Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life

By Donald C. Pfanz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 27 I Am Unwilling to Be Idle at This Crisis

At dawn on 21 May 1864 Robert E. Lee learned that the Federals were again shifting southward. He ordered Dick Ewell to leave the Muleshoe and place the Second Corps on the Army of Northern Virginia's right flank, south of the Po River. Ewell did so, establishing his headquarters first at Stanard's and then at Beasley's Gate. As the day progressed it became clear that Grant was doing more than simply shifting position; he was marching toward Bowling Green in an effort to get between the Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond. In response, recalled Hotchkiss, Lee ordered the army to leave Spotsylvania Court House and hasten south "as hard as we could." The race for Hanover Junction was on. 1

Lee accompanied Ewell down the Telegraph Road. 2 Hoke's brigade arrived from Petersburg and fell in behind the Second Corps, acting as its rear guard. When Ewell stopped to rest, the North Carolinians gathered around him. He told them that Grant had incurred heavy losses up to that point and stressed the importance of beating the Federals to Hanover Junction. In the summer heat the men perspired freely, including Ewell, who sweltered in a thick winter shirt. At 11:00 P.M. he and his corps slumped down to sleep at Dickinson's Mill, having plodded more than twenty miles. Three hours later they continued on their way, arriving at Hanover Junction at 1:00 P.M., 22 May, ahead of Anderson and Hill and well ahead of Grant. 3

Lee established a defensive line below the North Anna River, covering Hanover Junction and the Virginia Central Railroad. Ewell held the right end of the line, from the Telegraph Road to Cedar Farm Bridge. On 23 May Warrens corps began crossing the river at Jericho Ford, opposite the Confederate left. Lee ordered A. P. Hill to throw Warren back across the river, but Hill committed only one division and was beaten back. The same day, Hancock overran a Confederate redoubt north of the river and seized control of the Chesterfield Bridge. 4

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