Sunday, May 11, 2014

Zwingle Whitefield Ewing (1843-1909)

From "The Immortal Six Hundred; a Story of Cruelty to Confederate Prisoners of War" 1911.

    Certainly one of the oddest named men to be elected to public office in Tennessee,  Zwingle Whitefield Ewing was viewed as one of that state's distinguished Confederate veterans. Following his military service Ewing went on to a noteworthy career in the public forum, being an attorney, college professor, college trustee and two term state senator, serving as senate speaker. His tenure as speaker of the Tennessee Senate also saw him occupy the office of Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, as the post of speaker is the first in line of succession to the Tennessee Governorship.
   The seventh of eight children born to Lile A. (1809-1853) and Rebecca Ann Leeper Ewing (1809-1877), Zwingle W. Ewing was born in 1843 in Pulaski, Tennessee. His unsual first name "Zwingle" is believed to be a corruption in spelling of "Zwingli", the last name of 15th century clergyman Huldrych Zwingli, the founder of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. Research has shown that Ewing's first name is sometimes spelled as "Zwingli", which lends even more credence to the probability of his being named in honor of this prominent European scholar and religious worker, who met his end in the Second Kappel War in Zurich in October 1531. 
  Goodspeed's Biographical Appendix of Giles County, Tennessee notes that "Z.W." Ewing's early life centered upon farm work during the summer months and school during the winter. In 1859 he entered into study at the Lewisburg Male Academy and in the following year enrolled at the Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, studying here until the dawn of the Civil War. Ewing would enlist in Co. H. of the 17th Tennessee Infantry in 1861 and rose through the ranks during his service, eventually being promoted to second lieutenant. Ewing would see action during the Siege of Petersburg and was taken prisoner at South Petersburg in 1864, being taken to Fort Delaware following his capture. 
   Within a few weeks of Ewing's capture, Union forces began to barrage Charleston, South Carolina with cannon fire, even going as far as to fire upon "non-military" portions of the city. Due to this indiscriminate fire, Confederate forces began to position Union prisoners in these areas, believing that Union artillery wouldn't fire upon areas where they knew that their men would be in harm's way. After becoming aware of the Confederate Army's positioning of these Union prisoners, Union forces began a period of retaliation, one which was highlighted in Ewing's death notice in the Confederate Veteran serial published in 1910. As the Veteran noted in its Index, Volume XVII, the Union Army took:
"Six hundred prisoners from Fort Delaware, among whom was Major Ewing, and placed them where they were directly exposed to the Confederate guns. These were kept there three months half starved and less then half clad."
  These six hundred men were placed in Morris Island, near the entrance way to Charleston Harbor. For a period of forty-five days Ewing and his fellow servicemen were used as human shields between the Union forces and the Confederate gunners at neighboring Fort Sumter. The soldiers were eventually removed to Fort Pulaski by the Union Army in October 1864 and experienced further harsh treatment, having to subsist on meager portions of food, mentioned as being  hardtack, moldy cornmeal and soured onion pickles
   On March 12, 1865 the remaining prisoners were returned to Fort Delaware. Over half of the "Immortal Six Hundred" (as the men were later known) had died over the previous months of illnesses like dysentery and scurvy, while others had starved. Z.W. Ewing was one of the lucky few who had survived their horrid treatment, and after being released from captivity returned home to Tennessee. He would resume his education in 1866 when he enrolled at the University of Virginia and in 1868 began a stint as Principal of the Richmond Academy in Richmond, Tennessee. 
   In 1870 Ewing spent time in Europe traveling and studying "the German language", returning stateside in 1871, and in that year married Harriet P. Jones, with whom he would have one daughter, Marietta. In the same year as his marriage Ewing earned his law degree and took on the position as a professor of Latin at the Giles College, remaining here until 1872. 
   Throughout the 1870s Ewing practiced law in Pulaski and became active in state politics in the middle of that decade, serving as the chairman of the Tennessee State Democratic Convention of 1876. In 1877 he was named as a Tennessee state railroad assessor and in November 1878 was elected to represent Tennessee's 15th district in the State Senate, serving during the 1879-81 term. Ewing was returned to the senate in the November 1886 election and during the 1887-89 term served as Senate Speaker. His time in this position also saw him serve as Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, as the post of Senate Speaker is first in line of succession in the event of  death or removal of Tennessee's Governor.
  Both before and after his time in state government Ewing maintained a lengthy connection with the University of Tennessee, serving on that school's board of trustees from 1883 until his death. In addition to his being a trustee, Z.W. Ewing was a past president of the People's National Bank of Pulaski, a past president of the State Bivouac of Confederate Veterans, and was a member of both the Masonic and Knights of Pythias Lodges. Ewing continued in the practice of law until poor health necessitated his retirement. He died at age 65 in Pulaski on August 9, 1909 and was later memorialized in the Confederate Veteran as having been one of Tennessee's most "useful and influential citizens", as well as:
"A lawyer of great ability, and his whole life was characterized by devotion to his state and her people and the keeping of a clean legal record that had never a spot or stain."
From the Atlanta Constitution, August 10, 1909.

1 comment:

  1. I think that his middle name is in honor of another great statesman of the church, Rev. George Whitefield, who made 6 or 7 trips to the "colonies" from England and preached all over America. Once in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin ( a friend of his) figured that he was preaching to a crowd of 30 thousand, all without amplification. He was heard by probably 80% of all Americans of the day.

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