Lanterns: Portraits of Character: General Richard S. Ewell


Portraits of Character: General Richard S. Ewell

I suppose one of the problems people have with history, is that it doesn’t resonate with them.

It doesn’t breathe. It has no life, it’s memory is merely that of a passing shadow. Whether that shadow is viewed with apathetic disdain or a pained tragic love it’s passage does not matter to most.

It still fails to resonate for many. Naturally, on some intellectual level, you know that “they’ve happened”. All those years have gone by, populated by peoples going about their business, however, they did go about their business way back then, and now. Even though you know it’s a fact, it still doesn’t seem quite so real as a breaking news story that flashes on the billboards of the digital highway.

It's too hard to emotionally connect with pictures of people long dead. There is no more life in them now, as there were then. The pages, that those portraits are printed upon just carry sometimes a mere ghost.

There are some of us, however, who are different. We’re the priests of a religion worshipping the past, the sacred tenders of bits of knowledge that nobody cares about anymore. Like ghosts, we flit about the silent rows of bookshelves of old bookstores keeping more robust company with the dead, than with most among the living. We are the historians and we know things, things about these portraits of character.

Confederate General Richard S. Ewell, was deeply in love with and married to his cousin. A thing which, did not possess the stigma as it does now. In fact, in nearly half the U.S. states, it was legal and still is. She nursed him back to health from a severe war injury.

He spoke with a lisp and was affectionately called Old Bald Head by his troops. He was a strange but brilliant man. Due to illness, he would only eat an oatmeal-like concoction called Frumenty. He had a way of keeping his men on their toes because he never shared exactly what he was doing. His own battle history is impressive and long. Somehow this man overcame his health and himself to become an amazing leader even with an excentric skillset. This old warrior had been in so many battles and carried the wounds to prove it. He was shot, fell under a horse, lost a leg along with other injuries. He struggled to find comfort and oddly slept in contorted positions. This man usually suspected others of insanity and others found him suspect as well. He had a habit of creating strange swear words. His temper was infamous. He could not have been more opposite in temperament with Thomas J. Jackson, and yet oddly enough they worked magnificently together. The General believed that all men, black and white needed to fight together. In fact, at the Battle of 2nd Winchester, he performed so brilliantly it was said he was the shadow of the fallen Stonewall Jackson himself.

There is ever so much more to these people, men, and women, who went before us. They were real, they lived and breathed, laughed and cried.


And sometimes, if we listen very closely, we can still hear them.


I want to share a different history with you. I am fascinated by the unusual bit of pieces of people that make them these people, these true characters. The things not normally covered in the history books. I urge you to do your own research, they come alive that way. It is my hope I planted some seeds for you.

Sincerely, Ben


Written by Ben Coleman

Freelance author, historian and Navy veteran. Find him at

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