The death of Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on May 10, 1863 affected Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) in many ways, some obvious, some not. In this piece I am going to discuss the most obvious one.
Prior to Jackson’s death Lee had been considering reorganizing the ANV because having just two corps made the army too bulky. Lee decided to take advantage of the vacant corps commander position with Order Number 146, issued on May 30, 1863, which changed the army’s command structure from two to three corps and promoted two of Jackson’s best division commanders to corps commanders.
Replacing Jackson as head of the Second Corps was Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell (1817-1872). Ewell was a favorite of Stonewall and legend holds that Ewell was Jackson’s choice to replace him. Like Jackson, Ewell was very eccentric and a hypochondriac, but that is about where the similarity ends. Unlike Jackson, Ewell was rigid and unimaginative in his thinking.
When he took the reins of the Second Corps, Ewell was recovering from the amputation of his left leg below the knee of which he was very self- conscious. Unfortunately for Ewell, he would be wounded three more times before the war ended.
Sadly for Lee, Ewell proved to be a poor corps commander, especially at the Battle of Gettysburg. Many historians have blamed Ewell’s lack of aggressiveness on the first day of battle for the eventual Confederate defeat. His performance continued to slide to the point that on May 12, 1864 at the Battle of the Muleshoe, Lee personally took command from Ewell. Shortly thereafter, Lee removed Ewell from the Second Corps blaming, with some justification, Ewell’s injuries for this once promising general’s shortcomings.
Ewell was replaced by Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early (1816-1894). Early was a successful division commander under Jackson and Ewell and had temporarily commanded both the Second and Third Corps. Lee made him permanent commander of the Second Corps in June 1864. Early is best known for his “Valley Campaign” that took his corps to the outskirts of Washington, D.C in the summer of 1864. After most of his forces were destroyed at the Battle of Waynesboro in March 1865, Lee reluctantly replaced the man who arguably came the closest to fulfilling “Stonewall’s” boots.
Next, Maj. Gen. John Brown Gordon (1832-1904) replaced Early. Gordon was the only corps commander in the ANV to have never graduated from West Point. Gordon performed well in his role, commanding mostly defensive positions around Richmond and Petersburg, and led the ANV’s last charge at Appomattox.
The Third Corps would be commanded by Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell “A.P.” Hill. (1825-1865) Hill was a personal favorite of Lee, and was one of the ANV’s more popular generals. Hill had briefly replaced Jackson as commander of the Second Corps, until he, himself was wounded in the leg.
Hill’s tenure was marked by poor and often sloppy command decisions. Some attribute this to his being in poor health as a result of gonorrhea contracted while he attended West Point. Others suggest that he was in over his head as corps commander. He died in action on April 2, 1865, one day after returning to duty from an illness.
Interestingly, Lee seems to have never considered switching Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart from the cavalry to the infantry, despite the fact Stuart had done an excellent job of commanding the Second Corps after Jackson’s shooting at the Battle of Chancellorsville, not to mention that Stuart wanted the job. Many have questioned this, with some saying that Stuart would have been a better choice than Ewell or Hill (which I agree), while others argue that he was probably too valuable as a cavalry leader (which is what Lee probably felt.).
While Lee certainly had to know that none of Jackson’s successors could equal the slain general, he nonetheless had to be disappointed by how badly they all, save perhaps Early, failed to emulate Stonewall.
But this was not the only way Stonewall’s death affected the ANV. I’ll discuss that in my next post.