Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell (CSA)

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Lieutenant General Richard Stoddert Ewell (CSA)

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Richard Stoddert Ewell was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia on 8 February 1817. He was raised near Manassas, Virginia at “Stony Lonesome”. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1840, thirteenth of 42 cadets. He was known to his friends as “Old Bald Head” or “Baldy”. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1845. From 1843 to 1845, he served with Philip St. George Cooke and Stephen Watts Kearny on escort duty along the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. In the Mexican-American War, serving under Winfield Scott, he was recognized and promoted to captain for his courage at Contreras and Churubusco. At Contreras, he conducted a nighttime reconnaissance with engineer Captain Robert E. Lee, his future commander.

Ewell served in the New Mexico Territory exploring the newly acquired Gadsden Purchase with Colonel Benjamin Bonneville. He was wounded in a skirmish with Apaches in 1859. In 1860, while in command of Fort Buchanan, Arizona, illness compelled him to leave the West for Virginia to recuperate.

Ewell had generally pro-Union sentiments, but he resigned his U.S. Army commission on 7 May 1861 when Virginia seceded. He was appointed colonel of cavalry and was the first field grade officer wounded in the war on 31 May at Fairfax Court House. He was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run.

Hours after the battle, Ewell proposed to President Jefferson Davis that for the Confederacy to win the war, the slaves must be freed and join the ranks of the army; he was also willing to lead the blacks into battle.

On 24 January 1862, Ewell was promoted to major general and began serving under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson during the Valley Campaign. He superbly commanded a division during the campaign, personally winning battles against larger Union forces under John C. Fremont, Nathaniel P. Banks, and James Shields.

Jackson’s army was recalled to defend Richmond against George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. Ewell fought conspicuously at Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill. After Lee repelled the Union army in the Seven Days Battles, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia threatened to attack from the north. Jackson was sent to intercept him. Ewell defeated Banks again at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on 9 August. He fought well at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was wounded at the Battle of Groveton (Brawner’s Farm) on 29 August and lost his left leg below the knee.

Ewell married his cousin Lizinka Campbell Brown who nursed him back to health. He returned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, so on 23 May, Ewell was promoted to lieutenant general and command of the Second Corps (now slightly smaller than Jackson’s because units were subtracted to create a new Third Corps under Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill).

At the Second Battle of Winchester, Ewell performed superbly, capturing the Union garrison of 4,000 men and 23 cannons. He escaped serious injury when he was hit in the chest with a spent bullet. His corps took the lead into Pennsylvania and almost reached the state capital of Harrisburg before being recalled to concentrate at Gettysburg. His early success led to favorable comparisons to Jackson.

However, his reputation started a long decline at the Battle of Gettysburg. On 1 July 1863, his corps approached Gettysburg from the north and smashed the Union XI Corps and part of I Corps, driving them back through town and forcing them to take up defensive positions on Cemetery Hill. Lee arrived and saw the importance of this position. He sent Ewell discretionary orders to Ewell to take Cemetery Hill “if practicable”. Ewell did not attempt the assault due to Lee’s contradictory orders, “to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army.”

Ewell’s corps attacked Cemetery Hill on 2 and 3 July, but the Union had had time to fully occupy the heights and build impregnable defense, resulting in heavy Confederate losses. Post-war proponents of the lost cause movement, particularly Jubal Early and Isaac R. Trimble, criticized Ewell to deflect any blame for the loss of the battle on Robert E. Lee.

On 3 July, Ewell was once again wounded, but this time only in his wooden leg. He led his corps on an orderly retreat to Virginia. His luck continued to be poor and he was wounded at Kelly’s Ford, Virginia, in November. He was injured again in January 1864, when his horse fell over in the snow.

Ewell led his corps in the May 1864 Battle of Wilderness and performed well. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Lee felt compelled to lead the defense of the “Mule Shoe” on 12 May personally because of Ewell’s indecision and inaction. Lee finally relieved him from corps command, reassigning him to command the garrison of the Department of Richmond. As his troops were retreating in April 1865, great fires were started in Richmond destroying a third of the city.

Ewell and his troops were then surrounded and captured at Sayler’s Creek. He was held prisoner of war at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor until July 1865. While imprisoned, Ewell organized a group of sixteen former generals also at Fort Warren, including Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Joseph B. Kershaw, and sent a letter to Ulysses S. Grant about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for which they said no Southern man could feel anything other than “unqualified abhorrence and indignation” and insisting that the crime should not be connected to the South.

After his parole, Ewell retired to work as a “gentleman farmer” on his wife’s farm near Spring Hill, Tennessee. He was president of the Columbia Female Academy’s board of trustees, a communicant at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, and president of the Maury County Agricultural Society. He and his wife died of pneumonia within three days of each other. He died on 25 January 1872.

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