Charles Ewing was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on March 6, 1835. He was the sixth child and fifth son of Thomas Ewing and Maria (Boyle) Ewing. Ewing’s father, Thomas Ewing, Sr., was a prominent lawyer and a United States senator who also served as United States Secretary of the Treasury and United States Secretary of the Interior. Two of Ewing’s brothers, Thomas Ewing, Jr., and Hugh Boyle Ewing, and his foster brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, eventually became general officers in the Union army during the American Civil War.
Ewing received his early education at St Joseph’s, a Dominican College, in Perry County, Ohio. When his family moved to Washington, D.C., Ewing attended Gonzaga College. He later studied law at the University of Virginia before being admitted to the bar. In 1860, Ewing moved to Missouri and established a law partnership in St. Louis with John Hunter, a boyhood friend from Lancaster.
After the American Civil War began, Ewing joined the regular army as a captain with the 13th U.S. Infantry on May 14, 1861. For the first year of the war, he served at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri and Alton, Illinois on recruitment duty and guarding Confederate prisoners. In October 1862, Ewing’s regiment joined the Army of the Tennessee to prepare for the Union assault on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
During the Vicksburg Campaign, Ewing took part in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou (December 26–29, 1862), the Battle of Arkansas Post (January 9–11, 1863), the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1863), two unsuccessful attempts to storm Vicksburg (July 19 and July 22), and the Siege of Vicksburg (May 25–July 4, 1863). On June 22, Ewing attained the rank of lieutenant colonel of volunteers and joined the staff of his brother-in-law, Major General William T. Sherman, as assistant inspector general of the 15th Army Corps. On July 4, 1863, officials brevetted Ewing as a major in the regular army for gallant service at Vicksburg.
After the fall of Vicksburg, Ewing took part in the federal re-occupation of Jackson, Mississippi, in July 1863. In October 1863, he accompanied the Army of the Tennessee eastward to relieve Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. During the Chattanooga Campaign, he took part in the Union victory at the Battle of Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863).
Following the Union breakout from Chattanooga, Ewing accompanied General Sherman’s army throughout the Atlanta Campaign, the Savannah Campaign, and the Carolinas Campaign. On September 1, 1864, officials brevetted Ewing as a lieutenant colonel in the regular army and, on March 8, 1865, to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. Five days later, he became a colonel in the regular army.
When the Civil War ended, Ewing remained in the army, but he mustered out of volunteer service on December 1, 1865. Ewing transferred, as a captain, to the 22nd U.S. Infantry on September 21, 1866. A few months later, on July 31, 1867, Ewing resigned from the army.
Civilian Life and Marriage
After leaving the army, Ewing pursued a career as a patent lawyer in Washington, D.C. On December 20, 1870, at the nation’s capital, he married Virginia Larwell Miller of Mount Vernon, Ohio. His wife was the daughter of Ohio Congressman John K. Miller. Their marriage produced nine children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.
Catholic Indian Missionary
On January 2, 1874, James Roosevelt Bayley, the Archbishop of Baltimore, appointed Ewing as the Catholic Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In 1879, the church created the Bureau of Catholic Indian Affairs, with Ewing serving as the first commissioner. In that capacity, Ewing promoted Catholic Indian missionary interests in the United States until his death. In appreciation for Ewing’s service, Pope Pius IX made Ewing a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great on June 1, 1877.
In June 1883, Ewing contracted pneumonia. Although he rallied and appeared to improve, Ewing eventually succumbed on June 20, at his home in Washington. Ewing was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.