Charles Ewing

Charles Ewing was born on March 6, 1835, in Lancaster, Ohio. He was the son of Thomas Ewing, who was a National Republican and Whig politician who served as a United States Senator from 1831-1837, Secretary of the Treasury under William Henry Harrison in 1841, Secretary of the Interior under Zachary Taylor from 1849-1850, and again as a United States Senator from 1850-1851. The elder Ewing represented Ohio at the peace conference in 1861 and three of Thomas Ewing’s sons became Civil War generals: Thomas, Jr., Hugh Boyle, and Charles. His brother, Thomas Ewing, Jr., was Kansas’s first chief justice, leading free state advocate, and a delegate from Kansas to the peace conference in 1861. His sister, Ellen, married William T. Sherman, their foster brother and eventual major general in the Union army. Charles Ewing attended St. Joseph’s, a Dominican college in Ohio, and Gonzaga College in Washington, D.C., prior to studying law at the University of Virginia from 1856 to 1858. In 1860, Ewing moved to St. Louis to establish a law partnership with boyhood friend John A. Hunter

Following the war’s outbreak, Ewing joined the regular army, receiving a commission as a captain in the 13th US Infantry Regiment, with John A. Hunter and William T. Sherman, on May 14, 1861. He first served at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and at Alton, Illinois, on recruitment duty and guarding Confederate prisoners. He desired a more active assignment, however, as he wrote to numerous family members during the war’s second year. “I can endure this no longer,” he wrote to his father that July, “until I have made every effort to free myself from the shame of lying here idle.” Finally, in October 1862, his regiment joined the Army of the Tennessee. He fought at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou in December 1862. The regiment spent the night after the battle in a foot of water, which would permanently debilitate him and give him lung problems for the rest of his life. 

Ewing participated in the Vicksburg Campaign, where he received a wound to his hand picking up the battalion colors after the color-sergeant fell in the assault on the city on May 19, 1863. “My wound is nothing,” he enthusiastically wrote to his father three days later, happy to be in an active campaign with his brother Hugh and brother-in-law Sherman. Though the wound was slight, Charles also contracted bronchitis while serving in Mississippi. On June 22, 1863, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of volunteers and joined William T. Sherman’s staff as assistant inspector general of the 15th Army Corps. On July 4, 1863, Ewing became a brevet major in the regular army for his gallantry at Vicksburg. He participated in the Chattanooga Campaign, and took part in the Union victory at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. Ewing accompanied Sherman on the March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign. On September 1, 1864, he became a brevet lieutenant colonel, and on March 8, 1865, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. 

He resigned his volunteer position on December 1, 1865, and transferred as a captain to the 22nd Infantry in the regular army on September 21, 1866. He was saved from an inglorious frontier posting by the timely intervention of his father with General Grant. “Among my sons Charles has perhaps more uncalculating chivalry than any other but is of a sanguine & somewhat nervous temperament—a year or two in camp remote from social life would crush out & smother his very soul—He had more than his due share of this at Alton.” 

Under pressure from his father and family to embrace a new career, on July 31, 1867, he resigned from the army, becoming a patent lawyer in Washington, D.C., where he would live with his family while working at a law firm with his brother Thomas, Jr. Initially worrying about his son’s drinking and smoking habits, his father was delighted at Charles’s post-war work ethic, beaming, “Charles is doing admirably—business promise well for the rest of Johnson’s term.” His old childhood friend and fellow UVA alumnus, John A. Hunter, wrote in 1876, “I am delighted to hear you are so well fixed, and have such fine prospects.”

Charles was married to his wife, Virginia L. M. Ewing (neé Virginia L. Miller), of Mount Vernon, Ohio, on December 20, 1870, in Mount Vernon by Cincinnati’s Catholic archbishop, John B. Purcell. The couple had seven children: Charles, born December 22, 1872; Virginia, born June 22, 1874; Eleanor, born December 15, 1875; Mary, born February 1, 1877; John K. M., born October 25, 1878; James Gillespie Blaine, born September 26, 1880; and Catherine (Kathleen), born January 6, 1882. 

On January 2, 1874, the Archbishop of Baltimore appointed him Catholic Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and in this capacity he promoted Catholic missionary interests among Native Americans. Ewing was particularly well-suited to this position, being related to the General-in-Chief of the army, William T. Sherman, by marriage and having served with President Grant at Vicksburg. Along with his sister, Ellen, he tirelessly advocated the interests of tribes that had become Catholic largely as a result of the French colonization of Canada in the 17th century. Working closely with western bishops, missionary priests, and other agents, Ewing petitioned the Grant administration on behalf of numerous “Catholic” tribes, including the Chippewa, Apache, Papago, Flathead, and the Nez Perce. Widely praised by Catholic leaders for his efforts, Archbishop Bayley of Baltimore wrote him, “I am very much pleased with your clear & forcible statement of our claims & the great injustice which has been done to us in the matter of the Indian Missions.” In gratitude for his efforts, Pope Pius IX made him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great on June 1, 1877.

Ewing died on June 20, 1883, of pneumonia and typhoid fever in Washington, D.C. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Doctors testifying for his wife’s pension record on behalf of her contention that his lung condition contracted in the service led to his death said “he was a very ambitious and brave soldier, and his disposition was to conceal any disability, rather than to use it as a reason for exemption from duty, and I am satisfied that often he should have been on the sick list instead of on duty.” They further testified that due to his strong constitution, he lived much longer than could be expected for someone with his chronic lung condition. Ewing’s widow began receiving a pension commencing June 20, 1883, for $20 a month plus $2 for each of her seven children due to back pay. General Sherman testified on behalf of her husband’s service in order to secure approval for her claim. A special act of Congress increased the pension to $50 a month, beginning August 29, 1890. She received a pension until her death in Washington on October 21, 1937.

Image: General Charles Ewing (courtesy Library of Congress).


Commission of Charles Ewing

Charles Ewing to His Father, July 16, 1862

Charles Ewing to His Father, November 29, 1862

Charles Ewing Takes Part in Sherman's March to the Sea (1)

Charles Ewing Takes Part in Sherman's March to the Sea (2)

Memoirs of General William T. Sherman

Name:Ewing, Charles
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
22nd Regiment U.S. Infantry
13th Regiment U.S. InfantryA
Branch of service:Army
Muster In1861-05-14
Muster Out1867-07-31Washington, DCMustered Out
Residence at UVA:Lancaster, OH
UVA Begin Year:1856
UVA End Year:1858
Residence at enlistment:St. Louis, MO
Rank In:Captain
Rank Out:Brigadier General
Highest rank achieved:Brigadier General
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Ewing, Charlesnoneapplication-invalid
Ewing, Charlesnoneapplication-minor
Ewing, Charlesnoneapplication-parent
Ewing, Charles399513application-widow
Ewing, Charles261250certificate-widow
Birth date:1835-03-06
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Lancaster, OH
Death date:1883-06-20
Death place:Washington, DC
Causes of death:disease: pneumonia, disease: typhoid fever
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, Charles
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, Virginia
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, Eleanor
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, Mary
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, John K. Miller Gillespie
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, James Gillespie Blaine
Ewing, Charlesparent ofEwing, Catherine
Ewing, Virginia L. M.wife ofEwing, Charles

Staff Officer File for Charles Ewing, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; Pension record for Charles Ewing, RG 15, NARA; File for Charles Ewing, Letters Received by the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94, NARA; "Charles Ewing," Letters and their Enclosures Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94, NARA; Effinger Family Collection and Heineman Dynasty Book, MS 30, Fairfield County Heritage Association, Lancaster, OH; Hugh B. Ewing Papers, Philemon B. Ewing Papers, Thomas Ewing, Jr. Papers, Thomas Ewing, Sr. Papers, Ohio History Center, Columbus, OH; Thomas Ewing Family Papers, William T. Sherman Family Papers, University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, IN; Thomas Ewing, Sr. Papers and Charles Ewing Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Charles B. Ewing Papers, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.; 1860, 1880 U.S. Federal Census, accessed through; The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Digital Edition (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2018),; The New York Times, June 21, 1883; Boston Globe, June 23, 1883; In Memoriam: Charles Ewing, by His Youngest Corporal (Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1888); Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army: From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, Vol. 1 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1903); Peter J. Rahill, "The Catholic Indian Missions and Grant's Peace Policy" (PhD diss., Catholic University of America, 1953);  Kenneth J. Heineman, Civil War Dynasty: The Ewing Family of Ohio (New York University Press, 2013), “Charles Ewing,” Arlington National Cemetery Website,