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Jackson and Ewell. The latter's opinion of his Chief.

Interview with Colonel Benjamin S. Ewell, ex-president of William and Mary—His brother's relations to Jackson.

[From the Richmond Times June 12, 1892.]

On Tuesday, October 13, 1891, General John Echols delivered before the Confederate Association of Kentucky, at Louisville, an ‘Address on Stonewall Jackson,’ which the Louisville Courier-Journal, in an article in its issue of October 17th, 1891, characterizes as an ‘impressive tribute to Christianity,’ and as a ‘thrilling [27] recital of General Jackson's matchless movements,’ and testimony to his military ability. Bishops Dudley and Penick, Rev. Doctors Broaddus and Jones, the Rev. J. G. Minnigerode and other ministers in the great audience, it is stated, were visibly affected.

Some allusions of the orator, it would appear from the following article, which the editor has pleasure in reproducing, have been taken alone and apart from the address, and construed, it may be apprehended, as it was not intended or expected they would be. The Times in an introductory note cites the objectionable paragraph as follows:

General Ewell did not have a high opinion of General Jackson's natural ability,’—and continues:

General Jubal A. Early has written a letter denying this, and showing that General Ewell had the very highest regard and esteem for his commanding general. The following interview with Colonel Benjamin Ewell, of near Williamsburg, president emeritus of William and Mary College, and brother of the General, confirms General Early's statement:

Williamsburg, Va., June 8, 1892.
Colonel Benjamin S. Ewell, president emeritus of William and and Mary College, who is closely verging on eighty-two, yet retains that vigorous, genial manhood which was such a pleasant characteristic of his earlier years, resides about four miles above town. Meeting him not long since, I asked him to tell me what he knew of the relations between Generals Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall) and his brother, General Richard S. Ewell. ‘With pleasure,’ he replied, and said he had failed to get a copy of an address recently delivered by General John Echols in Louisville, Kentucky, on Stonewall Jackson, in which mention was made of General Ewell, and from which he expected much accurate information on the Valley campaign of 1862, as the General was a prominent and active officer in it till severely wounded at the battle of Kernstown. But it was not written, and, so far as is known here, imperfectly reported.

General Ewells conversion.

Colonel Ewell went on to say that he had seen but one report of General Echols' address, and that with the exception of a few lines it consisted of a letter received by him from a distinguished Virginia [28] minister in regard to General Ewell and Stonewall Jackson. I give an abridged copy of this letter, as it is connected with what Colonel Ewell has to say on the subject:

dear General—'Twas in connection with General Ewell's conversion to Christ from his accidentally overhearing Jackson praying for guidance in the prosecution of the campaign. My informant got the account from a minister of the Presbyterian church, who was present at one of the sessions in examining General Ewell (who had been a very profane man and skeptical) and hearing him give his experience and what led him to desire membership in the church. * * * General Ewell did not have a high opinion of Jackson's natural ability, and often remarked in the hearing of his staff that he did not have good common sense, and so the staff used to join in with him in deriding the claims of Jackson's friends to his being a great general. But Jackson kept on winning victories, and the staff, one after another, ceased talking in the strain they had been indulging in, and Ewell was left alone in reaffirming his oft-repeated convictions. This went on till Pope had assumed command of the Federal troops, and at a juncture of that campaign a council of war was held, at which Generals Jackson and Ewell were present. None present had anything to suggest, but Jackson said that as they seemed to think he ought to know what to do, if they would meet again next morning before daylight he might have something to offer. General Ewell left his gauntlets in Jackson's tent when the council adjourned and returning to get them heard the voice of Jackson within engaged in prayer. Supposing the prayer would be short, Ewell waited for awhile, but Jackson prayed so long and fervently he concluded to leave. The substance of the prayer Ewell heard was his “telling his Heavenly Father that he did not know what to do; that everything seemed to be involved in perfect darkness and that the other generals seemed to expect that he would be able to tell them what the army ought to do; would he graciously reveal to him what was best to be done.” Next morning he laid before the council what he had to suggest and all present instantly perceived that it was the very thing that ought to be done, and so the movement through Thoroughfare Gap was decided upon. Ewell was wounded, but he still held the opinion as to Jackson's natural ability, and there was, therefore, no other way to explain Jackson's success, except that prayer had [29] power with God, and that this fact carried with it practically all the rest that the New Testament taught, and that having come to that conclusion he asked admission to church fellowship.

What Colonel Ewell says.

Colonel Ewell says respecting this letter that ‘if correctly reported the writer or his informant made mistakes, as some of its statements are supported by no known records; indeed, are directly contradicted by them. I regret I cannot deny what is said of General Ewell's profanity, but since “Uncle Toby” told that “our army in Flanders swore terribly,” armies of English-speaking people have followed the bad example. Our army in Mexico “swore terribly.” General Twiggs, that he might inspire the young volunteer officers with a suitable respect for the regulars, “swore terribly” when in their presence, and would scold his staff officers for not following his example.’

When, in 1861, General Ewell found that he had men to deal with of a different type than his old ‘regulars,’ and heeding the judicious advice given him by the Rev. Dr. Hoge, soon he began to abate the bad habit. He was a church-goer when he had the opportunity, and his skepticism did not exceed that of the average man of the world. No council of war was called by Jackson during the Pope campaign in 1862, for the only one he ever had, met March II, 1862, at Winchester, of which General Echols was a member. General Ewell was never examined by the session of any Presbyterian church, and therefore never gave his experience in the manner described, nor did he join that church. In the spring of 1863 he was confirmed by Bishop Johns at St. Paul's, Richmond, as a member of the Episcopal church.

Origin of the story.

The whole story is founded on the following extract from Dr. Dabney's Life of Jackson: ‘Jackson's army, marching from the Valley to join General Lee, encamped at Ashland, June 25, 1862, late at night. Two of the commanders of divisions went to Jackson's tent and advised that he should move the army by two columns, on parallel roads, instead of by one. He listened respectfully, but requested that they would wait his decision until morning. When they left him the one said to the other: “Do you know why General [30] Jackson would not decide upon our suggestion at once? It was because he has to pray over it before he makes up his mind.” A moment after, the second returned to Jackson's quarters to get his sword, which he had forgotten, and as he entered found him on his knees praying.’ This is the whole story told by Dr. Dabney, who gives no names, as evidence of Jackson's unvarying attention to his religious duties.

General Ewell joins Jackson.

General Ewell joined Jackson at Swift Run Gap on April 30, 1862. He went in obedience to orders, and not from choice, as at that time he believed Jackson to be a brave but very eccentric man. The successful Valley campaign of 1862, however, affected a radical change in Ewell's opinions. I was with Ewell several times during the Seven Days battle, June and July, 1862, when the Confederate army was before Harrison's Landing, and later from the 10th to 13th July, when his division was encamped near Richmond. He told me that some of his officers were trying to have the division ordered from Jackson, and had applied to General Cooper for that purpose; that he had been to see General Cooper, and had requested that the division be kept where it then was with Jackson. This General Cooper told him should be done, and no change was made. I did not see General Ewell again till after he was wounded, August 28, 1862. I found him at the house of his uncle, Dr. Jesse Ewell, in the northern part of Prince William county, slowly convalescing and in fair spirits, thanks to the affectionate and careful nursing of the doctor and his interesting family, and to his skillful surgeon, Dr. Morrison, of Rockbridge.

Anxiety about Jackson.

I was with him when the battle of Antietam was fought, September 17, 1862, distant in air line about thirty miles. From morning till night the roar of the artillery was distinct and incessant. During the day I noticed that General Ewell became excited to such a degree that I spoke to Dr. Morrison on the subject, and finally to him. After awhile he told me with evident emotion he could not listen to the sounds of the battle without fearing the loss of General Jackson, believing his preservation important and necessary to the success of the Confederate cause. It is evident that in 1862 Ewell appreciated Jackson.


Confesses his mistake.

The first year of the war Ewell told the Rev. Dr. M. D. Hoge that while he knew that Jackson was brave, he doubted his judgment. Subsequently he acknowledged to Dr. Hoge that he had been mistaken as to Jackson's judgment, and, further, that the chances of the South would have been improved had he been made dictator. There can be no question of the effect of General Jackson's unswerving faith and exalted piety, seen in every phase of his life by the soldiers of the Confederate army with whom he came in contact. After the close of the battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862, General Ewell, with General D. H. Hill, went to Jackson's quarters, a short distance from the field. General Hill said something to Jackson in a jocular way about his being so far from his command. Jackson replied that ‘there was nothing doing, and that being the case he might as well be there as anywhere else,’ or words to that effect. This I was told by General Ewell the next morning. During the night of July 1st McClellan retreated to Harrison's Landing, less than half a day's march from Malvern Hill. The Confederate army reached his front about midday Friday, July 4th. ‘General Jackson was chafing like a lion at the delay,’ and found the position too strong to be attacked. (Dabney's Life of Jackson.) General Barnard, United States engineer, a prominent member of McClellan's staff, told me since 1865 that when the United States army reached Harrison's Landing, after Malvern Hill, it was so disorganized in every respect if it had been followed within twelve hours by the Confederate army and the heights commanding the landing occupied, a surrender would have been inevitable. By that time order had been evolved from chaos and the position made tenable. In the April number of 1873 of the ‘Southern Historical Society PapersGeneral Lee is represented as saying ‘If I had had Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg, we would have won a great victory.’ It is difficult for any reader of Jackson's campaigns not to come to the same conclusion, and it is no more reflection on any of them to say they were not Marlboroughs, Napoleons or Von Moltkes. Under Jackson's example doubts and delays would have been replaced by decisions and prompt action, and in all probability the Federal army would, notwithstanding General Meade's ability and energy, have been defeated in detail before the short time at his disposal enabled him to concentrate his scattered corps.


Jackson on Ewell.

What General Jackson thought of General Ewell's services may be inferred from Dr. Dabney's account of an interview between Jackson and Mr. Boteler, held July, 1862, while the army was confronting McClellan at Harrison's Landing. General Jackson advised an immediate invasion of the North, and asked Mr. Boteler to ‘impress his views on the Government,’ adding, ‘he was willing to follow, not to lead in this glorious enterprise. He was willing to follow anybody-General Lee or the gallant Ewell.’ (Life of Jackson.)

General early's views.

General Jubal A. Early, as true and unselfish as he is brave, always ready to break a lance to defend the memory of a comrade unjustly and unduly criticised or censured, writes in the ‘Southern Historical Society Papers,’ No. 1877, of General Ewell:
His military record for the year 1862 is so intimately identified with that of Stonewall Jackson that one cannot exist without the other. The fight and pursuit of Banks down the Valley, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Cold Harbor, Slaughter's Mountain and that most wonderful dash to Pope's rear, in 1862, would be shorn of half their proportions if Ewell's name was blotted from the record. Jackson's men made a demand upon his energy, courage and skill that was not promptly honored, and he was maimed for life in earnestly seconding his immortal leader in that most brilliant of all his achievements—the bewildering display of grand tactics between the armies of Pope and McClellan in the plains of Manassas in the last days of August, 1862.

All eccentric to our friends.

General Dick Taylor, the son of General Zachary Taylor and the author of book on the war, ‘Destruction and Reconstruction,’ commanded a brigade in Ewell's division during the Valley campaign of 1862. They were good friends, as well as fellow-soldiers. Most of us are in the estimation of our best friends more or less eccentric. So Taylor and Ewell thought Jackson, and so Taylor thought Ewell and so Ewell thought Taylor, and I have no doubt that if Jackson's mind hadn't been full of more important matters he would have thought so of Ewell and Taylor. In July, 1862, Ewell told me of [33] Taylor's genius and military ability, but that he feared, so eccentric was he, his mind would lose its balance. The following is from Taylor's book:
On two occasions in the Valley during the temporary absence of Jackson from the front, Ewell summoned me to his side and immediately rushed forward among the skirmishers when some sharp work was going on. Having refreshed himself he returned with the hope that “Old Jackson would not catch him at it.” He always spoke of Jackson, several years his junior, as “old,” and told me in confidence that he admired his genius, but was certain of his lunacy, and that he never saw one of Jackson's couriers approach without expecting an order to charge the North pole.

Later, after he had heard Jackson seriously declare that he never ate pepper, because it produced a weakness in his left leg, he was confirmed in this opinion, with all his oddities, perhaps in some measure by reason of them. Ewell was beloved by his officers and men. Dear Dick Ewell, Virginia never had a truer gentleman, a braver soldier, nor an odder, more lovable fellow.

I regret I have been forced thus to tax your patience, but could not well say less. The statements I make are to be depended on, being of record or within the limits of my own personal knowledge.

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