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The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell

Stonewall’s Successor

Donald C. Pfanz

Publication Year: 2012

“The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell provide a sweeping view of the nineteenth century. Such chronological breadth makes this volume truly exceptional and important. Through Ewell’s eyes we see the many worlds of an American people at war. His thoughtful observations, biting wit, and ironic disposition offer readers a chance to rethink the paper-thin generalizations of Ewell as a quirky neurotic who simply crumbled under the legacy of Stonewall Jackson.” —from the foreword by Peter S. Carmichael

Richard S. Ewell was one of only six lieutenant generals to serve in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and of those he was but one of two—the other being Stonewall Jackson, his predecessor as commander of the Second Corps—to have left behind a sizable body of correspondence. Forty-nine of Ewell’s letters were published in 1939. This new volume, drawing on more recently available material and scrupulously annotated by Ewell biographer Donald Pfanz, offers a much larger collection of the general’s missives: 173 personal letters, 7 official letters, 4 battle narratives, and 2 memoranda of incidents that took place during the Civil War.
    The book covers the full range of Ewell’s career:  his days at West Point, his posting on the western frontier, his role in the Mexican War, his Civil War service, and, finally, his postwar years managing farms in Tennessee and Mississippi. Some historians have judged Ewell harshly, particularly for his failure to capture Cemetery Hill on the first day at Gettysburg, but Pfanz contends that Ewell was in fact a brilliant combat general whose overall record, which included victories at the battles of  Cross Keys, Second Winchester, and Fort Harrison, was one of which any commanding officer could be proud.   Although irritable and often critical of others, Ewell’s correspondence shows him to have been generous toward subordinates, modest regarding his own accomplishments, and upright in both his professional and personal relationships.   His letters to family and friends are a mixture of wry humor and uncommon sense.   No one who reads them will view this important general in quite the same way again.

DONALD C. PFANZ is the author of Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life, Abraham Lincoln at City Point, and War So Terrible:  A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

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Foreword - Peter S. Carmichael, Series Editor

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pp. xi-xiii

Of all of Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants, Richard Stoddard Ewell is usually put at the far end of the bench, sitting behind the Army of Northern Virginia’s “first string”: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, James Longstreet, Jeb Stuart, and John B. Gordon. If only Michael Shaara had given Ewell a historical facelift similar to the one he gave Longstreet in his novel The Killer Angels. Instead, Shaara parroted the popular line that the newly minted Second Corps commander...

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pp. xv-xvii

Of all the armies that took the field during the Civil War, none gained greater renown than General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. For four years it battled against great odds, earning for itself a name of imperishable glory. Just six men held the rank of lieutenant general in that army. Two of them, Richard H. Anderson and A. P. Hill, left little in the way of written records. Two others, James Longstreet and Jubal A. Early, wrote memoirs. ...


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pp. xix-xx

Letter Sources

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pp. xxi-xxiii

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pp. xxv-xxxiv

It is the fate of some men to be remembered for the triumphs in their lives; it is the fate of others to be remembered for their failures. Richard Stoddert Ewell falls into the latter class of men. Despite many notable successes in his career, first as a United States dragoon and later as a Confederate general, he is largely remembered for the role he played in a rare defeat: Gettysburg. ...

Ewell Family Chart

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pp. xxxvi-xxxvii

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1. West Point, 1836–1840

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pp. 3-20

Richard S. Ewell was born on February 8, 1817, at “Halcyon House” in the District of Columbia, the Georgetown home of his grandfather Benjamin Stoddert. A man of substance, Stoddert had been one of the young nation’s leading merchants and its first secretary of the navy. Richard’s mother, Elizabeth, was the secretary’s eldest daughter and through her mother’s side of the family claimed ties to many of...

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2. Dragoon in Training, 1840–1846

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pp. 21-59

Dick Ewell graduated from West Point in 1840 and began his career as an officer in the 1st United States Dragoons. Forerunner of the cavalry, so famous in later wars, the dragoons typically occupied posts on the western frontier. Before being assigned to such duty, however, recruits and new officers had to undergo training at Carlisle Barracks, a military installation in south-central Pennsylvania. The commander at Carlisle was Captain Edwin V. Sumner, a forty-three-year-old veteran of the Black...

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3. The Mexican War, 1846–1848

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pp. 61-81

During Stephen Kearny’s 1845 Oregon Trail expedition, Ewell contracted malaria, a disease that troubled him for the rest of his life. When he returned to Fort Scott, he applied for a leave of absence and returned to Virginia to recover. Shortly thereafter, the United States declared war on Mexico. Ewell signed up new soldiers at various recruiting depots in the Midwest, then joined First Lieutenant Philip Kearny and Company F, 1st Dragoons, at Jefferson Barracks, outside of St. Louis, Missouri. For...

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4. Back East, 1849–1850

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pp. 83-105

With the Mexican War at an end, United States volunteer regiments disbanded and regular army units returned to their normal duty stations. Dick Ewell reported for duty at Jefferson Barracks, but in August 1848 he left Missouri on a leave of absence occasioned by illness and went home to Virginia. When his leave expired in October, Ewell engaged in recruiting duty at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; Baltimore...

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5. New Mexico, 1852–1857

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pp. 107-128

Ewell once told a fellow officer that he had spent twenty years serving in the West, where he had learned everything there was to know about commanding a company of dragoons but had forgotten everything else. He spent six of those years in New Mexico, a territory acquired by the United States as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War. ...

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6. Arizona, 1858–1861

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pp. 129-164

As a result of the Mexican War, the border of the United States for the first time stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Manifest Destiny was no longer simply a national aspiration, it was a reality. Settling the West would be more difficult than conquering it, however. Two thousand miles of prairie, mountain, and desert stretched westward from the Mississippi River to the Pacific. Travel to California...

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7. The War Begins, 1861–1862

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pp. 165-205

Although Ewell was a Virginian and had owned or rented more than one slave in his life, he was hardly a fire-eater when it came to secession. Like most career military officers, he had many friends in the North and felt a strong allegiance to the United States. Ewell’s ties to his adopted state were stronger than his loyalty to the national government, however, and when Virginia voted itself out of the Union on April 17, 1861, he resigned from the United States Army and accepted a lieutenant...

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8. Fighting under Stonewall, 1862–1863

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pp. 207-241

For Dick Ewell the first twelve months of the Civil War had been decidedly uneventful. Except for the skirmish at Fairfax Court House and his undistinguished role at Bull Run, he had had little contact with the enemy. That changed on April 30, 1862, when he led his division across Swift Run Gap into the Shenandoah Valley. There he came under the authority of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall”...

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9. Corps Command, 1863–1864

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pp. 243-285

Nine months passed before Ewell had recovered sufficiently from his amputation to return to duty. During his lengthy convalescence, the Army of Northern Virginia clashed with the Federals at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Jackson was among Chancellorsville’s casualties. Mistakenly shot by his own men in the confusion of the battle, the general died eight days later at Guinea Station, Virginia. ...

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10. Defender of Richmond, 1864–1865

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pp. 287-303

Dissatisfied with Ewell’s performance in the Overland Campaign, Lee had his subordinate transferred to the Department of Richmond. As the department’s commander, it was Ewell’s responsibility to defend the Confederate capital against attack, administer its military prisons, and maintain order. The troops that came with the command were decidedly substandard: inexperienced heavy artillery companies...

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11. Prisoner of War, 1865

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pp. 305-375

After four years the Confederacy succumbed to the North’s superior manpower and resources. Ewell recognized that the end was in sight. Early in 1865 his wife and stepdaughter slipped across the Potomac River and surrendered to United States authorities. However, Ewell and his stepson, Campbell Brown, remained at their posts to the end. ...

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12. Gentleman Farmer, 1865–1872

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pp. 377-414

After his release from Fort Warren, Dick Ewell and his family returned to Virginia. He had no career, no home. For the first time in his life, he was at loose ends. The Ewells settled temporarily in Warrenton while Campbell Brown searched the countryside for a suitable farm on which the family could settle. Nothing suited, however, and in October 1865 they moved to Tennessee, occupying Lizinka’s thirtyeight- hundred-acre plantation near Spring Hill. Hattie did not accompany them...


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pp. 415-426


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pp. 427-442

E-ISBN-13: 9781572339293
E-ISBN-10: 1572339292
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338739
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338733

Page Count: 504
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ewell, Richard Stoddert, 1817-1872 -- Correspondence.
  • Generals -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Generals -- Confederate States of America -- Correspondence.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Sources
  • United States -- History, Military -- 19th century -- Sources.
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