Richard Stoddert Ewell began his career after graduating 13th out of the 42 students of the American Military Academy’s class of 1840. He was sent to serve in the west with the 1st US Dragoons, and served in the Mexican-American War. During the war, he participated in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, and received a promotion to captain for his gallantry. On May 7, 1861, he resigned from the United States Army, and entered the Confederate Army.
Ewell participated in a minor skirmish before the outbreak of fighting, and received a commission as a brigadier general on June 17, 1861. He commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run, but saw little combat. On January 24, 1862, he was promoted to major general and served alongside General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson through the Valley Campaign in Virginia. He protected Richmond during Union General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and commanded his troops successfully at the battles of Malvern Hill, Gaines’ Mill, the Seven Days Battles, and the Second Battle of Bull Run. At the Battle of Groveton, Ewell was severely wounded in the leg, which was amputated below the knee. After several months of recovery, Ewell returned to the army and participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. On May 23, 1863, Ewell was promoted to lieutenant general to replace General Jackson, who had been mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.
Ewell then participated in the Battle of Gettysburg, but received criticism for his actions. Although he met with great success during the early portions of the battle on July 1, 1863, he did not continue to assault Union positions, which provided Union troops the time they needed to reorganize and prepare defenses. Although confusion exists as to why Ewell did not continue to attack the Union troops, many of the generals in Robert E. Lee’s army felt that Ewell actions helped lead to the Confederate defeat. Following the Gettysburg Campaign, Ewell performed well during the Battle of the Wilderness, but again received criticism for his inaction and indecisiveness at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Following the battle, Ewell, who was suffering from health problems, was relieved of commanding his division, and sent to command the defenses of Richmond. During the retreat from Richmond, Ewell and his men were surrounded and captured at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865. He remained imprisoned at Fort Warren for the remainder of the war.