Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart

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9781400157259: Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart

Mortally wounded in battle when he was only thirty-one, the dashing J. E. B. Stuart, the South's "plumed warrior knight," stands with Stonewall Jackson as one of the Confederacy's most revered martyrs. Union General John Sedgwick called him "the greatest cavalryman ever foaled in America." Jeffry D. Wert, however, offers a more balanced assessment in this comprehensive biography. Wert's narrative portrait of Stuart-audacious and daring in battle, contentious with his staff and subordinates-is fast-paced and compelling, rich in telling details and human interest stories, yet objective, critical, and complete. Based on the most extensive research yet done utilizing governmental and archival sources, Wert's biography examines Stuart's controversial performance at Gettysburg and elsewhere.

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About the Author:

Jeffry D. Wert is the author of seven books on the Civil War, including The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac.

Michael Prichard has recorded well over five hundred audiobooks and was named one of SmartMoney magazine's Top Ten Golden Voices. His numerous awards and accolades include an Audie Award and several AudioFile Earphones Awards.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Twelve

"The Hardest Cavalry Fight"

Robert E. Lee, thought a clerk at the War Department in Richmond, "looked thinner, and a little pale" when the general visited on May 15, 1863. The army commander had arrived in the capital the day before and would stay until May 18, sequestered much of the time in meetings with President Jefferson Davis and cabinet members. Although Chancellorsville had been a tactically brilliant victory, it had not resulted in the decisive defeat of the Union army that Lee sought. He knew that with time the Yankees would advance once more against his army.1

Lee had come to the city with a bold proposal. The recent victory had given him the strategic initiative in the region, and he wanted to exploit it by carrying the war beyond the Potomac into Pennsylvania. In the meetings with Davis and the department heads, Lee argued that such an offensive would garner vital supplies, spare Virginia for a time from the conflict's ravages, and disrupt enemy campaign plans for the summer. After much discussion, the president and cabinet approved the operation. Secretary of War James A. Seddon confided later that Lee's opinion "naturally had great effect in the decisions of the Executive."2

Upon his return to the army, Lee began preparations for the movement. He wrote to Davis on May 20: "I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders." With the death of Stonewall Jackson, Lee suggested that the infantry be reorganized into three corps instead of the present two. The plan necessitated a reshuffling of divisions and brigades, with each corps consisting of three divisions.3

A rumor or "a great deal of talk" persisted that Jeb Stuart would replace Jackson. Stuart believed otherwise, telling Flora that such speculation was "I think without any foundation in fact." At cavalry headquarters, a story circulated that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a desire that his friend should succeed him in command of the Second Corps. When told of this, Stuart allegedly remarked, "I would rather know that Jackson said that, than have the appointment."4

As Stuart surmised, it was not to be. Instead, Lee recommended Richard S. Ewell, who had had a leg amputated from a wound at Second Manassas, as Jackson's successor, and A. P. "Powell" Hill as commander of the newly created Third Corps. Each man was promoted to lieutenant general. Both Ewell and Hill were Virginians, which rekindled "no little discontent," in the words of First Corps commander James Longstreet, a non-Virginian. Although a majority of the regiments hailed from outside the Old Dominion, Virginians dominated the army's senior leadership at corps and division levels. It was a resentment similar to that expressed by Wade Hampton against Stuart and his preference for fellow Virginians.5

If Lee were to undertake an offensive strike into Pennsylvania, he had to increase the size of Stuart's command. The problems that had plagued the cavalry during the winter had persisted to some extent into the spring. Hundreds of men remained at home on horse details, their efforts to secure another mount hampered by the steeply rising price of horseflesh. Regimental officers were absent on recruiting duty. While horses fed on spring grasses, shortages of forage continued. Lieutenant Robert Hubard, Jr., of the 3rd Virginia blamed government quartermaster and commissary officers for the lack of grain, calling them "the white livered sons of bitches."6

Lee and Stuart tried to address the issues. Lee asked the administration to consider the formation of a second cavalry division and sent Stuart to Richmond to plead the case. When this effort brought no results, Lee refused to add new brigades to the cavalry division before increasing the strengths of the current ones. Interestingly, officers of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas Infantry, the heart of the Texas Brigade, petitioned the War Department to be converted into mounted regiments. Their request went unheeded.7

In the end, Lee drew upon what he could to augment Stuart's force. From North Carolina, he secured the transfer of two of Beverly Robertson's five regiments, the 4th and 5th North Carolina. Robertson came to Virginia with the pair of regiments although Lee and Stuart wished otherwise. The army commander ordered Brigadier Albert G. Jenkins and his small brigade, operating in western Virginia, to relieve Grumble Jones's troopers in the Shenandoah Valley. Lee then directed Jones to cross the Blue Ridge "by easy marches" and to join Stuart.8

The possibility of Jones serving with Stuart again moved the latter to suggest that the brigadier be assigned to the Stonewall Brigade, whose commander had been so recently killed at Chancellorsville. Lee answered, "I am perfectly willing to transfer him [Jones]...if he desires it; but if he does not I know of no act of his to justify my doing so." Well aware of the personal animosity between the two men, Lee advised Stuart, "Do not let your judgment be warped."9

Lee's orders to leave the Valley were as unwelcome to Jones as they were to Stuart. Historian Edwin Coddington has contended that Jones "had a hatred for Stuart which bordered on the pathological." A day after he received Lee's dispatch, Jones wrote to Secretary of War Seddon: "I most especially tender my resignation as Brigadier General in the P.A.C.S. [Provisional Army of the Confederate States]. My reason for so doing is my conviction that where I am now ordered my services cannot be serviceable to my country. Other reasons not necessary to mention exist. Being of conscript age I will not escape service." Seddon apparently filed the letter away.10

Stuart, meanwhile, readied the cavalry for the forthcoming campaign. Hampton's brigade joined Fitz Lee's and Rooney Lee's in Culpeper County. Stuart increased drills and inspections and had the men refurbish their arms and equipment. "A vast amount of 'spit and polish,'" complained a Georgian. He also admonished officers to use the "utmost diligence...to preserve the Horses of this Command, as the success of the summer campaign depends much upon their good condition and efficiency."11

The three brigades staged reviews on May 20 and 22. At both affairs, generals and officers joined civilians in watching the horsemen conduct drills and participate in a sham battle. An officer in the 3rd Virginia called the second review "the most magnificent sight I ever witnessed." An infantryman watching the cavalry speculated, "it may prove that there is going to be a wild promiscuous ride by 'our Jeb,' in retaliation for what Stoneman has done." A Virginian repeated the rumor of "a ride round in Pennsylvania."12

Flora Stuart and Jimmie visited briefly in Culpeper County, probably leaving after the reviews. When they had gone, Stuart wrote to her. A newspaperman had come to headquarters, he informed her, and sought permission to accompany the cavalry during its operations. "I politely declined," Stuart recounted, "he returns tomorrow with a flea in his ear. Look to see me abused for it." "You know," he went on, "I make duty paramount to everything."13

By early June, Stuart counted more than ten thousand officers and men in five brigades and five batteries of horse artillery in Culpeper County. On June 3, elements of Lee's army marched away from their lines at Fredericksburg, moving up the Rappahannock River. Two weeks before, Lee declared in a letter to one of his generals: "I agree with you in believing that our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an army before. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led."14

As the van of the infantry column reached Culpeper Court House on June 4, special trains of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, brimming with passengers, rolled into the town. Stuart planned to hold a cavalry review the next day and had spread the news as far south as Charlottesville. He invited former Secretary of War George Randolph as his special guest. That night, with many women in attendance for the review, Stuart and the officers held a ball in the courthouse. It was, reported a newspaper correspondent, a "gay and dazzling scene, illuminated by floods of light from numerous chandeliers."15

The crowd gathered throughout the next morning on a plain north of the town and about a mile southwest of Brandy Station. Stuart reveled in such events. The pageantry of war stirred his soul and affirmed his status as a Confederate hero. Being surrounded, as he was on this day, by an "immense concourse of ladies" fueled his vanity. He wore, said an eyewitness, a "short grey jacket, wide-brimmed whitish hat with long black plume." An artilleryman thought, "He is the prettiest and most graceful rider I ever saw."16

Mounted on "his big bay," Stuart rode past the massed regiments, inspecting the serried ranks. His staff officers or "bodyguard," according to a gunner, accompanied him. Returning to a knoll, the general and aides joined the spectators. Three bands played music as Major Robert Beckham's batteries led the martial procession. Behind them came the cavalry in columns of squadrons, first at a walk, then a trot, and finally at a gallop. Dust billowed and rolled across the plain. The review ended with cannon booming and the horsemen charging.17

Writing in his diary, a Virginia artilleryman enthused about the review, "It is one of the most sublime scenes I ever witnessed." A newspaperman described the parade of batteries and mounted regiments as "a beautiful sight," while stating, "I have no patience with such tomfooleries." He called Stuart "the Prince of showy men" and his aides, "a collection of pretty men, dressed in their best." He reported that Stuart held another ball that night for the "young and thoughtless beauties," who had attended the review.18

Stuart had invited the commanding general to t...

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