Lieutenant-General Richard S. Ewell - by Edwin A. Pollard

Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell        The companion in arms and trusted friend of Stonewall Jackson; the successor to the command of the dead hero, leading it from Chancellorsville to other brilliant fields of service; the maimed and worn hero of memorable battles, Richard S. Ewell, was one of the galaxy of stars that illuminated the history of Lee's army; one of that extraordinary company of Virginians who wrote their names and that of their State high in the most glorious records of the war. In 1836 Ewell entered the Military Academy at West Point, and graduated on the 30th June, 1840, receiving an appointment as brevet second-lieutenant of cavalry on the 1st July. On the 10th September, 1845, he was made first-lieutenant, and with that rank went into the Mexican war, serving in Col. Mason's dragoons, and obtained promotion to a captaincy for gallant conduct at Contreras and Cherubusco. He afterwards served in New Mexico. When the State of Virginia seceded, he returned there, and offered his sword to the Confederate cause. A brother, one of the most amiable and intelligent scholars of the South, the honored President of William and Mary College, and a classmate, we believe, of Gen. Lee at West Point, also assumed the military office, and saw some of the hardest service of the war on the staff of Gen. Johnston.

        The first appearance of Richard S. Ewell in the war occurred in a surprise by the enemy of Fairfax Court-House, a village eighteen miles from Washington, and was attended by some ludicrous circumstances. In the night of the 31st May, 1861, a body of Federal cavalry dashed into the village and surprised the Warrenton Rifles there, who, badly armed, and with rifles without bayonets, had to encounter United States regulars, armed with sabers, carbines, and revolvers. The enemy galloped through the streets, and fired at the quarters of the troops, a random shot killing Capt. Marr, as he was selecting ground on which to form his troops. The darkness of the night added to the confusion, which was at its height, when a figure, only partly dressed, dashed forward, placing himself at the head of forty-three members of the Warrenton Rifles, who were already drawn up to receive the enemy. Having deployed the men behind a fence, he advanced towards the Federal cavalry, who were galloping back and firing right and left in the darkness. In a moment they were called upon to Halt! by the new leader of the Confederates, who was, in fact, none other than Colonel, afterwards Lieutenant-General Ewell. He had rushed from his bed without stopping to complete his attire; but, in the blackness of the night, his white shirt proved a sure mark. A ball wounded him in the shoulder, and disabled him; when Ex-Governor Smith (" Extra Billy "), who was also accidentally in the village, took the command and completed the discomfiture of the enemy, who fled by a cross-road to Alexandria. At Manassas, 1861, Ewell commanded a brigade, which, however, was not actively engaged in that first important conflict of arms.

        His efficient and distinguished service commenced when he was sent to reinforce Jackson in the Valley of the Shenandoah; and to this campaign he made a most important contribution, fairly dividing its honors with his superior. At Cross Keys, with Elzey's, Trimble's and Stewart's brigades-Taylor's brigade having been ordered to Port Republic-short of five thousand men, he engaged Fremont's army; and unaided by Jackson's presence, without any support whatever from him, and with the possibility of retreat barred by a river in his rear, he fought a most difficult battle, and achieved the twin decisive victory of the campaign. The general features of the ground on which he fought were a valley and rivulet in his front, woods on both flanks, and a field of some hundreds of acres where the road crossed the centre of his line. In this well-selected position he repulsed the enemy with signal loss, and broke the combination to intercept Jackson's retreat. At the close of the action, the order of march of Gen. Fremont was found on a staff-officer who had been taken prisoner. It showed seven brigades of infantry, besides numerous cavalry. Ewell had had only three small brigades during the greater part of the action, and no cavalry at any time. Mr. John Esten Cooke, in one of his admirable sketches of the war, thus writes of "Cross Keys " and its hero. "It was one of the' neatest' fights of the war. It may be said of the soldier who commanded the Southerners there that he thought that' war meant fight, and that fight meant kill.' He threw forward his right, drove the enemy half a mile, brought up his left, was about to push forward, when, just at nightfall, Jackson sent him an order to withdraw, with the main body of his command, to Port Republic. "Ewell obeyed, and put his column in motion, leaving only a small force to observe the enemy. He was the last to leave the field, and was seen helping the wounded to mount upon horseback. To those too badly hurt to be moved from the ground, he gave money for their necessities out of his own pocket. Health to you, General wherever you may be. A heart of steel beat in your breast in old days, but at Cross Keys the groans of the wounded melted it."

        At Port Republic Gen. Jackson finally carried the day by taking a commanding position crowned by the enemy's artillery; but previous to this assault there had been a crisis in which the enemy had nearly pierced the centre of Jackson's feeble line, and the timely arrival of Ewell made a saving diversion, his impetuous advance and fierce action recovering the field when it was to all appearances lost. When Gen. Ewell, crossing the South River, hurried to the front, he found Winder forced back, and two brigades of the enemy advancing through the Confederate centre. He at once launched against the flank of the attacking column two regiments-the 44th and 58th Virginia-and poured in a galling fire, driving the enemy back for the first time that day, and enabling Winder's scattered infantry to reform, while the batteries of Chew, Brockenborough, Courtenay and Rains reinstated the battle. These services of Ewell in the Valley campaign were of the last importance, and it is easily seen how much Gen. Jackson was indebted to them, especially in the extrication of his army.

        At Cedar Run, Gen. Ewell was again conspicuously cooperating with Stonewall Jackson, and won additional laurels on that field. He thence marched towards Manassas; and in the battle of Groveton that preceded the severer conflicts on these historic plains, he was shot down and desperately wounded. A rifle-ball struck his knee, and the joint was so shattered that amputation was necessary to save his life. During the remainder of Jackson's career Ewell was unable to return to the field and fight by the side of the great commander who had honored him with all of his confidence, and openly and officially credited him with a large share of the victories ascribed to himself. On the 29th May, 1863, Ewell was able to rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia at Hamilton's Crossing, near Fredericksburg. He had been made a Lieutenant-General, and had now command of one of the three large corps (Jackson's old corps incorporated with him) into which Lee's army had been divided. It was eminently fit that he should succeed to the command of his great guide and friend; and the presence of the maimed body of the determined commander strapped on his horse, or moving with difficulty on crutches when dismounted, was an inspiration to the troops, in which it was not difficult to imagine a visitation of the dead warrior to his former comrades. The newspapers described him as a re-animate Jackson, when, leading the van of Lee's army into Pennsylvania, he burst into the Valley of the Shenandoah, and reenacted part of the old drama there in capturing Winchester, and paralyzing the enemy as by an apparition from the dead. He had succeeded to much of Jackson's spirit in other things than the quickness and ardor of his strokes in battle. To the influence and Christian conversation of this leader Gen. Ewell is said to have owed, under God, his remarkable conversion from the reckless and profane habits of the camp to a life of great piety and close communion with the Church.

        In the Pennsylvania campaign, and in the hardest battles of 1864, Ewell's corps was generally in advance, and always in conspicuous positions, making a record of honor, and identifying its name with the most brilliant passages of the war. In the Wilderness, more than a thousand of the enemy's dead lay immediately in front of his lines, testifying his bloody work on that field. At Spotsylvania Court-House, he was posted in the Confederate centre; and although the division of Gen. Edward Johnson was discomfited, the remainder of the corps held its ground, and covered its front with the enemy's slain. In Gen. Lee's retrograde from this position, several affairs occurred with the enemy, in one of which Gen. Ewell had his horse shot under him, and received a severe fall. He tried the next day to reach his saddle, but his maimed body and shattered constitution were plainly unequal to further tasks of the field, and he was compelled relinquish his command. His last record in the war was that of' commander of the Department of Henrico, having charge of the immediate defense of Richmond. In the last months of the war, the people of the city were familiar with the spectacle of a worn and mutilated man looking prematurely old, mounted on a white horse that had often snuffed the battle with defiance, but was now scarcely more than a halting, crippled skeleton. Sometimes the veteran drove through the streets in a dilapidated sulky. It was a sorrowful picture; but a nearer view disclosed a man remarkable even in the ruin of health and constitution, whose gray eye was as sharp and fierce as ever, and whose precise conversation showed that the vigor of his mind was as yet untouched. His defense of the capital was never put to the test; but he was to the last equal to everything required of him.

        Some malicious or thoughtless accusations were, indeed, made that Gen. Ewell unnecessarily fired Richmond when he was ordered to join Gen. Lee's final retreat; but explanations since furnished showed that he acted under the imperative command of his superiors, without choice or discretion to save this great calamity. In the retreat towards Appomattox Court-House, he was captured in the affair of Sailor's Creek; and, for reasons never known, he was cruelly imprisoned for several months in Fort Warren. On his release, in August, 1865, from a confinement which was fast destroying what remained of his physical constitution, he removed to his wife's home in Tennessee, and has since remained there in studious retirement, and, it is to be hoped, in well-deserved and honored ease.

From: Lee and his lieutenants; comprising the early life, public services, and campaigns of General Robert E. Lee and his companions in arms, with a record of their campaigns and heroic deeds, by Edward A. Pollard.

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