Year of Glory: The Life and Battles of Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, June 1862?June 1863

Overview

No commander during the Civil War is more closely identified with the “cavalier mystique” as Major General J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart. And none played a more prominent role during the brief period when the hopes of the nascent Confederacy were at their apex, when it appeared as though the Army of Northern Virginia could not be restrained from establishing Southern nationhood.

Jeb Stuart was not only successful in leading Robert E. Lee's cavalry in dozens of campaigns and raids, but for...

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Overview

No commander during the Civil War is more closely identified with the “cavalier mystique” as Major General J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart. And none played a more prominent role during the brief period when the hopes of the nascent Confederacy were at their apex, when it appeared as though the Army of Northern Virginia could not be restrained from establishing Southern nationhood.

Jeb Stuart was not only successful in leading Robert E. Lee's cavalry in dozens of campaigns and raids, but for riding magnificent horses, dressing outlandishly, and participating in balls and parties that epitomized the “moonlight and magnolia” image of the Old South. Longstreet reported that at the height of the Battle of Second Manasses, Stuart rode off singing, “If you want to have good time, jine the cavalry . . .” Porter Alexander remembered him singing, in the midst of the miraculous victory at Chancellorsville, “Old Joe Hooker, won't you come out of the Wilderness?”

Stuart was blessed with an unusually positive personality—always upbeat, charming, boisterous, and humorous, remembered as the only man who could make Stonewall Jackson laugh, reciting poetry when not engaged in battle, and yet never using alcohol or other stimulants. Year of Glory focuses on the twelve months in which Stuart's reputation was made, following his career on an almost day-to-day basis from June 1862, when Lee took command of the army, to June 1863, when Stuart turned north to regain a glory slightly tarnished at Brandy Station, but found Gettysburg instead.

It is told through the eyes of the men who rode with him, as well Jeb's letters, reports, and anecdotes handed down over 150 years. It was a year like no other, filled with exhilaration at the imminent creation of a new country. This was a period when it could hardly be imagined that the cause, and Stuart himself, could dissolve into grief, Jeb ultimately separated from the people he cherished most.

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Editorial Reviews

Cannonball
Akers covers the period from the late spring of 1862 through the opening movements of the Gettysburg Campaign… He covers, almost on a daily basis, Stuart's movements, his battles, his relationships with his subordinates and men, his letters to his wife Flora, and his perception from his soldiers and the press. Akers' writing style is crisp and his narrative flows well.
Scott Mingus
North South Traders Civil War
...a great addition to your Civil War library. This detailed and colorful study follows Stuart from June 1862 to June 1863 when his rising star paralleled that of the Confederacy… one of those rare books not only worth reading but rereading.
America's Civil War Magazine
...reads well, with a fast paced narrative of events …useful illustrations including a section of handsome color photographs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612001302
  • Publisher: Casemate Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/19/2012
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 697,663
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Year of Glory

The Life and Battle of Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, June 1862â?"June 1863


By Monte Akers

Casemate Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Monte Akers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-0654-4



CHAPTER 1

STUART'S MILITARY FAMILY ASSEMBLES

Stuart was so unique that he seemed able to defy all natural laws.

—John Singleton Mosby


It was a time unique in America's history.

Even after 150 years, it does not require a great deal of imagination to conjure up the tone and tenor of June 1862. Every extension of human endeavor was at overload. Revolution was in the air. Ways of life and foundations of politics were at stake. Families, friends, and neighbors were aligning themselves according to doctrine, dogma, and desire. A person's worth was measured less by works than by perception of political philosophy. People were dying on the opposite sides of aimed rifles in the name of the same principles—freedom, loyalty, country, honor, home. Men who might immensely enjoy each other's company in society were anxious to kill each other over what each thought the other might believe.

Emotions were high and extremely mixed. The xenophobic zeal of politicians and the bloodlust of volunteer soldiers were offset by the deep grieving of mothers and wives and nearly everyone's dread of what might lie ahead. It was a time that will be studied, analyzed, debated, and re-enacted, but for now the histories are decades in the future. The people in this place are living somewhere between believing life could not be more exhilarating and believing they can see the end of time from where they stand.

An army camp is situated behind a modest farm house. The season of the year is late spring; the place is southeastern Virginia, between Richmond and the Atlantic coast. The ground is muddy from a particularly hard, recent downpour, and by being churned by thousands of feet, hooves, and wagon wheels. The air is saturated with the smell of wood smoke, but the aromas of horse manure, cooking meat, boiling coffee, human excrement, tobacco, urine, and body odor waft about in turn as one moves through them. Away from the main camp the air grows sweeter. Wild honeysuckle and magnolia are blooming in abundance in the woods, and around the house white and red roses are blooming and climbing the walls.

Tents are pitched in straight lines and grouped by companies, most of them white and billowing in the wind, some splotched with iridescent mildew that seems to pulsate in the breeze. Flags snap above a few tent flaps. Horses are tied to picket ropes in long lines. The ground slopes away gently to a sluggish creek a few feet wide located at the base of the campsite. The creek water is clear and flows over a pebbly bottom, but not far away the forest closes in and the ground becomes swampy. The noise of the camp is a steady hum of men's voices, the ring of metal on metal, horses' whickers, creaking of wagons, flapping of canvas, tramping of feet, axes chopping wood, and occasional shouts, whoops, curses, and brays of laughter.

A modern visitor gazing upon these people in this place and time sees things as they were long ago. Some of what the soldiers do, wear, say, and use seem quaint, old-fashioned, out of memory. However, the things done, worn, said, and used were not merely characteristic of the time, but were cutting edge fashionable and technologically new-hatched in 1862. Wearing facial hair, for example, was a new and exciting fad, barely two years in fashion, imported from Europe, and as exciting for men as any new gown from Paris was for a lady. In 1861, Lincoln, Lee, Jackson, Grant, and Long-street, to name a few, grew full beards and moustaches for the first time in their lives. Long, full beards, such as became a veritable specialty of the Army of Northern Virginia—as worn by Stuart, Jackson, Longstreet, A.P. Hill, Lafayette McLaws, Fitzhugh Lee, Wade Hampton and others—were particularly daring and racy, being a step beyond the curled, oiled, whisker sculptures of Europe. Only Stuart, of those well-known Civil War leaders, has sported a beard for long—since the mid1850s—but that was due largely to his having a chin best covered up. In December, 1861 he even included a playful poem about his beard in a letter to his wife:

And long may it wave—
For I ne'er will shave—
While my Flora approves—
Still to grow it behooves—
And "nary a hair"
From it will I spare.


Rifled muskets and rifled cannons, six-shot revolvers, breech-loading rifles, conical projectiles, ironclad ships, telegraph wires, and hot air balloons were just a few of the numerous new-fangled gadgets either freshly invented or of such recent vintage that they were still uncommon. Technology was ablaze.

For Southerners with the new moniker of "Confederates" there were new flags, government, laws, and color for uniforms. Since Revolutionary times the American army had worn predominantly blue, but now gray was the height of military fashion. Also new, but not all that popular, was the jaunty headgear adopted from France called "kepis," forage caps, or "bummers." The symbols of rank for military officers, from lieutenant to general, were novel, and arguably better-looking than in the "old army," particularly the fancy scrolls of gold Austrian braid on the sleeves and the abandonment of shoulder boards in favor of collar insignia. Jeb Stuart even participated in the invention of improved gear by inventing a new type of sword hanger, for which he obtained a patent and was paid the princely sum of $5000, roughly equivalent to $100,000 today. Even the banjo, Jeb's favorite musical instrument, was new.

There is lot of activity near the farmhouse. Next to it is a wall tent with a canvas fly erected in front, shading a camp table and a collection of chairs, stools, and kegs. A couple of dozen yards in front of the house is a Blakely cannon, and tethered to one of its wheels is a huge raccoon that is restlessly crawling about the tube and carriage, eyeing each passerby with black eyes and hissing threateningly at anyone who comes too near. It is not a pet. It is one of several camp mascots, but is a prisoner of war rather than a volunteer. Stuart refers to the animal as "the pearl of sentinels; the paragon of coons."

Men come and go from the house—the obvious headquarters of the military unit of about 1,200 men, apparently a brigade. One who settles in to watch for awhile will, sooner or later, glimpse many of the principal players in this historical adventure, or at least the players for the current season.

A huge man appears. He is six feet four inches tall and weighs 240 pounds in an age when the average man stands five feet eight and weighs 143. He laughs and speaks loudly and often but his English is so broken and poor that only a little of what he says can be understood. Oddly, he has filed each of his fingernails to a point, but he is handsome, with a full head of blond hair worn long, a large, carefully cultivated and curled moustache, and chin whiskers. He is so loud and boisterous he cannot be ignored, and he's difficult not to admire.

His name is Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke, and he is fresh off a ship from Prussia. Despite his inability to speak much English, he has consistently charmed those he has met, including Flora Stuart, the wife of Jeb, so that he is not only accepted but welcomed with pleasure. Once ensconced in Stuart's personal staff he will routinely and habitually carry a carbine, a shotgun, three revolvers, and a huge saber, all at the same time, so that Moxley Sorrell, a Georgian serving on Pete Longstreet's staff, will describe him as "an ambulating arsenal." Although another commentator will refer to him as a man who "complemented his [Stuart's] retinue of 'freaks.'"

Von, as he is called, has been in the country for less than a month, and has so far seen the South only from a train window. He was, as William Blackford, a fellow staff officer, will recall, "a lieutenant in the Cuirassiers of the Guard in Berlin, one of the household regiments officered by men of high rank, and ... he and his father had quarreled about money matters; von Borcke told him if he could not support him in that regiment like a gentleman he would resign and come to America, and this he did."

Coming over from Europe on a blockade runner named Kate, he landed at Charleston and made straight for Richmond. He has credentials—besides being a lieutenant in a regiment of dragoons, he is the son of a Prussian aristocrat who owns two large estates—one in Pomerania and the other in what is now Poland—which Von will inherit. Unfortunately for him, his various letters of introduction were jettisoned during his ocean-crossing when a Federal gunboat attempted to capture the Kate, so that he was forced to bumble about Richmond with no papers, trying to find a sponsor. That turned out to be the Confederate Secretary of War, George Randolph, who out of kindness or possibly desperation, provided him with a letter of introduction to Stuart, as well as a horse, and an orderly to serve as guide.

He arrived at Stuart's headquarters only days before the 1st of June and was immediately accepted as a volunteer aide, possibly because he was so outlandish in appearance that Jeb could not resist. Von had managed to hang onto a bridle and some saddle blankets he'd purchased in London, but he did not yet have a uniform, and upon being introduced to Stuart was decked out in a gray hunting jacket, gray leather knickers, a round white hunting hat, and tall riding boots, clothing which Von admitted was intended to call attention to himself. More likely he was accepted because, as would be proven again and again, Stuart had an eye for talent.

He arrived just in time for the Battle of Seven Pines, on May 31, and experienced an initiation into the Civil War that included not only the horrors of combat and the thrill of driving a foe, but the opportunity to accompany Stuart throughout the day and even deliver one of Jeb's first orders to either Fitz or Rooney Lee (Von may not even have known which at the time).

Von is a fierce warrior, a loyal friend, a great storyteller, a natural comedian, a graceful dancer, and a favorite of all who knew him. He will be commended repeatedly in Jeb's reports, but he tends to stretch the truth to the breaking point and beyond. His memoirs will be filled with exaggeration and colorful boasting. He will manage, just two years after the war, to irritate or insult more than one of his old comrades by taking credit for deeds they or someone else accomplished or, in some cases, simply making stuff up.

Von's tendency to exaggerate and steal other's thunder is a shame, for he really was at the epicenter of action during the upcoming year, and he deservedly gained the respect and admiration of nearly everyone who met him. Stuart would eventually urge the Richmond government to appoint him a brigadier general, either for the purpose of commanding cavalry or to act as an envoy to Europe. Furthermore, of all of Stuart's staff and biographers, Von Borcke's recollections are the most detailed and contain the most personal anecdotes, chronicling the war on an almost day-by-day basis and giving readers the most intimate glimpse of Jeb and his companions. This is because he faithfully kept a journal of his adventures, writing whenever he could, sometimes while shells were falling and bullets were whizzing nearby. Douglass Southall Freeman, one of the greatest historians of the war, acknowledged that his memoirs were "useful for the correct interpretation of many incidents in the history of Stuart's cavalry." Coincidentally, his arrival on the scene marked the beginning of Jeb's ascension to glory, and his departure came almost exactly at its denouement.


In contrast, a small man appears, slightly below average height and twenty pounds below average weight. He is clean-shaven and rather careless about his appearance, certainly not a man likely to become a legend. Mounted, he is a slouchy rider who exudes a disdain for military protocol. He visits the farmhouse briefly and rides away along with three companions. Even his rank seems uncertain. Had anyone watching known it was John Singleton Mosby, the future Gray Ghost of the Confederacy, they might have tried to get a better look at him.

A tall, beautiful man appears, pauses to make friends with the raccoon, and smiles when his advances are rebuffed. Handsome is a more appropriate word, but the truth is that he is beautiful, with blond hair, smooth cheeks unable to support facial hair, piercing blue eyes, and a graceful, athletic gait. The other men seem to brighten at his approach, or to gaze at him with expressions of affection. There is an odd mix about him; shy charisma if such a thing exists. He might be a teenager or might be in his mid-twenties, one can't be certain. In fact, John Pelham is twenty-four. He is a genius with artillery, and is on his way to becoming a legend.

Another giant crosses into our frame of vision. He is more hulking and hairy than Von Borcke, and seemingly less comfortable in the uniform of an officer. His name is William Henry Hagan and he is, in fact, a newly-minted lieutenant, having been promoted from the rank of corporal less than two months earlier. He is an exceptionally brave man who has already proven his mettle, as well as his cleverness, and he will prove both time and again over the next two years. He will serve Stuart faithfully for as long or longer than any other man on the staff, but will be mentioned rarely and remembered primarily, most unfairly, because another Confederate who was no fan of Stuart will single him out for study, or ridicule, in an 1875 memoir, saying:

Almost at the beginning of the war he [Stuart] managed to surround himself with a number of persons whose principal qualification for membership of his military household was their ability to make fun.... He had another queer character about whom, whose chief recommendation was his grotesque fierceness of appearance. This was Corporal Hagan, a very giant in frame, with an abnormal tendency to develop hair. His face was heavily bearded almost to his eyes, and his voice was as hoarse as distant thunder, which indeed it closely resembled. Stuart, seeing him in the ranks, fell in love with his peculiarities of person at once, and had him detailed for duty at head-quarters, where he made him a corporal, and gave him charge of the stables. Hagan, whose greatness was bodily only, was much elated by the attention shown him, and his person seemed to swell and his voice continued to grow deeper than ever under the influence of the newly acquired dignity of chevrons. All of this was amusing, of course, and Stuart's delight was unbounded. The man remained with him till the time of his death, although not always a corporal. In a mad freak of fun one day, the chief recommended his corporal for promotion, to see, he said, if the giant was capable of further swelling, and so the corporal became a lieutenant on the staff.


In fact, Hagan served as an aide with the rank of corporal for only ten months, and was recommended for promotion by Stuart on April 18, 1862, because Hagan "has won a commission on the march & the battlefield if ever man did. His services are indispensable to me, while his valuable services as recognized in every report I ever made entitle him to such a mark of confidence." Rather than being in charge of the stables, he served first as commander of Stuart's escort and later as Chief of Couriers. He was always there, always faithful, but seldom mentioned, and will always be in the shadow of that one disparaging description.

Another, less ostentatious man appears. He is thin, nice-looking, with a full head of brown hair parted on the left but not worn long. He has a moustache and chin whiskers in a style known as a "handlebar and chin puff" or a "Napoleon III Imperial." He seems quiet, and perhaps a bit sickly.

John Esten Cooke is Stuart's cousin by marriage. At 32 he is a few years older than many around headquarters, and he was trained as a lawyer rather than a soldier, but he has been the latter since the mid-1850s when he joined the Richmond Howitzers. That resulted in his being sent with the company to Harpers Ferry at the time of John Brown's Raid, and he stayed with the Howitzers, rose to the rank of sergeant, and fought at the battle of First Manassas before becoming a volunteer aide and then a lieutenant on Stuart's staff.

As opposed to many of the rough and tumble men surrounding his cousin, he is retiring and intellectual, as though having the eye of a novelist and the heart of a poet. He is, in fact, both. Cooke's first published work was a poem entitled Avalon, published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1848 when he was only 18. This was followed by a swirl of more poems, several magazine articles, a romance published serially, and finally a novel, Leather Stocking and Silk; or, John Myers and His Times, released in 1854. That was followed by another novel entitled A Story of the Valley of Virginia the next year, but the manuscript, tragically, was destroyed in a fire at the publishers before it could be printed. Nevertheless it was followed by Henry St. John, Gentleman, in 1859. Cooke is a bona fide literary figure, relatively well known in the bookish circles of his day.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Year of Glory by Monte Akers. Copyright © 2012 Monte Akers. Excerpted by permission of Casemate Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Stephen W. Sylvia 7

Prologue The Man of the Year 11

1 Stuart's Military Family Assembles 17

2 The First Ride Around McClellan: June 1-15, 1862 29

3 The Seven Days and the James: June 15-July 3, 1862 49

4 Verdiersville to Second Manassas: July 4-August 31, 1862 67

5 To Sharpsburg and Beyond: September 1, 1862-September 27, 1862 103

6 The Second Ride Around McClellan: September 28-October 12, 1862 125

7 The Bower and Bereavement: October 13-November 16, 1862 155

8 Fredericksburg and the Dumfries Raid: November 17, 1862-January 1, 1863 177

9 The Long Cold Winter: January 2, 1863-February 28, 1863 199

10 Irreparable, March 1, 1863-April 16, 1863 219

11 Chancellorsville and the Second Corps: April 17, 1863-May 31, 1863 253

12 Fleetwood and year's End, June 1-June 23, 1863 297

Epilogue and so the South Lost the War 329

Notes 335

Index 361

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