Ewell was another of the professional soldiers (West Point 1840) that stayed with his state rather than the United States. In 21 years of Regular Army soldiering he only rose to be a captain; for the Confederacy he was a colonel and brigade commander within a year.
He commanded a brigade at First Manassas, but without distinguishing himself. He was ordered to attack, but did not; the upside was that the orders had been a mistake. After spending the winter of 1861-62 with the
Confederate Army of the Potomac, he was promoted to major general and division commander under Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. He didn’t like Jackson’s command style, with reason. Jackson would simply tell his subordinates what to do, without explaining any of his reasons; if something unexpected developed, the subordinate didn’t know what his mission was and couldn’t act intelligently. Jackson’s methods worked during the Valley Campaign, but weren’t so effective in the Seven Days Battles. Ewell fought through those, then at Cedar Mountain and was wounded just before Second Manassas, losing a leg.
He was incapacitated for ten months, returning only at the start of June 1863. Lee sent him (in command of 2nd Corps) to clear the Shenandoah, the strategic left flank of the forthcoming invasion of the North. Ewell was brilliant at Second Winchester, capturing virtually the whole Union garrison. Moving north, he wasn’t so good. At Gettysburg he didn’t act on his own – Jackson had not inculcated initiative in his subordinates, and Ewell’s long spell as a junior officer before the war may have limited his horizons. (He reputedly returned from foraging with one cow, enough for a company but hardly for his division.)
Lee kept him through the fall of 1863, the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns, and he fought at The Wilderness. His performance was slipping; at Spotsylvania one of his divisions was over-run, bad in itself but it almost broke Lee’s center. Lee promptly removed him; his promotion to lieutenant general was only four days old. (Ewell had been stunned when his horse was knocked down; with one leg, he couldn’t ride as easily as before.) He was soon re-employed, but only to command the Richmond garrison of old men, young boys, munitions workers, and convalescents from the hospitals.
When Richmond fell in April 1865, he was adamant about destroying Government property, mostly factories and tobacco warehouses. The main magazine had about 750,000 shells and provided a tremendous fireworks display, but also spread fires through much of Richmond. Lee restored him to corps command during the retreat to Appomattox, and he was captured at Sayler’s Creek.
After his release from detention, he went to Tennessee and farmed for his remaining years.
Confederate General R.S. Ewell
Robert E. Lee's Hesitant Commander
Richard Stoddert Ewell is best known as the Confederate General selected by Robert E. Lee to replace "Stonewall" Jackson as chief of the Second Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. Ewell is also remembered as the general who failed to drive Federal troops from the high ground of Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.