Hugh Boyle Ewing was born in Lancaster, Ohio on October 31, 1826. He was the fourth child and third son of Thomas Ewing, Sr. 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 Charles Ewing, and his foster brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, eventually became general officers in the Union army during the American Civil War.
Ewing received his primary education in Lancaster and then entered the United States Military Academy in 1844. He withdrew from the academy during his final year after failing an engineering exam.
Gold Rush Prospector
After leaving West Point, Ewing traveled on an expedition to California to rescue migrants trapped by heavy snows in the Sierra. While there, he unsuccessfully prospected for gold during the 1849 Gold Rush.
In 1852, Ewing returned east, studied law, and joined the bar in Missouri. From 1854 to 1856, he practiced law in St. Louis. In 1858, Ewing briefly moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, and joined his brother, Thomas Ewing, Jr., and his foster brother, William T. Sherman (who was by then, also his brother-in-law), in establishing the law firm of Sherman & Ewing. Ewing also engaged in land speculation while living in Leavenworth.
On August 3, 1858, Ewing married Henrietta Young, daughter of George W. Young, a prominent plantation owner in the District of Columbia. The couple took up residence in Ohio, where Ewing managed his father’s salt works. Their marriage produced seven children (Edith, Eleanor, George Washington, Hugh, Henrietta, Thomas, and Marie).
After the American Civil War began, Ohio Governor William Dennison appointed Ewing as Brigade Inspector of the 3rd Brigade of the Ohio Militia on May 6, 1861. Holding the rank of major, Ewing served at Camp Dennison, in Columbus, Ohio, where he recruited and trained soldiers.
Battle of Rich Mountain
In June 1861, Ewing joined Major General George B. McClellan‘s command in western Virginia, where he took part in the Union victory at the Battle of Rich Mountain (July 11, 1861).
Battle of Carnifex Ferry
On August 15, Ewing attained the rank of colonel and assumed command of the 30th Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Early in September, his regiment joined General William Rosecrans‘ forces in western Virginia, and Ewing contributed to the Union victory at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry (September 10, 1861).
Battle of South Mountain
During the winter of 1861 and much of 1862, Ewing held several administrative posts with the army. In late summer, he and his regiment transferred to the Army of the Potomac near Washington, DC. On September 14, 1862, Ewing led his regiment during the final charge that secured a Union victory at the Battle of South Mountain. That night, officials promoted him to the commander of the 1st Brigade of the Kanawha Division.
Battle of Antietam
Three days later, at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), Ewing’s brigade was positioned on the extreme left of the Union line. According to commander Major General Ambrose Burnside, Ewing’s men “saved the left from being completely driven in” during a Confederate attack. After the battle, Ewing went on sick leave until October 23, when he rejoined his brigade in West Virginia. His troops went into winter quarters, and on November 29, 1862, officials promoted Ewing to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers.
At the beginning of the 1863 campaign season, Ewing led the soldiers of the 30th, 37th, and 47th Regiments of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry along with the 4th Virginia Infantry to join the Union campaign against the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. During the Vicksburg Campaign, Ewing served in the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by his brother-in-law, Major General William T. Sherman. After the surrender of Vicksburg, federal troops re-occupied Jackson, Mississippi on July 17, 1863, and Sherman briefly placed Ewing in charge of the city. On July 21, Sherman elevated Ewing to the command of the 4th Division of the 15th Army Corps, and Ewing returned to the vicinity of Vicksburg.
In October, Ewing’s division moved east with the Army of the Tennessee to help lift Confederate General Braxton Bragg‘s siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. During the Union breakout from Chattanooga, two of Ewing’s brigades led General Sherman’s initial assault against General Patrick Cleburne‘s Confederate defenders at Tunnel Hill in the Battle of Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863).
Following the successful breakout from Chattanooga, Ewing’s division moved north with Sherman to relieve Major General Ambrose Burnside’s forces under siege by Major General James Longstreet at Knoxville, Tennessee. When Longstreet ended his Knoxville Campaign ended on December 4, 1863, after the decisive Union victory at the Battle of Fort Sanders (November 29, 1863), Ewing’s division moved to Scottsboro, Alabama, and went into winter quarters.
District of Louisville Commander
In February 1864, Ewing became commander of the District of Louisville. He served in that capacity for one year. In February 1865, Ewing returned to field duty.
End of the Civil War
Ewing rejoined William T. Sherman in North Carolina, but the war ended before he saw any further action. At the close of hostilities, officials brevetted Ewing to the rank of major general, “for meritorious services during the war,” to date from March 13, 1865. He mustered out of volunteer service on January 15, 1866.
After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson appointed Ewing as the American Minister to Holland. He served in that capacity from 1866 to 1870, when he returned to Ohio. Ewing settled on a farm near Lancaster, Ohio, where he pursued a career as a writer. While living there, he penned The Black List; A Tale of Early California; A Castle in the Air; and The Gold Plague.
Ewing died on his farm on June 30, 1905. He was buried at St. Mary Cemetery in Lancaster.