Saturday, June 29, 2019

Last days of Richard Ewell, who sparked Gettysburg furor

A December 2009 image of the farmhouse in Spring Hill, Tenn., where Richard Ewell lived after 
the Civil War with his wife, Lizinka. The couple died here within days of each other in winter 1872.
 (Hal Jespersen | Wikimedia Commons)
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In the final days of his life, Richard Stoddert Ewell sensed something was terribly wrong. A "pall had fallen upon" his farmhouse in Spring Hill, Tenn., and "a feeling of depression ... was visible on every countenance." For nearly two weeks, his wife of nearly eight years took care of the former Confederate lieutenant general as he battled typhoid fever. But now she was nowhere to be found.

A historical marker in Spring Hill, Tenn., for the Ewell Farm,
where Richard Ewell died on Jan. 25, 1872. He was 54.
Soon, the man who was criticized for not taking Cemetery Hill on the first day at Gettysburg learned the awful truth: Days earlier, Lizinka Ewell had died of the same disease killing "Old Bald Head." "His senses had become so keenly susceptible to everything transpiring around him," a Nashville newspaper reported, "that even the thoughts of his attendants seemed laid bare to his perception." Because of Ewell's precarious health, the family delayed revealing the news.
Mrs. Ewell, who, according to her obituary, "constantly cultivated ... and stored valuable information," was the general's first cousin and the Russian-born daughter of the former U.S. minister to the Court of Tsar Alexander. She was 51.

And so a grieving Ewell ordered preparations for his own death. A will was made; so were arrangements for disposition of his property. After the war, the Virginia-reared Ewell settled on a farm in Spring Hill, 35 miles south of Nashville, with Lizinka, a wealthy heiress. (Her first husband, James Percy Brown, a notorious philanderer, died in 1844.) The Ewells raised Jersey cattle and sheep and bred harness-racing horses, and turned the farm into one of the area's most prosperous.

Headlines in the Nashville Tennessean on
Jan. 26, 1872, the day after
Richard Ewell's death.
"I understand from some of his neighbors that he has been remarkably successful in managing his freed men employees," a Spring Hill man wrote about Ewell in 1867. "He is very liberal and kind to them; at the same time he is firm in support of his rights, and this is the secret of his success. ... By the way, he has the best crop of wheat that I have seen."

In spring 1870, the Ewell's farm supplied the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville with 100 pounds of butter a week. The general even became president of the Maury County Agricultural Society. "No man in Tennessee," an account noted, "ever exhibited more interest in improving the breeds of cattle and sheep."

Ewell wanted a simple funeral -- no ostentation, no parade. Friends and comrades were to show their respect without fanfare. A plain headstone and footstone would do, he said, "like those over the graves of my father and my mother in Virginia."

"My rank while in the Confederate service might be inscribed upon one of the stones," the 54-year-old Confederate veteran reportedly told attendants at the farmhouse, "but I wish nothing in the inscription which will cast any reflection upon the Government of the United States."

The Ewells, who died of typhoid fever in the winter 1872, are buried in Nashville City Cemetery,
Barely able to speak, Ewell even mulled a possible cause of his death: exposure to cold because he wore a thin pair of Federal blue military pants purchased before the Civil War. "After all my fighting against the United States so long," said Ewell, who lost his right leg at Brawner's Farm in August 1862, "it is strange that an old pair of infantry pantaloons should kill me at last."

Shortly before Ewell's death, Lizinka's coffin was taken to his room. Too weak to show much emotion, he was raised up from his pillow so he could view her shrouded remains. Ewell whispered he wanted to be buried next to his wife, whose picture was hung around his neck.

On the brink of death and unable to accept many visitors, Ewell signaled what he needed with gestures. The end came at 2:30 in the morning on Jan. 25, 1872.  "His countenance wore a look of placid resignation and was more life-like in expression after than a short time before his death," the Nashville Tennessean reported the next day.

Close-up of inscription on the grave marker for Richard Ewell and
his wife Lizinka in Nashville City Cemetery.
Tennessee newspapers published extensive obituaries of Ewell, a U.S. officer during the war against Mexico, lauding him as  a "great Confederate commander." The Nashville Banner only briefly mentioned Gettysburg, noting -- erroneously -- that Ewell "took 5,000 prisoners and 5 or 6 guns" there.

At the funeral service at Christ Church in Nashville, where Ewell's wife had lived for decades, hundreds of mourners gathered. Among them were Tennessee Gov. John Brown and former Confederate generals Lucius Polk, William Bate, William Hicks Jackson, Richard Lilley and Edmund Kirby Smith. A hearse bearing Ewell's remains was escorted a short distance to the city cemetery near old Fort Negley, key defense during the Federals' occupation. As he wished, Ewell was buried next to his wife.

"Before the fresh earth had time to settle on the grave of the wife of his bosom, the clods fell on his own coffin," a Memphis newspaper wrote in a lengthy tribute to the general. "The rays of the winter's sun that shimmered on the mound that marked her last resting-place cast their light in the newer-made grave, as if to welcome him once more to her side."

Richard Ewell wanted a plain headstone and footstone. He got a more elaborate marker.
Behind and iron fence, Richard and Lizinka Ewell rest for eternity. The couple died within days of each other.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives, edited by Carol K. Bleser and Lesley J Gordon, New York, Oxford University Press, 2001
-- Memphis Avalanche, Jan. 27, 1872.
-- Nashville Tennessean, March 6, 1870. Jan, 26, 1872.
-- Nashville Union and American, Jan. 27, 1872.
-- The Home Journal, Winchester, Tenn., April 25, 1867.


  1. Very interesting story and photos!

  2. That headline blocks out a significant portion of the article!!!

    1. I believe this is a case of operator error. It looks fine on all my many devices. Be well.

  3. Nice story, good read.

  4. I Live in Franklin a few miles north! Great research! thanks for this article and for all you do to promote our history

  5. Great story! Thanks!

  6. Sam Hood9:24 AM

    In a letter to his wife Anna from Savannah on Jan. 25, 1872, John Bell Hood wrote: "I learnt by telegram of this morning that Mrs. Genl Ewell is dead & the Genl very ill. You will remember their dining with us and how lightly they spoke of Christian duties & to the Reverend [illegible] there with us. We can speak carelessly but how soon we go when summoned. I hope the General will recover altho losing his wife will about end his career in this life."

  7. Really enjoyed learning this.
    Please share more stories?

  8. Anonymous11:28 PM

    Great job again John,thank you for keeping history alive.