It may be one of the most long-standing “myths” of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg…Richard Ewell flinching on the afternoon of July 1st with the Union Army in full retreat and Robert E. Lee’s exhortation to “take that hill, if practicable” ringing in his ears. Ewell chose to not chance an assault on Cemetery Hill, and that resulted in the Confederate loss at Gettysburg and, therefore, the failure to win Southern independence. By the time the story became a foundation of battlefield lore, Ewell and Lee were gone and the surviving commanders strove mightily to paper over their own failings and elevate their places in history at the expense of those who could not tell their side of the story.
Chris Mackowski methodically destroyed long-standing Lost Cause mythology showing conclusively that not only did Ewell make a sound military decision as the shadows grew long on that hot summer afternoon, but he may have saved the Army of Northern Virginia from suffering from a developing (and potentially devastating) flank attack that could have reversed the hard fought gains already made. Complete with touches of humor (and a dead-on impersonation of Morgan Sheppard’s portrayal of General Isaac Trimble in the film “Gettysburg”), Mackowski again showed himself to be a diligent researcher in command of detail who can weave historical facts into an entertaining story. He even opined that it was entirely likely that Ewell’s former chief and predecessor at the head of the Second Corps, Stonewall Jackson, may very well have made the same decision to pass on the Cemetery Hill attack on the basis of the available information and disposition of his troops.
At the end of the day, Richard Ewell really failed in only one way: he was not Stonewall Jackson.