Saturday, February 23, 2013

Richard Stoddert Ewell, born February 8, 1817

Richard Stoddert Ewell was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.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.

He was raised in Prince William County, Virginia, from the age of 3, at an estate near Manassas known as "Stony Lonesome."

He was 44 years old when the Civil War began.

West Point
Ewell graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1840, thirteenth in his class of 42 cadets. From 1843 to 1845 he served on escort duty along the  Sante Fee and Oregon Trails.  In the Mexican-American War, he was recognized and promoted for his courage.  At Contreras, he conducted a nighttime reconnaissance with engineer Captain Robert E. Lee, his future commander in the 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. 

Ewell proposed to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that in order 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. But Davis considered that "impossible" and that topic never came up between him and Ewell again. 

On January 24, 1862, Ewell was promoted and began serving under General Stonewall Jackson. 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.  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.  
Fighting at Malvern Hill
 Ewell fought conspicuously at Malvern Hill. Ewell defeated Banks again at the Battle of Cedar Mountain and, returning to the old Manassas battlefield, he fought well at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but was wounded during the battle on August 29, 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.
Portrait of Elizabeth "Lizanka" Campbell Brown Ewell
In the opening days of the Gettsysburg, 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. 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  GettysburgBut 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  Union Corps, driving them back through the town and forcing them to take up defensive positions on Cemetery 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." Ewell chose not to attempt the assault.  Post-war proponents of the Lost Cause movement, particularly Jubal Early, but also Isaac 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.

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.
Dead at Gettysburg
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." In the final combat at Spotsylvania, on May 19, 1864, Ewell ordered an attack on the Union left flank at the Harris Farm, which had little effect beyond delaying Grant for a day, at the cost of 900 casualties, about one-sixth of his remaining force. 

Confederate Dead at Spotsylvania Court House
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 April 1865, as Ewell and his troops were retreating a great many fires in Richmond were started, although it is unclear by whose orders the fires were started. Ewell blamed the plundering mobs of civilians for burning a tobacco warehouse, which was a significant source of the fire, but Nelson Lankford, author of Richmond Burning, wrote that "Ewell convinced few people that the great fire had nothing to do with his men or their deliberate demolition of the warehouses and bridges through military orders passed down the chain of command." These fires created The Great Conflagration of Richmond, which left a third of the city destroyed, including all of the business district. 
Sayler's Creek
Ewell and his troops were then surrounded and captured at Sayler's Creek. This was a few days before Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courth House. He was held as a priosner of war at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor until July 1865.
Group of Confederate Prisoners at Fort Warren

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. 
The Ewell's Spring Hill Farm, Tennessee

He and his wife died of pneumonia within three days of each other.  They are buried in Old City Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. 
Ewell Gravesite in Nashville, Tennessee

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