Change of Command
Richard Ewell loses II Army Corps

     The arduous Spring Campaign of 1864 presented a challenge unlike anything the Army of Northern Virginia had defended against since General Robert E. Lee had taken command in late June of 1862. The dogged day to day fighting that Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac presented as it slowly moved overland to the North Anna River required Confederate Corps Commanders to be physically fit, tenacious in response and aggressive to meet the challenge. Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell had been all of this until the third week of the campaign when exhaustion caused him to fall ill, forfeiting command of the II Army Corps to Major General Jubal A. Early.
     Having lost his left leg following the engagement at Brawner Farm two years earlier in August of 1862 his fighting spirit may have been taken out of him as his health slowly began to decline. Although initially successful after taking command in the wake of Thomas J. Jackson's death in May of 1863; indecisiveness led Ewell's principal division commander to be the outspoken voice of II Army Corps.
     The Virginian traveled with the army an additional two days while the armies began collecting in and about Cold Harbor when the publication of Special Orders No. 134 relieved the ailing general and placed Jubal Early at the front of his column. The news of this change alarmed "Old Baldy" going as far as writing to the army's assistant adjutant general, Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Taylor with the medical opinion of Doctor Hunter McGuire attesting that his health had improved enough for arduous duty once again; but the commanding general was adamant.
     General Lee addressed a letter to the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General, Samuel Cooper on June 12, 1864 expressing concern for General Ewell's health and although temporary in nature suggested that he be reassigned to the Local Defense Force in Richmond. It seemed a different maneuver on Lee's part to the subject however, for only he would experience reassignment; the recovery of a Jackson or Longstreet would have been greatly accepted to the commanding general as gain.
     In spite of Richard Ewell's best efforts, Lee had made up his mind before ever having his adjutant commit pen to paper. Although recommended by him as a temporary change, the orders were written and Ewell would spend nearly the remainder of the war looking after the Confederate Capital, commanding the mobilization of tradesman and shop workers in repelling armed assaults against the city itself.

     Richard Stoddert Ewell not only performed his duties in and around Richmond as the professional soldier he was, in peace he remained another advocate in healing the nation's wounds after four bloody years of Civil War. He turned adversity and heart break into opportunity possessing the admirable characteristics of a true and noble statesman.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2004

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