to Corp command acted much more reserved than Jackson would have or Lee would have liked him to have.
Early in Lee's command of the ANV mistakes were common and mostly blamed on verbal or vague orders. It took a while for Jackson and Longstreet to figure out the amount of discretion Lee actual would allow. Once they figured this out the army began to perform increasing efficient as a fighting machine. Jackson himself left his officers completely in the dark as to his battle plans and confided in no one. He was even vague with Lee. So I don't think Ewell was in a position at that time to perform as a seasoned Corps commander. (He served with Jackson since January of 62 but I think its fair to say Jackson did not take him under his wing and mentor him into a competent successor) Sure everyone including Lee would have loved for him to have taken the hill. In an interview after the war Lee made a statement had Jackson have been there he would have taken the high ground. This is probably true of Jackson. A very good question indeed.
Jackson didn't necessarily groom Ewell for higher command but Jackson did choose Ewell as his successor so he must have seen something in him.

I'm not so sure Jackson could have taken the hill. I do believe that he would've tried something but with what troops he had available and the position he was in, I'm not so confident that he would have been successful.

R
 

Jamieva

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Blame has to go on Lee to not understand his suborindates. Ewell did very well in the Valley with Jackson, but Jackson was very specific with orders and instructions to him.
 

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On the first day of Gettysburg, General Lee gave instructions to General Ewell to take Culp's Hill," if practicable." Ewell was the newly minted Second Corps commander of the ANV , since Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville two months earlier. This was Ewell's first major engagement as a corps commander, and his interpretation of Lee's orders dictated that his men were in no condition for an attack on the Federal position there. And we all know that the 12th Corps under Gen. George S. Greene went on to fortify Culp's Hill and make it exceedingly difficult for the Confederates to take it, which they never did. On account of his inaction, Gen. Ewell went on to garner heavy criticism after the battle was over, some even blaming him for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Opinions anyone?

View attachment 72982
R.E. Lee was genteel but he was as demanding of his primary lieutenants as he was of himself. Ewell surely had observed enough to know this. Plus, Lee had picked Ewell pointedly to replace Stonewall Jackson. I would think it was understood what sort of shoes Ewell was supposed to fill -- that of risk-taker, aggressive, bold and surprising. All that in account, I'd say "if practicable" in Lee lingo meant "unless there's absolutely no way in hell you can do it." Lee was deeply disappointed. Although he continued to value Ewell, he knew Ewell was not up to the role and thereafter Lee looked over Ewell's shoulder.

In contrast, when Early was sent into the Valley a year later, he seemed to understand that he would be measured by Jackson's track record and so he pursued a very vigorous campaign. He came far closer to filling Jackson's shoes than Ewell. And this kills me, because Ewell was so much more likable a person than Jubal Early.
 
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Eric Wittenberg

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I just got done reading about 2nd Winchester in Trudeau's Gettysburg. It didn't appear that there was much resistance from the Union commander there so I guess you could say Ewell did a good job there
My friend Scott Mingus and I have book on Second Winchester due out this fall. This is it: http://www.amazon.com/dp/161121288X/?tag=civilwartalkc-20

Robert H. Milroy, the union commander at Winchester, disobeyed a direct order to withdraw his forces from the town, instead preferring to adopt a Maginot Line mentality, believing that his complex of fortifications would protect his men. Although elements of his command fought hard, they were outgeneraled by Ewell and his subordinates, badly outnumbered, and had the disadvantage of having to fight on ground of the enemy's choosing. The battle never should have occurred. And when it did, it was an umitigated disaster for the Union and a very fine showing by Ewell in his first engagement as a corps commander. Ewell was decisive, strategic, and seemed to channel Jackson. It was an outstanding performance by him and his men.
 

NedBaldwin

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I think Ewell is being sold short.
His command in the Valley (2nd Winchester) and drive into Pensylvania and first day fighting at gettysburg filled Jacksons shoes just fine.

R.E. Lee was genteel but he was as demanding of his primary lieutenants as he was of himself. Ewell surely had observed enough to know this. Plus, Lee had picked Ewell pointedly to replace Stonewall Jackson. I would think it was understood what sort of shoes Ewell was supposed to fill -- that of risk-taker, aggressive, bold and surprising. All that in account, I'd say "if practicable" in Lee lingo meant "unless there's absolutely no way in hell you can do it." Lee was deeply disappointed. Although he continued to value Ewell, he knew Ewell was not up to the role and thereafter Lee looked over Ewell's shoulder.

In contrast, when Early was sent into the Valley a year later, he seemed to understand that he would be measured by Jackson's track record and so he pursued a very vigorous campaign. He came far closer to filling Jackson's shoes than Ewell. And this kills me, because Ewell was so much more likable a person than Jubal Early.
 
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