Richard S. Ewell (1817–1872)


Richard S. Ewell was a Confederate lieutenant general during the American Civil War (1861–1865) who apprenticed under Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and later took charge of the Army of Northern Virginia‘s Second Corps after Jackson’s death. Nicknamed “Old Bald Head” and said to be “blisteringly profane,” Ewell courted controversy with his decision not to attack Cemetery Hill on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). Some historians have claimed that Ewell’s inaction in this episode cost the Confederates the battle, although Robert E. Lee‘s orders on the matter were vague and it is unclear whether Ewell’s men could have carried the day in any case.

Richard Stoddert Ewell was born February 8, 1817, in Georgetown, near Washington, D.C., to Dr. Thomas and Elizabeth Stoddert Ewell and was raised on a farm called Stony Lonesome in Prince William County. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (finishing thirteenth in his class in 1840) and performed with distinction during the Mexican War (1846–1848). When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army. After serving effectively in the First Manassas Campaign (1861), Ewell won laurels for his performance as Jackson’s most trusted subordinate during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, performing well at the battles of Front Royal, First Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic.

General Richard S. Ewell

In many respects, Jackson and Lee were kindred spirits—reticent in personality, unrelentingly aggressive in war. Ewell, however, was different. In person, he was fiery, profane, and often funny. But unlike Jackson and Lee’s other top lieutenant, James Longstreet, Ewell developed a reputation for indecisiveness that cost him Lee’s confidence. This was probably an unfair evaluation of his performance and undoubtedly, in part, resulted from the fact that Ewell’s best military efforts came when he was not under Lee’s direct observation.

Along with the rest of Jackson’s command, Ewell and his division were transferred to Richmond in June 1862, where they fought off the advance of Union general George B. McClellan in the Seven Days’ Battles (1862). Ewell distinguished himself again in a hard-fought engagement at Kettle Run during the Second Manassas Campaign (1862), but then early in the Second Battle of Manassas, on August 28, he was seriously wounded. His right leg was amputated and he spent months away from duty and under the care of his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown, whom he later married. His injury did little to diminish his standing in the Army of Northern Virginia, though, and when the Second Corps was reorganized after Jackson’s death in May 1863, Lee placed Ewell in command.

East Cemetery Hill

Shortly thereafter Ewell marched his troops back to the Shenandoah Valley and won a smashing victory at the Second Battle of Winchester (1863). The Second Corps then led the army’s advance north across the Potomac River and finally into Pennsylvania. On July 1, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Ewell brought his command onto the field at exactly the right time and place, playing a decisive role in the rout of the Army of the Potomac during the late afternoon. His decision not to attempt an attack that evening on Cemetery Hill, where Union troops had taken up defensive positions south of Gettysburg, however, would become one of the most controversial of the war. To lend some perspective to that decision, it is important to note that Lee’s orders to Ewell that evening were highly discretionary and the Union position on the hill was probably too strong for an assault to succeed anyway.

Ewell provided solid leadership to the Second Corps for the rest of 1863, but lost Lee’s confidence as a result of problems with his corps’s performance at the Battle of Spotsylvania (1864), during which Lee threatened to personally lead the Second Corps in a counterattack on May 12. Shortly thereafter, Ewell, whose health was faltering, was reassigned to command of the garrison defending Richmond. Ewell did well in this assignment, in particular containing a Union offensive that captured Fort Harrison in September 1864. Ewell’s command evacuated Richmond along with the rest of Lee’s command in April 1865, but his corps was effectively eliminated as a fighting force a few days later in the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, during the Appomattox Campaign, when Ewell was taken prisoner. After the war, he settled in Tennessee on his wife’s plantation and died of pneumonia in 1872.

February 8, 1817
Richard Ewell is born in Georgetown, near Washington, D.C.
Richard Ewell graduates from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, thirteenth in his class of forty-two cadets.
May 7, 1861
After Virginia secedes from the Union, Richard Ewell resigns his U.S. Army commission to join the Virginia Provisional Army. Two days later he is appointed colonel of cavalry.
May 31, 1861
During a skirmish at Fairfax Court House, Confederate colonel Richard Ewell becomes one of the first senior officers to be wounded in the American Civil War.
June 17, 1861
Richard Ewell is promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate army.
January 24, 1862
Richard Ewell is promoted to major general and begins serving under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
June 1862
Major General Richard Ewell brings his division to Richmond, where it fights off the advance of Union general George B. McClellan during the Seven Days' Battles.
August 28, 1862
Confederate general Richard Ewell is seriously wounded during the Second Battle of Manassas and his left leg is amputated below the knee. He takes temporary leave and is nursed to recovery by his first cousin, Lizinka Campbell, whom he later marries.
May 23, 1863
Confederate general Richard Ewell, wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas, returns to duty with a wooden leg. General Robert E. Lee promotes him to lieutenant general in command of what had been Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson had died on May 10 after the Battle of Chancellorsville.
May 26, 1863
Confederate general Richard Ewell marries Lizinka Campbell Brown, his first cousin who nursed him to recovery after he lost his leg at the Second Battle of Manassas. The wedding takes place in Richmond.
June 13—15, 1863
Lieutenant General Richard Ewell leads the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia to victory over Union general Robert H. Milroy at the Second Battle of Winchester.
July 1, 1863
Lieutenant General Richard Ewell leads the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia into the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, approaching from the north. He drives back the Union troops there and forces them to take up defensive positions on Cemetery Hill.
July 2—3, 1863
After delaying action for a day and thereby allowing Union troops to fortify their positions, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell leads the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia in an attack on now impregnable Union defenses on Cemetery Hill. Some historians believe that Ewell's delay was a decisive factor in the Confederate loss.
May 12, 1864
Frustrated by Lieutenant General Richard Ewell's repeated slowness to act, General Robert E. Lee takes it upon himself to lead the defense at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Lee then reassigns Ewell to command the garrison of the Department of Richmond.
April 6, 1865
Toward the end of the Civil War, retreating from Richmond and just days before Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Confederate general Richard Ewell and his diminished force are captured at Sailor's Creek. He is held as a prisoner of war at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor until July.
January 22, 1872
Lizinka Campbell Brown, wife and first cousin of retired Confederate general Richard Ewell, dies of a respiratory infection on their farm in Tennessee.
January 25, 1872
Richard Ewell dies of pneumonia, less than three days after the death of his wife and first cousin, Lizinka Campbell Brown.
  • Carmichael, Peter S. “Richard S. Ewell: Stonewall’s Successor,” pp. 29–42 in The Human Tradition in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Ed. Steven E. Woodworth. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2000.
  • Hamlin, Percy G., ed. The Making of a Soldier: Letters of General R. S. Ewell. Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson, 1935.
  • Pfanz, Donald C. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
APA Citation:
Rafuse, Ethan. Richard S. Ewell (1817–1872). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/ewell-richard-s-1817-1872.
MLA Citation:
Rafuse, Ethan. "Richard S. Ewell (1817–1872)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 21 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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