A future Rebel commander visits York
An engraving of Richard S. Ewell before his hairline significantly receded.
By the early summer of 1863, the name Richard Stoddard Ewell was well known within North America. The balding and somewhat eccentric Ewell had received considerable press as a brigadier general for his service during the Peninsular Campaign, and had survived a bad wound at the Battle of Groveton that cost him a leg. Promoted to command of a corps in the Army of Northern Virginia in May 1863, his men had won a smashing and decisive victory only a few weeks later at the Second Battle of Winchester. By late June, Ewell was approaching Harrisburg with two-thirds of his force, while a division under Jubal Early threatened York.
York was a place quite familiar to “Old Baldy,” for he had visited the town before the war, and an older brother, Benjamin, had moved to York in the late 1830s to accept a position as assistant engineer of the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad. The former West Point professor had subsequently married a York woman.
Ewell graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, in 1840. After a customary leave of absence to visit friends and family in the South, he was assigned to the Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and reported for duty in mid-September.
In October, Ewell received a brief leave of absence, and he rode down today’s Carlisle Road (Route 74) to York. There, he visited several of his mother’s relatives and made the circuit of the local social scene, waltzing with local girls in a series of dances and balls. One young lady met his particular fancy, and he deemed her “the most strikingly pretty creature” he had ever seen.
Unfortunately for the young officer, his stay in tranquil Carlisle was brief. In November, he was transferred out west to a remote fort on the frontier in the Indian Territory.