Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General

By Sacher, John | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General


Sacher, John, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General. By Ronald D. Smith. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008. Pp. xvi, 375. Preface, acknowledgments, illustration, bibliography, index. $44.95.)

Ronald D. Smith's biography of Thomas Ewing, Jr., highlights a fascinating man whose political, military, and business careers intersected many of the key events of the nineteenth century. Born into a prominent Whig family in Ohio, Ewing cut his political teeth in territorial Kansas, emerging as a founder of the territory's Republican party and as the first chief justice of the state's supreme court. While on the frontier, he worked vigorously as both a lawyer dealing with land claims and as a railroad lobbyist trying to secure funding for a transcontinental railroad.

Like many others who came of age during this time, his career path changed with the onset of the Civil War. In 1862, he resigned his judicial position to become a Union colonel. He led troops in Arkansas-at Cane Hill and Prairie Grove-and received a promotion to general for his leadership in the latter battle. His renown, however, came from his service in the brutal guerrilla warfare in Kansas and Missouri. In response to William Clarke Quantrill's devastating raid on Lawrence, Ewing issued General Order #11, which depopulated several Missouri counties and which Smith describes as the "most aggressive nonracial civilian relocation order in American history"(p. 201). Subsequently, Ewing's skillful defense of Fort Davidson helped thwart Sterling Price's 1864 invasion of Missouri.

After the war, Ewing moved to Washington, DC, where he chose the unpopular causes of defending Samuel Mudd in the Lincoln assassination trial and of allying with Pres. Andrew Johnson. Ewing helped Johnson avoid removal from office and emerged as both a Democrat and a powerful power broker for former Confederates seeking pardons. Eventually, he returned to Ohio, serving two terms in Congress and accumulating a small fortune in mining properties, agriculture, and banks. …

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