Richard Stoddert Ewell
Richard Stoddert Ewell was born in Georgetown in the District of Columbia on 8 February, 1817, he grew up on the family farm near Centreville, Virginia. His father was a navy doctor but died when Richard was nine. To provide for her 10 children, Ewell’s mother taught school.
In 1836, he entered West Point and graduated in 1840, thirteenth in the
class. The woman he had hoped to marry, wed someone else the year before
and so Ewell sought service on the frontier. Appointed 2nd lieutenant in
the First Dragoons and promoted to 1st lieutenant in 1845, he spent six years in the West fighting against Indians.|
During the Mexican-American War, Ewell was brevetted for gallantry at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco in August 1847. After the U.S. troops overran Chapultepec on September 13, Ewell and Captain Philip Kearny aggressively pursued the fleeing Mexicans to the gates of Mexico City, where terrific musket fire stopped the advance. Kearny’s arm was mangled, and Ewell had two horses shot from under him as he led the dragoons in retreat from the San Antonio garita (gate). After the Mexican War, promoted to captain in 1849, he served for a time in Baltimore, Maryland before being assigned to New Mexico Territory in 1850. There he won further distinction against the Apaches. When not fighting Indians Ewell worked a silver mine he owned, but the mine proved to be barren.
In January 1861 he applied for sick leave and came home. By April he was in the Confederate Army, appointed lieutenant colonel of cavalry. Ewell was slightly wounded at Fairfax Court House, Virginia on 1 June and promoted to brigadier general on 17 June. Then he commanded a brigade at First Manassas but saw little of the action during the battle.
On 24 January, 1862, President Davis promoted him to major general commanding a division and was sent to the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce Maj.Gen. Stonewall Jackson. It was a frustrating experience. Jackson kept his campaign plans secret. And so much so, that Ewell at first considered his commander insane. "He is as crazy as a March hare!" he declared. Even after Stonewall had soundly defeated the Yankees in several clashes, Ewell was not fully convinced that he had been wrong. He would only concede: "... [he] does curious thing; but he has method in his madness..."
Ewell's troops engaged and routed the Federals in the battle at Front Royal on May 23, 1862. Two days later, moving against Banks at Winchester, Ewell made the initial attack, and one of his brigades under Gen. Richard Taylor led a final charge that routed the enemy. On June 6, 1862, after a violent skirmish with Union cavalry, Ewell revealed a previously unseen, tender side to his surly character - he personally loaded each of his wounded into ambulances. When he finished, he dug into his meager purse and gave most of his money to a local farmer, who had volunteered to house the injured. The funds were to be used for whatever the men might need.
After Jackson retreated to avoid a pincer by Federal Gens. John C. Fremont and James Shields that threatened his rear, Ewell personally planned, directed, and won a battle with Fremont at Cross Keys on June 8, 1862. The climax of this Valley Campaign was the battle of Port Republic on June 9, 1862. The key to the Confederate victory was a Union battery, located on a wooded hill that overlooked the combat. Brigadier General Richard Taylor's men had made an earlier attempt to dislodge the enemy cannon but had failed. Taylor's men were trapped. "There seemed nothing left but to set our backs to the mountain and die hard," the brigadier general recalled. "At that instant, crashing through the underwood, came Ewell..." Riding ahead of the troops he was leading to the rescue, Ewell charged the Union guns. His horse was shot out from under him, but he continued his lonely attack on foot. When his force suddenly surged into view, the Federals turned and fled. The artillery was captured and Ewell himself aimed one of the cannon at the retiring enemy.
With the valley secured, Jackson’s men moved to Richmond where they saw action at Gaines’ Mill on 27 June. Next, Jackson and Ewell were sent north around Manassas Junction in the rear of the enemy. This march culminated in the Second Battle of Manassas on 28 August. At Groveton he was wounded in the right knee and had his left leg amputated. Ewell recuperated under the care of his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown, whom he eventually married in May 1863. In the spring of 1863 he returned to duty and when Stonewall Jackson died, Ewell was appointed his successor and promoted to lieutenant general on 23 May.
On 13 June, he led his men on a spectacular victory at Winchester in the Valley. Over 4,000 Federals were captured, 23 cannon and 300 supply wagons fell into Confederate hands. Then they marched into Pennsylvania to meet the enemy at Gettysburg on 1 July. Ewell launched an attack on the Federal right, but failed to take Cemetery Ridge, for which he received considerable criticism. In 1864 he commanded his corps in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, but Ewell’s broken health forced Lee to transfer him from corps command to responsibility for the defense of Richmond. On 29 September he managed to save the Confederate capital from capture by some 8,000 Federals with only a handful of Southern troops. Gathering about 200 stragglers they stood, without entrenchments, silhouetted against an empty woods to their rear. Union troops thinking reinforcements were in the woods refused to attack.
Meanwhile, Ewell’s wife made arrangements to take the oath of allegiance to the Federal Union when she learned that Ewell wasn’t given the leadership of his corps back to him.
In 1865, during the retreat toward Appomattox, Ewell commanded a mixed corps of soldiers, sailors and marines; surrounded and forced to surrender at Sayler’s Creek, he was imprisoned until summer. Taken to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, he was ostracized by his fellow officers but began to recover his health.
After his release from the Yankee prison, Richard Ewell moved to his wife’s plantation in Maury County, Tennessee, where he died of pneumonia on January 25, 1872, just five days after Lizinka succumbed to the same illness. Douglas S. Freeman described Ewell as “bold, pop-eyed and long beaked, with a piping voice that seems to fit his appearance as a strange, unlovely bird”; his sharp tongue matched his fighting spirit, but the loss of his leg, headaches, indigestion, and sleeplessness drained both his energy and effectiveness”. “A truer and nobler spirit never drew sword”, proclaimed General Longstreet.
Gen. John B.Gordon once described Gen. Richard Ewell as "the most eccentric genius in the Confederate Army". However, it may be that his eccentricity was actually a facet of his tendency to concentrate only on his thoughts rather than his surroundings. Ewell's principal aide and stepson, Campbell Brown, told of an incident illustrating his single-mindedness. The two men stopped at a farmhouse for some buttermilk. While the lady there went to get some, Ewell picked up her scissors and began to cut his own hair. Only half-done when she returned, Ewell laid down the scissors, drank the milk, then rode off with the hair short on one side of his head and untouched on the other. Several days passed before Brown could get Ewell to finish the job.
During the occupation of Carlisle, PA, by Confederate troops, citizens of the town asked Gen. Richard Ewell, the Southern commander, if the Lutheran church could open on the next Sunday. Ewell responded, "Certainly, I'll attend myself if I'm here." The group was shocked at the prospect of Ewell being at their services. After a lengthy silence, the spokesman told Ewell that during the services prayers were offered for the President of the United States, and asked if they could do so this time. Barked Ewell, "Who do you mean, Lincoln? Certainly pray....I don't know anybody that stands more in need of prayer."
As a young man, Confederate Lt.Gen. Richard Ewell deeply loved a girl who wed another, a man named Brown. Ewell remained single but carried the lady in his heart for many years. Evidencing his continued affection, he even placed her son on his staff. Fate led to Ewell being wounded during the War and subsequently being nursed by Mrs.Brown who had been a widow many years. During the weeks of her gentle care, Ewell wooed Mrs. Brown. He finally realized his dream of marriage to her and became a devoted husband. However, he never seemed aware their marriage had changed her name. He would proudly introduce her as "My wife, Mrs. Brown, sir."
As Richard S. Ewell rode into Gettysburg with John B. Gordon at his side in 1863, Ewell reeled in his saddle immediately after the ominous sound of a bullet hitting home. Anxiously, Gordon asked, “Are you hurt, sir ?” General Ewell replied unconcernedly, “No, no, it doesn’t hurt a bit to be shot in a wooden leg !”
In late April, 1862, enraged by a terse reply by which Stonewall Jackson dismissed an elaborate scheme of Ewell's, General Richard Ewell exploded to a fellow officer, "Did it ever occur to you that General Jackson is crazy? He is as crazy as a March hare!" About six weeks later he told the officer, "I take it all back... Old Jackson's no fool. He keeps his own counsel, and does curious things, but he has method in his madness." Grinning, he added, "He's disappointed me entirely!"
Lt. General Dick Ewell looked on as Stonewall Jackson knelt hatless before his tent on the morning of one of his great victories, praying to his Lord. Aware of the great faith and military talent before him, Ewell commented, "If that is religion, I must have it."
Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.