While the focus of this book by Ronald D. Smith is on Thomas Ewing, Jr., his family is also very involved in this story. His father, Thomas Sr., was a U.S. Senator and cabinet member who remained influential in American politics even after he left office. Thomas Jr. and his siblings and foster siblings were all well educated; the Ewings would have been more famous than their foster siblings, except that their foster siblings bore the last name of Sherman. One of Thomas’s sisters married William Tecumseh Sherman, who became a famous Civil War general.
Thomas Jr. and his biological brothers Hugh and Charlie, along with foster brother William “Cump” Sherman, went to Kansas Territory to make their fortune as land speculators and lawyers when Kansas was trying to sort itself out as either a free state or a slave state. Several people lost their lives and property in the course of this sorting, and Kansas became known as “Bleeding Kansas” for all the violence. Kansans also found it difficult to form a state government and constitution that would be acceptable to those in control in Washington, D.C. Tom Ewing and his family were in the middle of it all.
After statehood, things remained unsettled in Kansas - one reason being that the Civil War had broken out. Thomas Ewing, Jr. became the first Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. He really desired to be a U.S. Senator, but he had too many influential enemies like James Lane, who became one of Kansas’ first senators. Ewing’s brother became a general in the Union Army, and Thomas thought he should become a general, too. He did and saw some action. As a lawyer after the Civil War, he defended Dr. Samuel Mudd against charges in his role of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Mudd was accused of helping John Wilkes Booth with his broken leg and assisting his escape from Federal forces, and eventually convicted and imprisoned. In Kansas, Ewing was involved in expanding the rail roads and had a financial interest in the success of railroads both before and after the Civil War.
The Ewings agreed with Lincoln’s plans for Reconstruction of the South after the war, but after the assassination radical Republicans wanted to make the South suffer for its rebellion. They were opposed by the Ewings and President Andrew Johnson, who did not want to make the South pay anymore than they already had with lost lives and property. Johnson was nearly forced out of office for his opposition.
Smith’s book on Thomas Ewing, Jr. and his family is recommended to those interested in early Kansas history and the Civil War. The book is not a quick read, most of it spent on Thomas’ life as a lawyer and politician rather than on his experience as a general. This is unsurprising since the Civil War did not take up much of Ewing’s or others’ life stories. Footnotes, a bibliography and an index are included (but no maps), as are photos of Ewing and others such as James Lane and Ewing’s brother and father.