Richard S. Ewell

Richard S. Ewell

Infobox Military Person
name= Richard Stoddert Ewell
lived= February 8, 1817 – death date and age|1872|1|25|1817|2|8

nickname=Old Bald Head
placeofbirth= Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
placeofdeath= Spring Hill, Tennessee
allegiance= United States of America, Confederate States of America
serviceyears= 1840–61 (USA), 1861–65 (CSA)
rank= Lieutenant General
commands=Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
battles= Mexican-American War
*Battle of Contreras
*Battle of Churubusco
American Civil War
*First Battle of Bull Run
*Valley Campaign
*Seven Days Battles
*Battle of Cedar Mountain
*Second Battle of Bull Run (Brawner's Farm)
*Battle of Chancellorsville
*Second Battle of Winchester
*Battle of Gettysburg
*Battle of the Wilderness
*Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
*Battle of Sayler's Creek

Richard Stoddert Ewell (February 8, 1817 – January 25, 1872) was a career U.S. Army officer and a Confederate general during the American Civil War. He achieved fame as a senior commander under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and fought effectively through much of the war, but his legacy has been clouded by controversies over his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg and at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

Early life and career

Ewell was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. He was raised in Prince William County, Virginia, from the age of 3, at an estate near Manassas known as "Stony Lonesome." [Pfanz, p. 6.] He was the third son of Dr. Thomas and Elizabeth Stoddert Ewell, and was the grandson of Benjamin Stoddert, the first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and the brother of Benjamin Stoddert Ewell.Eicher, p. 229.] He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840, thirteenth in his class 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.Fredriksen, p. 664.] 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 for some time, exploring the newly acquired Gadsden Purchase with Colonel Benjamin Bonneville. He was wounded in a skirmish with Apaches under Cochise in 1859. In 1860, while in command of Fort Buchanan, Arizona, illness compelled him to leave the West for Virginia to recuperate. He described his condition as "very ill with vertigo, nausea, etc., and now am excessively debilitated [,] having occasional attacks of the ague." [Pfanz, p. 119.] Illnesses and injuries would cause difficulties for him throughout the upcoming Civil War.

Civil War

As the nation moved towards Civil War, Ewell had generally pro-Union sentiments, but when his home state of Virginia seceded, Ewell resigned his U.S. Army commission on May 7, 1861, to join the Virginia Provisional Army. He was appointed a colonel of cavalry on May 9 and was one of the first senior officers wounded in the war, at a May 31 skirmish at Fairfax Court House. He was promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on June 17 and commanded a brigade in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac at the First Battle of Bull Run, but saw little action.

Ewell inspired his men in spite of, not because of, his appearance. Historian Larry Tagg described him: [Tagg, p. 251.]

With Stonewall Jackson

On January 24, 1862, Ewell was promoted to major general, and began serving under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the Valley Campaign. Although the two generals worked together well, and both were noted for their quixotic personal behavior, there were many stylistic differences between them. Jackson was stern and pious, whereas Ewell was witty and extremely profane. Jackson was flexible and intuitive on the battlefield, while Ewell, although brave and effective, required precise instructions to function effectively.Fredriksen, p. 665.] Ewell was initially resentful about Jackson's tendency to keep his subordinates uninformed about his tactical plans, but Ewell eventually adjusted to Jackson's methods.

Ewell superbly commanded a division in Jackson's small army during the Valley Campaign, personally winning quite a few battles against the larger Union armies of Maj. Gens. John C. Frémont, Nathaniel P. Banks, and James Shields. Jackson's army was then recalled to Richmond to join Robert E. Lee in protecting the city against Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac in 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, so Jackson was sent to intercept him. Ewell defeated Banks again at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9 and, returning to the old Manassas battlefield, he fought well at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but was wounded at Groveton and his left leg was amputated below the knee.

While recovering from his injury, Ewell was nursed by his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown, a wealthy widow from the Nashville area. Ewell had been attracted to Lizinka since his teenage years and they had earlier flirted with romance in 1861 and during the Valley Campaign, but now the close contact resulted in their wedding in Richmond on May 26, 1863. [Pfanz, p. 275.]

After his long recovery, Ewell returned to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia for the Battle of Chancellorsville. When Jackson was mortally wounded on May 3, 1863, he suggested that Ewell replace him in corps command. Lee temporarily filled the position with J.E.B. Stuart, his cavalry commander, but on May 23, 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, also one of Jackson's division commanders).

Gettysburg and controversy

In the opening days of the Gettysburg Campaign, at the Second Battle of Winchester, Ewell performed superbly, capturing the Union garrison of 4,000 men and 23 cannons. He escaped serious injury there when he was hit in the chest with a spent bullet (the second such incident in his career, after Gaines' Mill). His corps took the lead in the invasion of Pennsylvania and almost reached the state capital of Harrisburg before being recalled by Lee to concentrate at Gettysburg. These successes led to favorable comparisons with Jackson.

But at the Battle of Gettysburg, Ewell's military reputation started a long decline. On July 1, 1863, Ewell's corps approached Gettysburg from the north and smashed the Union XI Corps and part of the I Corps, driving them back through the town and forcing them to take up defensive positions on Cemetery Hill south of town. Lee had just arrived on the field and saw the importance of this position. He sent discretionary orders to Ewell that Cemetery Hill be taken "if practicable." Historian James M. McPherson wrote, "Had Jackson still lived, he undoubtedly would have found it practicable. But Ewell was not Jackson." [McPherson, p. 654.] Ewell chose not to attempt the assault.

Ewell had several possible reasons for not attacking. The orders from Lee contained an innate contradiction. He was "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." [Sears, p. 227.] Lee also refused to provide assistance that Ewell requested from the corps of A.P. Hill. Ewell's men were fatigued from their lengthy marching and strenuous battle in the hot July afternoon and it would be difficult to reassemble them into battle formation and assault the hill through the narrow corridors afforded by the streets of Gettysburg. The fresh division under Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson was just arriving, but Ewell also received intelligence that heavy Union reinforcements were arriving on the York Pike from the east, potentially threatening his flank. [Sears, p. 228.] Ewell's normally aggressive subordinate, Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, concurred with his decision.

Lee's order has been criticized because it left too much discretion to Ewell. Historians such as McPherson have speculated on how the more aggressive Stonewall Jackson would have acted on this order if he had lived to command this wing of Lee's army, and how differently the second day of battle would have proceeded with Confederate possession of Culp's Hill or Cemetery Hill. Discretionary orders were customary for General Lee because Jackson and James Longstreet, his other principal subordinate, usually reacted to them very well and could use their initiative to respond to conditions and achieve the desired results. This failure of action on Ewell's part, whether justified or not, in all likelihood cost the Confederates the battle. When Ewell's corps did attack these positions on July 2 and July 3, the Union had had time to fully occupy the heights and build impregnable defenses, resulting in heavy Confederate losses. Post-war proponents of the lost cause movement, particularly Jubal Early, but also Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble, who had been assigned to Ewell's staff during the battle, criticized him bitterly in attempts to deflect any blame for the loss of the battle on Robert E. Lee. Part of their argument was that the Union troops were completely demoralized by their defeat earlier in the day, but Ewell's men were also disorganized, and decisions such as they were propounding are far simpler to make in hindsight than in the heat of battle and fog of war. [Coddington, pp. 318-19.]

On July 3, Ewell was once again wounded, but this time only in his wooden leg. He led his corps on an orderly retreat back 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.

Overland Campaign and Richmond

Ewell led his corps in the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness and performed well, enjoying the rare circumstance of a slight numerical superiority over the Union corps that attacked him. In the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Lee felt compelled to lead the defense of the "Mule Shoe" on May 12 personally because of Ewell's indecision and inaction. At one point Ewell began hysterically berating some of his fleeing soldiers and beating them over the back with his sword. Lee reined in his enraged lieutenant, saying sharply, "General Ewell, you must restrain yourself; how can you expect to control these men when you have lost control of yourself? If you cannot repress your excitement, you had better retire." Ewell's behavior on this occasion undoubtedly was the source of a statement made by Lee to his secretary, William Allan, after the war that on May 12 he "found Ewell perfectly prostrated by the misfortune of the morning, and too much overwhelmed to be efficient." [Pfanz, p. 389.]

Lee reasoned that Ewell's lingering injuries were the cause of his problems and he relieved him from corps command, reassigning him to command the garrison of the Department of Richmond, which was by no means an insignificant assignment, given the extreme pressure Union forces were applying to the Confederate capital. In 1865, Ewell was retreating from Richmond when his rag-tag force was surrounded and captured at Sayler's Creek, a few days before Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was held as a prisoner of war at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor until July 1865.


After his parole, Ewell retired to work as a "gentleman farmer" on his wife's farm near Spring Hill, Tennessee, which he helped to become profitable, and also leased a successful cotton plantation in Mississippi. He doted on Lizinka's children and grandchildren. 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. [Pfanz, p. 489.] He and his wife died of pneumonia within three days of each other. [Pfanz, p. 494.] They are buried in Old City Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the posthumous author of "The Making of a Soldier", published in 1935.

In popular media

Ewell was portrayed by Tim Scott in the 1993 film "Gettysburg", based on Michael Shaara's novel, "The Killer Angels"; he appears only in the credits and in the Director's Cut release.


* Coddington, Edwin B., "The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command", Scribner's, 1968, ISBN 0-684-84569-5.
* Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., "Civil War High Commands", Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
* Frederiksen, John C., "Richard Stoddert Ewell", "Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History", Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
* Pfanz, Donald C., "Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life", University of North Carolina Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8078-2389-9.
* Sears, Stephen W., "Gettysburg", Houghton Mifflin, 2003, ISBN 0-395-86761-4.
* Tagg, Larry, [ "The Generals of Gettysburg"] , Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
* Warner, Ezra J., "Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders", Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.


External links

* [ Ewell's biography at Civil War Home]
* [ Biography at Stonewall in the Valley website]

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