Thomas Ewing Jr.: American Hero
Our founding fathers founded this great nation under great threats from the British Crown. There is no argument that these men were American heroes. Likewise, there were so many heroes from the Civil War. One such man was Thomas Ewing Jr., not only for his actions during the war but for the things he did both before and after the war as well. Who was Thomas Ewing Jr.? Why is he important to American History?
Did he win a large or decisive battle during the war? What did he do before or after the war that was important? We have all heard his name at some point in an American history class, but few of us remember him.
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For that matter, very few of these men are remembered today. The history made by these men makes up the backbone of our nation and should never be allowed to fade from our memory.
Thomas Ewing Jr. is a man who should be remembered for the many roles he played in early American history. Ewing was the personal secretary to President Zachary Taylor, aided in Kansas becoming a state, a Union commanding officer during the Civil War, he was the defense attorney during the assassination conspiracy trials for Abraham Lincoln. Ewing practiced law in Ohio, Kansas, New York, and Washington D.C.
Ewing was born on August 7, 1829, in Lancaster, Ohio where he grew up and was educated in a local school. Shortly after his graduation from high school, Ewing was appointed Secretary of the Commission to settle the boundary between Virginia and Ohio. So began his contributions to American history. Ewing went on to serve as President Zachary Taylor’s private secretary until the death of the President. After which Ewing attended Brown University where he graduated but did not earn a degree. Ewing finished his degree at the Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1855 and began practicing law in Cincinnati.
On January 8, 1856, Ewing married Ellen E. Cox, later that same year they moved to Leavenworth, Kansas where Ewing joined a law firm with his brother Hugh Boyle Ewing and his brother-in-law William Tecumseh Sherman. Thomas Ewing Jr. hoped to establish himself in Kansas and be appointed Representative to Kansas in the U.S.Senate. However, Ewing was never appointed as representative.
Instead, he was appointed the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, due to his revealing voter fraud during the election on January 4, 1858. “The public indignation aroused by these disclosures prevented the admission of Kansas as a slave-state. (Ewing later wrote an article, “The Struggle for Freedom in Kansas,” published in the Cosmopolitan Magazine, May 1894″ (Dictionary of American Biography, 1936.) If interested, one can find Ewing’s article in Cosmopolitan Magazine at; https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015031635157;view=1up;seq=94
Ewing served as chief justice for approximately one year. He resigned the position to raise the 11th Kansas Infantry, which he was soon given command of at the rank of Colonel. According to Smith (2012), with no military training, Col. Ewing fought the regiment well at the Cane Hill and Prairie Grove battles in northwest Arkansas, battles credited historically with preserving southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas for the Union. For his actions at these battles, Ewing was promoted to Brigadier General by Abraham Lincoln. Ewing was then reassigned to the District of the Border encompassing eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
The bitterness along the Missouri-Kansas border had lingered since the pre-war years. Ewing was chosen by the Lincoln administration because Ewing was believed to be a moderate Unionist, who would not be so hot-headed that would agitate Missourians or so timid as to offend Kansans. Before Ewing had taken command of the Border District, Union officers had decided retaliation against civilians, including women, was a necessity. If only to show other civilians that aiding the enemy would not go unpunished.
As a result of this, St. Louis commander General Henry Halleck ordered that women, children and any man not armed be viewed as non-combatants. Unless it could be proven that they aided the enemy. A number of women were arrested and jailed in Kansas due to Ewing’s claim of them giving such aid. While jailed there the building collapsed killing several prisoners, sparking Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas. One hundred and fifty civilian men and boys died at the hands of the raiders, some of them in front of their wives, mothers, and children. (Etcheson, 2013).
Just four days after Quantrill and his raiders attacked the still sleeping town of Lawrence, Kansas, Ewing issued his now famous, to some infamous, General Order #11. This order displaced nearly everyone in the Missouri counties of Bates, Cass, Jackson, and nearly half of Vernon. All persons living beyond a one-mile radius of any military installation had to leave.
With the exception of those who could acquire proof of loyalty document. Those who could acquire the documents were allowed to relocate to a military station. Those who could not get the documents had to leave the four-county area. “Whether loyal or disloyal, an estimated Twenty-thousand civilians were given two weeks to pack and leave their homes” (Etcheson, 2013).