Richard S. Ewell

February 8, 1817–January 25, 1872

Richard S. Ewell (1817–1872) was a prominent General in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He is most well-known for replacing Stonewall Jackson and his failure to attack Union forces on Cemetery Ridge on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Richard Ewell, Civil War General

Some historians have criticized Richard Ewell for his failure to attack Cemetery Ridge on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Others have pointed out that General Robert E. Lee’s orders to Ewell were confusing, if not contradictory. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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Who was Civil War officer Richard S. Ewell?

When the Civil War began, Richard Ewell resigned from his commission in the United States Army on May 7, 1861, and joined the Virginia Provincial Army as a cavalry colonel. By June 17, Ewell received a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Ewell took part in the First Battle of Bull Run, Jackson’s Valley Campaign, and the Peninsula Campaign.

During the Second Battle of Bull Run, Ewell was severely wounded, forcing doctors to amputate his left leg below the knee. In 1863, doctors fitted Ewell with a wooden leg, which enabled him to return to service. After the death of Stonewall Jackson, Confederate officials promoted Ewell to the rank of lieutenant general and gave him command of Jackson’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. Ewell’s indecisive action at the Battle of Gettysburg tarnished his reputation and may have caused Robert E. Lee to lose confidence in him.

As Federal troops approached Richmond toward the end of the war, they captured Ewell at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek while he was retreating on April 8, 1865. They imprisoned the Confederate general at Fort Warren, Massachusetts until August 19, 1865.

After the Civil War, Ewell retired to his wife’s plantation in Maury County, Tennessee, near Spring Hill. He died there, of pneumonia, on January 25, 1872, just three days after his wife succumbed to the same ailment. Ewell was buried in the Old City Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

Battle of Gettysburg, Union Advance
Battle of Gettysburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Richard S. Ewell Facts

  • Full Name: Richard Stoddert Ewell
  • Birth Date: February 8, 1817
  • Birth Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Parents: Dr. Thomas and Elizabeth (Stoddert) Ewell
  • Education: United States Military Academy (1840)
  • Occupation: Military officer
  • Career Summary: Captain (USA), Lieutenant General (CSA)
  • Spouse: Lizinka Campbell Brown (1863)
  • Nickname(s): Old Baldy
  • Place of Death: Spring Hill, Tennessee
  • Date of Death: January 25, 1872
  • Place of Burial: Old City Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Early Life of Richard S. Ewell

Richard Stoddert Ewell was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on February 8, 1817. Raised on his family’s estate near Manassas, Virginia, Ewell was the third son of Dr. Thomas and Elizabeth Stoddert Ewell.

U.S. Army Officer

Ewell attended the United States Military Academy and graduated 13th in his class in 1840. He then received a commission as a second lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Dragoons. Ewell served the next six years on the western frontier, during which he rose to the rank of first lieutenant.

Mexican-American War

Like many future American Civil War officers, Ewell took part in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). He received a brevet promotion to captain for his courage at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.

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Western Service

After the Mexican-American War, army officials promoted Ewell to captain in 1849 and assigned him to the New Mexico Territory. In 1859, Apache warriors led by the famous Native American Indian leader Cochise wounded Ewell during a skirmish.

Richard S. Ewell in the Civil War

Confederate Officer

In 1860, Ewell fell ill and returned to Virginia to recuperate. While there, his home state seceded from the Union. Forced to choose between his country and his state, Ewell resigned from his commission in the United States Army on May 7, 1861, and joined the Virginia Provincial Army as a cavalry colonel. By June 17, Ewell received a commission as a brigadier-general in the Confederate Army. Ewell served with General P. G. T. Beauregard and his Army of the Potomac and saw limited action at the First Battle of Bull Run.

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Jackson’s Valley Campaign

On January 24, 1862, Confederate officials promoted Ewell attained to the rank of major general and transferred him to the Shenandoah Valley to serve under General Stonewall Jackson. Ewell performed well during Jackson’s Valley Campaign and earned Jackson’s trust as his most valuable subordinate.

Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Illustration
Stonewall Jackson. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Peninsula Campaign

In June 1862, the Confederacy transferred Ewell and his division to Richmond, Virginia, where they took part in the Battles of Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, and the Seven Days’ Battles during the Peninsula Campaign. After Union Major General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac retreated down the Peninsula, Ewell accompanied Jackson to Northern Virginia and defeated Major General Nathaniel Banks’s Army of Virginia at the Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862).

Wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run

During the Northern Virginia Campaign, Ewell received severe wounds at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 28, 1862. Doctors amputated Ewell’s left leg below the knee, causing him to be away from his division for nine months. In 1863, doctors fitted Ewell with a wooden leg, which enabled him to return to service.

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Second Battle of Bull Run, Union Retreat, Illustration
This illustration depicts the Union retreat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Lieutenant General

During Ewell’s absence, a volley of friendly fire mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30–May 6, 1863). After Jackson’s death on May 10, Confederate officials promoted Ewell to the rank of lieutenant general and gave him command of Jackson’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on May 23, 1863.

Marriage

Three days after the effective date of his promotion, Ewell married his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown, who had nursed him back to health during his convalescence.

Battle of Gettysburg

Ewell is, perhaps, most famous or infamous for his failure to attack Union troops on Cemetery Ridge during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. His indecision gave the Union forces precious time to entrench themselves and enabled reinforcements to arrive. By the time Ewell’s forces attacked on the second day of the battle, Union soldiers repulsed Ewell’s Corps. Some historians claim that Ewell’s indecision lost the Battle of Gettysburg for the South. Others have pointed out that General Robert E. Lee’s instructions to Ewell were confusing, if not contradictory. Lee ordered Ewell “to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army.”

Lee’s Loss of Confidence

After Gettysburg, Lee appeared to lose confidence in Ewell. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, on May 12, 1864, Lee personally assumed Ewell’s position as field commander and sent Ewell to the rear to prepare for the defense of Richmond.

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, 1864, Thurlstrup
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Capture and Imprisonment

As Federal troops approached Richmond toward the end of the war, they captured Ewell at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek while he was retreating on April 8, 1865. They imprisoned the Confederate general at Fort Warren, Massachusetts until August 19, 1865.

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Post-war Life and Death

After the Civil War, Ewell retired to his wife’s plantation in Maury County, Tennessee, near Spring Hill. He died there, of pneumonia, on January 25, 1872, just three days after his wife succumbed to the same ailment. Ewell was buried in the Old City Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

Richard S. Ewell — Facts About His Life and Accomplishments

  • Richard Ewell was raised on a farm called Stony Lonesome in Prince William County.
  • Ewell attended the United States Military Academy and graduated thirteenth in his class in 1840.
  • He was brevetted to captain for his service in the Mexican-American War.
  • Richard Ewell resigned from his commission in the U.S. Army on May 7, 1861, to become a colonel in the Virginia Provisional Army.
  • Ewell was appointed as brigadier general in the Confederate Army on June 17, 1861.
  • On January 24, 1862, he was promoted to major general and sent to the Shenandoah Valley to support General Stonewall Jackson.
  • Doctors amputated Richard Ewell’s left leg below the knee after he was wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas on August 28, 1862.
  • Following his injury, Ewell was fitted with a wooden leg and resumed active duty in May 1863.
  • Following Stonewall Jackson’s death on May 10, 1863, he was given command of Jackson’s Second Corps and was promoted to lieutenant general on May 23, 1863.
  • On May 26, 1863, Richard Ewell married his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown, who had cared for him while recuperating from his leg injury.
  • Some historians have criticized Ewell for his failure to attack Cemetery Ridge on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Others have pointed out that General Robert E. Lee’s orders to Ewell were confusing, if not contradictory.
  • Frustrated by Ewell’s failure to act, Robert E. Lee reassigned Ewell from command at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House to the defense of Richmond on May 12, 1864.
  • Retreating from Richmond, Ewell was captured at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865, and was imprisoned at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, until August 19, 1865.
  • During the Civil War, Ewell took part in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, the Battle of Malvern Hill, the Seven Day’s Battles, the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and the final defense of Richmond.
  • After the Civil War, Ewell retired to his wife’s plantation in Maury County, Tennessee, near Spring Hill.
  • Richard Ewell’s nickname was “Old Baldy.”
  • Ewell died of pneumonia on January 25, 1872, at Spring Hill, Tennessee.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Richard S. Ewell
  • Date February 8, 1817–January 25, 1872
  • Author
  • Keywords Richard S. Ewell
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 1, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 14, 2023

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