Why Did Civil War Confederate General Richard Ewell Think He Was a Bird?

That would be Confederate General Richard Ewell who sometimes behaved like a bird, and was known as “Old Baldy” to his men.

He was at Gettysburg under Robert E. Lee and served admirably. However, he was a true eccentric, partial to surreal jokes and nonsensical nonsequiturs.

But there may have been a reason for his very odd sense of humor: General Ewell might have been delusional. Persistent stories say he believed himself to be a bird, eating grains of wheat and sunflower seeds for meals.

There were persistent stories from soldiers on guard duty claiming that the General would spend many hours in his tent quietly chirping to himself.

The accounts could have been true or they may have been mere tall tales hatched from the fact that he resembled a bird in several significant ways.

He had a beak-like nose; he hopped around camp like a parakeet on one leg (he’d lost the other in an earlier battle); he had a high voice, which would degenerate into an unrecognizable staccato when he got excited; he had a bald head, which he had a habit of tilting in a parrotlike way.

Finally, he subsisted almost entirely on frumenty, a dish of hulled wheat boiled in milk and sugar.

Regardless of these quirks, he was by all accounts a good general who was beloved by his men.

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