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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-sixth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 10th, 1895.

 p11  Benjamin S. Ewell
No. 664. Class of 1832.
Died June 19, 1894, at James City, Virginia, aged 84.

"Let others hail the rising sun:

I bow to that whose course is run."

The noble, the gifted man, whose name leads this page, is no more. In his death must be noted the loss of one who, in his day and generation, occupied a conspicuous place among the broad-minded men of his State and, in conjunction with others of congenial character, exercised a wide and controlling influence upon the learned institutions and the young men who frequented them. This was due not only to perseverance and earnestness, necessary adjuncts to win success, but to the possession of personal qualities that command the respect of all men regardless of creed or party.

The times in which he lived were propitious for the formation of such characters, and a few words more will portray in a measure his personal characteristics. Colonel Ewell was a man of strong will, not wanting, I think, in Celtic fire. But, it seldom dominated him, for it was mastered by goodness of heart, and that sense of what was due to others which is, and always will be, the foundation of good manners. Brought up in a school of manners, no longer existing, he had the winning address and manly bearing so well set off by the leading men of that time. In heart he was as tender as a woman, by nature as trustful as a child, and in disposition lenient and forgiving almost to weakness.  p12 Such was the man, the noble Virginian, whose memory I am attempting to portray for a season.

Benjamin Stoddert Ewell was born in Washington, D. C., June 10, 1810, and died at his home, near Ewell Station, in James City County, Virginia, June 19, 1894, age 84. His father was Dr. Thomas Ewell, of the United States Navy, and his mother was Elizabeth Stoddert, who was the daughter of Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the United States Navy under the elder Adams. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy, at West Point, from Virginia, in July, 1828, and graduated third in the Class of 1832.

Appointed Brevet Second Lieutenant Fourth Artillery, July 1, 1832, and the same day Second Lieutenant in the same Regiment. Served at the Military Academy 1832‑36, as Assistant Professor of Mathematics August 31, 1832, to August 31, 1835, and as Assistant Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy August 31, 1835, to September 30, 1836. Resigned September 30, 1836. Civil history: Principal Assistant Engineer Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad 1836‑39. Elected Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy Transylvania University, Kentucky, 1839; declined. Professor of Mathematics Hampden Sydneyº College, Virginia, 1839‑42, and of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy 1842‑46. Professor of Mathematics and Military Science Washington College, Lexington, Virginia, 1846‑48. Professor of Mathematics Hampden Sydney College, Virginia, 1848; declined. Professor Mathematics and Acting President William and Mary College, Virginia, 1848‑49; Professor Mathematics and Natural Science since 1849, and President 1854 to beginning of the war. Entered Confederate States Army May 24, 1861, and in command of Williamsburg and vicinity until and after the battle of Williamsburg. Commissioned Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General on the staff of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph E. Johnston November 24, 1862, and serving through the war. He was the General's closest personal and official friend, consulting and advising with him as no one else did.

In 1863, he was again elected President of William and Mary  p13 College, though still in the Confederate Army, from which he did not resign until March 20, 1865, and filled that office until he resigned from the College in 1888, when he was elected Emeritus President, and held the same till death. His brother, Lieutenant-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. S. Ewell, commanded a Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia, and a still younger brother, Lieutenant Thomas Ewell, who, first in the enemy's citadel, at Cerro Gordo, fell mortally wounded there. He was called "the hero of Cerro Gordo" by General Scott, and was most handsomely spoken of by his immediate commander, Loring.

Between 1865 and 1867, Colonel Ewell refused a lucrative offer to leave the ruins of William and Mary College​a and accept a professor­ship at Hampden Sydney. He loved and labored for William and Mary as no one else could or would. It was an ideal love, enabling him to fight successfully every effort to remove the College from Williamsburg after the war. His visits to the national capital and earnest pleadings with Senators and members of Congress to reimburse the College for its losses during the war will not soon be forgotten. From Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade he secured letters and certificates declaring the burning of the College to have been "a useless act of war," and with those letters obtained an appropriation. From 1879 to 1888, inclusive — ten years — the Colonel guarded the charter by having the bell rung every opening day. He kept up the inclosures as far as he could, and did all in his power to preserve the corporation which, under the charter, was vested in the "Masters and Professors of the College of William and Mary." He was the sole "Faculty." It can also be truly said that he spent many thousands of his own money to maintain the credit of the College. Only a mere pittance was ever repaid.

Colonel Ewell served with credit and ability as a soldier, and rendered great assistance to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.General Magruder in establishing defenses on the peninsula, showing military training and engineering skill of no common order. He was intus et in cute born for peace, loved his fellow man, and did to others as he  p14 would have others do to him. Full of courage, truth, zeal, and fidelity, he was truly the friend of the poor, and was ever active in their behalf.

Virginia, like the mother of the Gracchi, when asked for her jewels, proudly points to her sons,​b and the life and character of no Virginian can fail of elevation as he approaches the almost perfect standard of Benjamin S. Ewell. His death was felt all over the State, and in Williamsburg, where he was loved, honored, and looked up to, tears from old and young fell without restraint at the grave where their President was buried.

The writer loved the man, was influenced by his example, and now mourns his death. The day of forgetfulness to him will be the day upon which memory will cease to hang its fondest recollections.

A grand Old Virginia Gentleman — one of the olden time.

E. J. Harvie.

Thayer's Notes:

a The writer, very likely because both he and his readers needed no reminding, fails to tell us precisely why these ruins. Many of the buildings of the college were destroyed by Union troops, the main building — the famous Sir Christopher Wren Building — falling victim to the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment.

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b Val. Max. IV.4.

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