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Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life (Civil War America) Hardcover – April 27, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Confederate general Richard Ewell has never received the attention he deserves, according to his biographer Donald C. Pfanz. Ewell's many impressive military achievements have gone largely unnoticed, and his few failures--among them arguably blowing an opportunity to turn Gettysburg into a Southern victory--have often served as reasons to blame Confederate losses on anybody but its more revered generals, such as Robert E. Lee. Ewell's greatest accomplishment, suggests Pfanz, was leading third-rate troops in defense of Petersburg when Federal soldiers broke through at Fort Harrison. "Had [Stonewall] Jackson been in charge rather than Ewell, historians would have touted the battle as a military masterpiece. But ... the episode was forgotten. Historians have all but ignored it since." Despite such assessments, Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life is no hagiography; Pfanz cites shortcomings in both Ewell's personality (bad temper) and judgment (at Spotsylvania, for instance). Still, this book is mainly a robust defense of a second-tier general who deserves better than what he's received from other historians.

From Library Journal

Civil War historian Pfanz (The Petersburg Campaign: Abraham Lincoln at City Point, March 20-April 19, 1865) presents a favorable biography of Confederate General Richard S. Ewell. Although covering the full span of Ewell's life, Pfanz focuses most heavily on his Civil War years. He fills the lacunae regarding Ewell, reassessing the command and operations of the man who was Stonewall Jackson's right arm and who was an important, if underrated, military leader, succeeding Jackson to lead the Second Corps at Gettysburg, among other engagements. The author draws upon a number of primary sources and concludes that, overall, Ewell was a capable and successful general. Pfanz successfully conveys the personality, but more social and political contextualization would have been welcomed. Recommended for libraries with large collections of Civil War military history and biographies.?Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 680 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807823899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807823897
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald C. Pfanz gained his interest in military history early in life. As a boy, he grew up on the Gettysburg Battlefield, where his father, Harry W. Pfanz, worked as a National Park Service (NPS) historian. After graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1980 with a B.A. in History, Don followed his father into the NPS. In the course his 32-year career, Don worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County National Military Park (1981-85); the City Point Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield (1985-88); and Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina (1988-1991). He retuned to Fredericksburg as staff historian in 1991 and retired from the NPS in 2013.

In the mid-1980s, the Civil War Round Table Associates asked Don to speak at the conference focusing on the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He chose as his topic "Stonewall" Jackson's second in command, General Richard Stoddert Ewell. For the next 30 years, Don studied Ewell, producing two books about the general: "Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life" (1998) and "The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell, Stonewall's Successor."

President Abraham Lincoln spent two of the last three weeks of his life at City Point, General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. While working at that site, Don wrote a detailed study of Lincoln's stay at City Point, which in 1989 was published under the title "Lengthening Shadows, Abraham Lincoln at City Point." He also wrote an unpublished report on the Depot Field Hospital at City Point, where tens of thousands of Union soldiers received treatment, and did research that resulted in the furnishing of General Grant's headquarters cabin at the site.

In 2001, after returning to Fredericksburg, Don wrote a series of articles for the local newspaper on the battle that took place at that town in December 1862. He published those articles in 2003 under the title "War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg." A few years later, he began work on a driving tour of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House battlefields utilizing information and quotations he had uncovered during his years as a historian at those battlefields. In 2014 he teamed up with fellow NPS historians David Ruth and Bert Dunkerly of Richmond National Battlefields Park to produce "No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign from Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May 4 - June 13, 1864." Designed as a companion guide to the Commonwealth of Virginia's Lee vs. Grant Civil War Trail, the guide takes readers on a step-by-step, 120-mile odyssey that follows the Union and Confederate armies along Virginia back roads from the Rapidan River to the James, stopping at 84 points of interest along the way.

In addition to his books, Don has written a dozen articles that have appeared in Civil War compilations and scholarly journals. He is currently working on a detailed history of Fredericksburg National Cemetery and a critical study of Clara Barton's activities in the Fredericksburg area.

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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By on July 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
There are three impressive aspects of this work. First, it is quite readable. The battle scenes and other events are as lively as a full color film. The historic characters are full dimensional figures who inhabit the book rather than being referred to. Even minor Ewell family members are brought to life realistically.
Second, the terrain is imaginatively and graphically depicted. The author has a real sense of the places and the climate of the times. This is also supported by good made-to-order maps of important locales.
Third, practically every assertion in the book is backed up by solid primary and secondary historical sources. This is done with no intrusion on the readability of the text. No judgment is made without balancing all extant points of view. A real work of moderm scholarship.
Finally, I was surprised at how much I learned about historical personages and battles with which I though I was familiar.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Hurley VINE VOICE on July 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a refreshing and informative look at Richard Ewell, before, after and of course during the Civil War. Often described as a failure after succeeding Jackson and becoming leader of the Lee's new 2nd Corp, Ewell has suffered severe criticism for the first day of Gettysburg and for his emotional response to the breach at Spotsylvania. Pfanz provides a fair and colorful look at the dependable soldier that fought the second half of the war with a wooden leg and overall served much better than superficial history would lead you to believe. Pfanz profiles Ewell's early life efficiently noting that Ewell's family as a whole were eccentric and Ewell himself a very thin and balding man who spoke with a lisp. Although lacking in military forbearance, Ewell completes West Point and serves gallantly as a dragoon officer in the west occasionally fighting Indians with high praise. Pfanz provides a full perspective of Ewell as a brave soldier who initially though Jackson crazy and in a rather amusing historical telling, Pfanz describes how at one point several generals in Jackson's command think each other unbalanced. As Pfanz describes, Ewell fights extremely well for Jackson particularly at Cross Keys and at Winchester. Although literally pegged as an officer that follows explicit orders, Pfanz clarifies that Ewell fought extraordinary well particularly in the initial stages of the Gettysburg campaign in capturing Winchester and marching virtually to Harrisonburg. He also fought brilliantly at the Wilderness and for the most part at Spotsylvania. As Pfanz notes, Ewell saved Richmond during Butler's great onslaught attack in the fall of 1864, which is a little appreciated fact.Read more ›
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Chris Todd Davidson on November 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Gen. Richard Ewell. A figure from history that has been all but ignored until now. While many blame Ewell for the loss at Gettysburg, One finds a different side of the story. The reading flows smoothly. I have really enjoyed reading this book and getting to know Gen.Richard Ewell. The author expolores his background as a Dragoon, fighting Indians and his faithful service to the Confederacy. Also mentioned is his conversion to Christainity as a result of his rubbing elbows with Stonewall Jackson. I suggest you add this book to your library!
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