Friday, October 13, 2006

Hoping Old Jackson Would Not Catch Him

Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor, fought for the South throughout the American Civil War. Serving with General Thomas J. Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, he aptly noted in his memoirs, "An actor therein, accident of fortune afforded me exceptional advantages for an interior view." A wonderful writer, he offered an insightful, somewhat humorous description of Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell who in turn discussed his views on the brilliant but eccentric "Stonewall" Jackson. The excerpt below appears in Taylor’s memoirs "Destruction And Reconstruction: Personal Experiences Of The Late War"

"For the first time Ewell had his division together and under his immediate command; and as we remained for many days between the rivers, I had abundant opportunities for studying the original character of "Dick Ewell. " We had known each other for many years, but now our friendship and intercourse became close and constant. Graduated from West Point in 1840, Ewell joined the 1st regiment of United States dragoons, and, saving the Mexican war, in which he served with such distinction as a young cavalryman could gain, his whole military life had been passed on the plains, where, as he often asserted, he had learned all about commanding fifty United States dragoons, and forgotten everything else. In this he did himself injustice, as his career proves; but he was of a singular modesty. Bright, prominent eyes, a bomb-shaped, bald head, and a nose like that of Francis of Valois, gave him a striking resemblance to a woodcock; and this was increased by a bird-like habit of putting his head on one side to utter his quaint speeches. He fancied that he had some mysterious internal malady, and would eat nothing but frumenty, a preparation of wheat; and his plaintive way of talking of his disease, as if he were some one else, was droll in the extreme. His nervousness prevented him from taking regular sleep, and he passed nights curled around a camp-stool, in positions to dislocate an ordinary person's joints and drive the "caoutchouc man" to despair. On such occasions, after long silence, he would suddenly direct his eyes and nose toward me with "General Taylor! What do you suppose President Davis made me a major-general for?" - beginning with a sharp accent and ending with a gentle lisp. Superbly mounted, he was the boldest of horsemen, invariably leaving the roads to take timber and water. No follower of the "Pytchley" or "Quorn" could have lived with him across country. With a fine tactical eye on the battle field, he was never content with his own plan until he had secured the approval of another's judgment, and chafed under the restraint of command, preparing to fight with the skirmish line. On two occasions in the Valley, during the temporary absence of Jackson from the front, Ewell summoned me to his side, and immediately rushed forward among the skirmishers, where some sharp work was going on. Having refreshed himself, he returned with the hope that "old Jackson would not catch him at it. " He always spoke of Jackson, several years his junior, as "old, " and told me in confidence that he admired his genius, but was certain of his lunacy, and that he never saw one of Jackson's couriers approach without expecting an order to assault the north pole.

Later, after he had heard Jackson seriously declare that he never ate pepper because it produced a weakness in his left leg, he was confirmed in this opinion. With all his oddities, perhaps in some measure because of them, Ewell was adored by officers and men."



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You can see the above document in its entirety at "Documenting the South"

They state on their site the following copyright information. "Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1998. © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text."

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