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

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

by Jeffry D. Wert


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743278249
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/22/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 520
Sales rank: 1,108,994
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.27(d)

About the Author

Jeffry D. Wert is the author of seven previous books on Civil War topics, most recently The Sword of Lincoln. He lives in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, about an hour from the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Read an Excerpt

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 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 the review, but Lee begged off, explaining, "there is so much work to be done here." When Lee arrived at Culpeper Court House, he agreed to review the cavalry, wanting to observe for himself the condition of the men and horses. Stuart's men grumbled, however, at the order to clean and to polish their equipment for a second display. Stuart held it on the same site of the previous review, at Auburn, the farm of John Minor Botts, an avowed Unionist. Lee, Longstreet, Ewell, other generals, and a cloud of staff officers joined another crowd of civilians on June 8.19

Fitz Lee had invited Major General John B. Hood and "any of his people" to the event. Hood arrived with ten thousand hardened veterans in his infantry division. Infantrymen scoffed at the idea that their comrades on horseback performed difficult and dangerous service. They dubbed the cavalrymen "Grub scout," "Kitchen ranger," "Bomb Proof," "Buttermilk spies," and "Loonies." Often when horsemen passed a column of foot soldiers, a shout went up, "Where's your mule?" On this day, as Stuart's troopers rode by the infantry, one of them said, "Wouldn't we clean them out, if old Hood would only let us loose on 'em." A Georgia cavalryman complained later that Hood's men were "hardly the most appreciative audience."20

Lee and his staff, accompanied by Stuart, rode rapidly past the lines of horsemen, as the officers and men saluted with their sabers. Lee and the assemblage of officers watched from the knoll while the ranks of troopers wheeled into a column of squadrons. When the van of the cavalry approached the knoll, Stuart rode in front. According to one of his men, he "came out with his bridle reins and everything about him wreathed with flowers." At one point, Grumble Jones's brigade failed to advance. Stuart sent an aide to the brigadier, who was lying on the ground and "apparently oblivious of everything that was going on." The staff officer delivered Stuart's message, and Jones, remembered the aide, "blazed all sorts of language at me."21

Unlike the previous review, the cavalry did not stage a mounted charge nor did the artillerists fire their cannon. Stuart's engineer, Captain William Blackford, remembered it as "the most magnificent sight I ever witnessed." Writing the day of the review, Lee told his wife: "It was a splendid sight. The men and horses looked well. They have recuperated since last fall. Stuart was in all his glory."22

At the time of the June 8 review, Lee had concentrated Ewell's three divisions of the Second Corps and two of Longstreet's First Corps divisions in Culpeper County. Powell Hill's Third Corps troops still manned fieldworks at Fredericksburg. The halt in Culpeper was only a pause in the initial leg of the march northward. When the advance resumed, Ewell's corps was to lead the movement, with Stuart's cavalry preceding and screening the infantry columns. Stuart had orders to start on June 9.23

After the review, the five cavalry brigades returned to their widely dispersed campsites. Stuart scattered them for grazing the horses and in preparation for the movement. Robertson's pair of North Carolina regiments remained on the Botts farm. To the southeast, Hampton's brigade lay encamped between Brandy Station and Stevensburg. Jones's brigade covered Beverly Ford on the Rappahannock, resting near St. James church, two miles from the river. Two miles north and west of the church, at Welford's Ford on the Hazel River, Rooney Lee had his five regiments. Across the Hazel River and eight miles from Brandy Station were Fitz Lee's Virginians. Lee was confined to a bed with "inflammatory rheumatism," and Thomas Munford of the 2nd Virginia commanded the brigade in his absence. Beckham's horse artillery crews were bivouacked between St. James church and Beverly Ford. At the time, a gunner with Beckham contended that the artillery "has been permitted to roost a little too near the lion's den."24

Stuart had his headquarters in the yard of Henry Miller's home, Fleetwood. The Miller house stood on Fleetwood Hill, a ridge that lay a half-mile north of Brandy Station. Rising 150 feet above the surrounding countryside, Fleetwood Hill possessed a commanding view of the farmers' fields and woodlots. Stuart had used the Miller place for several days, but on this night, only a pair of fly tents marked the site. His headquarters and camp equipage had been packed in wagons for the anticipated march.25

Across the Rappahannock, the Federals had known of the presence of Stuart's cavalry in Culpeper County for some time. Recent reports indicated that the Confederate horsemen were preparing for a raid into Maryland, or as an intelligence officer told Union commander Joseph Hooker, "the most important expedition ever attempted in this country." Estimates placed Stuart's command at between 12,000 and 15,000 officers and men. On June 7, Hooker ordered Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton "to disperse and destroy the rebel force assembled in the vicinity of Culpeper." Hooker assigned the entire Cavalry Corps — three divisions of eight thousand troopers — three thousand infantrymen in two brigades and four artillery batteries, to the offensive movement.26

Pleasonton had held temporary command of the army's cavalry for fewer than three weeks. After his raid during the Chancellorsville Campaign, George Stoneman was granted a medical leave of absence. Hooker had been critical of the general's performance, and Stoneman had suffered excruciating pain from hemorrhoids during the raid. Hooker preferred Brigadier General John Buford for Stoneman's position, but Pleasonton's commission predated Buford's. A laconic, no-nonsense man, Buford was the finest horse soldier in the army. Instead, Pleasonton, a bantam-sized man with burning ambition whose embellished reports mixed fact with fiction, received the appointment.27

A Union cavalry officer professed later, "From the day of its reorganization under Hooker, the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac commenced a new life." Another one likened its formation into a corps to "an emancipation" from the restricted roles under George McClellan and Ambrose Burnside. The Yankee troopers had shown signs of their increasing prowess at Kelly's Ford in March. Now, for the first time in the cavalry's history, it was to go "into action as a body."28

Throughout June 8, the Union cavalry closed on the Rappahannock crossings. Buford's First Cavalry Division, an infantry brigade, and artillery batteries halted opposite Beverly Ford. Eight miles downstream, the Second and Third Cavalry divisions, under the overall command of Brigadier General David McM. Gregg, arrived at Kelly's Ford. Like Buford, Gregg was a capable and reliable officer; unlike Pleasonton, he disliked newspapermen. An infantry brigade and a battery of horse artillery joined Gregg.29

At 4:30 a.m., June 9, the 8th New York, leading Colonel Benjamin F. "Grimes" Davis's brigade of Buford's division, plunged down the steep banks of Beverly Ford, splashed through the shallows, and was met with scattered fire from Rebel pickets. Company A of the 6th Virginia manned the crossing and retired fighting. The gunfire must have sounded like a thunderclap in a clear sky to the sleeping cavalrymen and artillerists in camp between the ford and St. James Church. The Yankees "surprised us in bed," recorded a Southern gunner in his diary afterward. Officers rallied their men, and Beckham's artillery crews scrambled to limber up the cannon.30

Two companies or a squadron of the 6th Virginia surged down the road initially to stall the oncoming New Yorkers. Behind the squadron came troopers of the 7th Virginia. Many of the Confederates were half-dressed and rode bareback, as they had left their horses unsaddled to graze. On the road from the ford, two guns of Captain James F. Hart's Washington Battery deployed. Hart's South Carolinians fired on the Federals as their comrades in the horse artillery lashed the other teams rearward.31

Like the men, Stuart and his staff were awakened by the gunfire. As a precaution, Stuart sent the headquarters baggage wagons to the rear. A courier soon arrived, reporting that enemy cavalry "in heavy force" had crossed the river and were advancing. Stuart directed Lieutenant Chiswell Dabney to ride to the front and to ascertain the situation. According to Lieutenant Frank Robertson, Stuart remained on Fleetwood Hill for "some time." Wade Hampton joined him and received orders to move his brigade to the support of Jones's regiments and Beckham's guns at St. James Church.32

Dabney found, in his words, "an enormous column of the Yankees" engaged with Jones's troopers and Beckham's gun crews. The staff officer sent a courier to headquarters with the information. Most likely, by then Stuart had issued a flurry of orders, directing Rooney Lee and Thomas Munford to the church and shifting Beverly Robertson's two North Carolina regiments toward Kelly's Ford, thinking that the enemy might be coming also from that direction. He instructed Hampton to detach the 2nd South Carolina and to post it at Stevensburg, south of Brandy Station. Leaving Major Henry McClellan and a string of couriers behind on Fleetwood Hill, Stuart rode to the front at the church.33

Stuart came upon a burgeoning engagement being waged by Jones's troopers and Beckham's gunners. The counterattack by companies of the 6th and 7th Virginia and the stand of Hart's two guns secured the escape of the batteries. In the swirling melee between the Virginians and the New Yorkers, Grimes Davis and Lieutenant Robert Owen Allen of Company D of the 6th Virginia had fought head-to-head. Allen eluded a saber blow by Davis and fired his pistol, killing the Union colonel.34

The brick St. James Church marked the center of the Confederate line. Hampton's troopers came up on the batteries' right flank, filing into the line with dismounted skirmishers edging the front. Farther to the north and west, beyond Jones's left flank, Rooney Lee's command arrived on Yew Ridge. Lee strung out a line of sharpshooters behind a stone wall along the ridge's eastern base. A section or two of guns from Captain James Breathed's 1st Stuart Horse Artillery battery supported Lee's men. Toward the river, meanwhile, Buford's other two mounted brigades, infantry regiments, and an artillery battery were deploying.35

Stuart's ordnance officer, Captain John Esten Cooke, maintained that the general "preferred pure cavalry fighting" rather than sharpshooting between opposing lines. "Stuart was born to fight cavalry," believed Cooke, with an instinct during combat that "was unfailing." He possessed an "unshrinking nerve" and "equanimity" during the worst of times on a battlefield. Cooke's fellow staff officer William Blackford wrote: "It was in action Stuart showed to the greatest advantage. I have never seen his superior on a battlefield." Now, in his first major cavalry engagement, those qualities attributed to him by Cooke and Blackford were to be tested.36

On came the Yankees, directing their mounted attacks against Beckham's row of cannon. The Confederates responded, and the combat intensified into a series of mounted charges and countercharges. Private William H. Ware of the 3rd Virginia left a graphic description of such mounted warfare: "A cavalry charge is a terrible thing. Almost before you can think, the shock of horse against horse, the clash of steel against steel, crack of pistols, yells of some poor lost one, as he lost his seat and down under those iron shod hoofs that knew no mercy, or the shriek of some horse overturned and cut to pieces by his own kind. It is Hell while it lasts."37

Into this maelstrom and blasts from Beckham's guns rode the 8th Illinois, 17th Pennsylvania, 6th Pennsylvania, and 6th United States in a wave of successive charges. Grumble Jones's Virginians — members of the 11th, 12th, and 35th battalions — met them in swirling clashes. A trooper in the 12th Virginia attested to the fierceness, "It was then warm work, hand to hand, shooting and cutting each other in desperate fury, all mixed through one another, killing, wounding, and taking prisoners promiscuously." On the Confederate flanks, Hampton's and Lee's sharpshooters repulsed attacks of Union dismounted cavalrymen and infantrymen.38

A Virginia sergeant recalled, "I saw General Stuart that day riding out on the field where shot and shell were raining around, and he didn't seem to bat an eye." While the fighting raged, Stuart seemed to be, as he had been at Chancellorsville on May 3, everywhere along his line. He issued a series of orders to his commanders, shifting units and artillery crews. At such time, wrote Cooke, Stuart's "voice was curt, harsh, imperious, admitting no reply." He looked "dangerous," thought Cooke.39

The action subsided about eleven o'clock, extending into an hour-long lull. During this respite, a courier from Jones reported to Stuart that additional Federal units were approaching Brandy Station. According to Captain Hart, who was with Stuart, the cavalry commander "angrily dismissed the informant." "Tell General Jones," Stuart was to have said, "to attend to the Yankees in his front, and I'll watch the flanks." When Jones heard Stuart's reply, he barked: "So he thinks they ain't coming, does he? Well, let him alone; he'll damn soon see for himself."40

Before long, a courier reined up with a similar message from Henry McClellan on Fleetwood Hill. Stuart turned to Hart, "Ride back there and see what all that foolishness is about." Minutes later, a third courier arrived, confirming the presence of enemy cavalry at Brandy Station behind Stuart's line at St. James Church. McClellan learned later that Stuart appeared "incredulous" at the news. Frank Robertson was with him and stated afterward, "For the first time the Gen. looked excited." He rushed orders to Jones and Hampton to withdraw and to "move like lightning on those people in our rear."41

In fact, two columns of Union cavalry were approaching Brandy Station — one by a more direct road to the railroad station, the other by a circuitous road toward Stevensburg. The Yankees belonged to the Second and Third Cavalry divisions, under David Gregg. Their crossing of Kelly's Ford had been delayed because of the tardy movement of Colonel Alfred N. Duffié's Second Division. Once across, Gregg sent Duffié toward Stevensburg, while his Third Division moved on another road east of Duffié's column. The infantry regiments, led by Brigadier General David A. Russell, marched on Kelly's Mill Road, the shortest route from the ford to Brandy Station, covering Gregg's right flank.42

When the fighting erupted at Beverly Ford, Stuart dispatched Beverly Robertson and his inexperienced 4th and 5th North Carolina to cover the right flank on Kelly's Mill Road, and the 2nd South Carolina, followed by the 4th Virginia, to Stevensburg. Stuart expected the regiments to oppose an enemy advance from that direction and to inform him of the situation. Although Robertson reported the enemy's advance, he did virtually nothing to impede Gregg's march.43

Robertson, whom an infantryman called "a bon vivant and ornament of the boudoir...but not a success as a cavalry officer," had his skirmishers engage Russell's infantrymen. "Had I pursued the flanking party [Gregg's column]," Robertson contended in his report, "the road I was ordered to defend would have been left utterly exposed. I acted according to orders and the dictates of judgment." In his report, Stuart stated that Robertson "did not conform to the movement of the enemy to the right, of which he was cognizant, so as to hold him check or thwart him by a corresponding move of a portion of his command in the same direction." It was much to ask of the North Carolinians to oppose Gregg's superior numbers, but the result was that Robertson suffered a handful of casualties and Stuart's rear lay open to the Federals.44

At Stevensburg, against Duffié's Second Division, Colonel Calbraith Butler and 220 officers and men of the 2nd South Carolina made a valiant, but hopeless, stand. The Union attacks were spirited, with overwhelming numbers. When the 4th Virginia joined the South Carolinians, the Yankees routed the regiment in what its commander, Colonel Williams Wickham, termed "so disgraceful" a rout. A Northerner called the pursuit of the Virginians "a regular steeple chase," and according to a Confederate, "the Yankees cut them in the back as they ran." The enemy charges also broke Butler's ranks, scattering the Rebels, except for a small contingent that rallied and defiantly stood as a rear guard.45

The South Carolinians' defense came with a high price. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hampton, Wade Hampton's brother, fell mortally wounded, and Butler had his right leg above the ankle struck by an artillery round. Captain Will Farley, one of Stuart's finest scouts, was mounted beside Butler when the colonel was wounded. The shell cut off one of the captain's legs at the knee before plowing through his horse and hitting Butler. When the men picked up Farley to carry him away, he reportedly joked: "Bring along my leg too. I wish to have that along any how." Farley died soon afterward. Stuart wrote to his mother: "He had served without emolument, long, faithfully and always with distinction. No nobler champion has fallen."46

To the north, on Fleetwood Hill, the Battle of Brandy Station was swirling to a resolution. When Henry McClellan notified Stuart of the Union movement, the chief of staff had with him only a few couriers and a cannon from Captain R. Preston Chew's battery, under Lieutenant John W. Carter. The artillery crew had expended its ammunition, except for defective ones, in opposing Buford and had withdrawn. It was, declared McClellan, "a circumstance which proved to be our salvation." As the van of Gregg's force reached Brandy Station, Carter's men fired deliberately their few faulty rounds on the Yankees, delaying their advance for vital minutes.47

A solitary artillery piece, however, could not stall for long the Union horsemen. The 1st New Jersey led the attack, ascending the hill's southern slope. But then, like a drama staged in an American theater, clearing Fleetwood's crest, charged the 12th Virginia. The foes met in a crash of horses, sabers, and pistols. Frank Robertson witnessed it from a distance and exclaimed in a letter to his sister, "From where I was I could see the most exciting scene I ever witnessed."48

Behind the Confederates came their fellow Virginians in Lieutenant Colonel Elijah V. "Lige" White's 35th Battalion. In time, White's men were to earn the nickname "Comanches." It might have had its beginnings here. They plowed into the New Jerseymen in another whirlwind of close-in fighting. The Federals shoved the Rebels down the eastern slope, where they rallied. The 1st Pennsylvania joined the New Jerseymen, only to be met with a counterattack by the 6th Virginia and the pair of re-formed units. A Virginian described the struggle: "On each side, in front, behind, everywhere on top of the hill the Yankees closed in upon us. [W]e fought them single-handed, by twos, fours and by squads, just as the circumstances permitted."49

Stuart arrived on Fleetwood Hill as the Virginians counterattacked. One of his men averred, "Genl Stuart always fought the hardest when things looked the worst." He rode back and forth, giving orders and looking for reinforcements. A cavalryman stated that he was "coldly furious" and was "here, there and everywhere...his black plume floating...where the battle was fiercest." He shouted to his men, "give them the saber boys."50

As the Federals were prevailing against Jones's Virginians, the leading units of Hampton's brigade — Cobb's Legion and 1st South Carolina — stormed up the hill's eastern slope and into the enemy's ranks. Led by Colonel Pierce M. B. Young, John Pelham's friend, the Georgians in the Legion "went in with a rousing cheer." "It was the first time we have ever met the enemy in an open field in a charge," Lieutenant Colonel William Deloney told his wife. The Georgians and the South Carolinians swept the Yankees off the hill. Stuart brought forward sections of artillery to open on the enemy. Young asserted in his report, "I do claim that this was the turning point of the day."51

The Confederates secured Fleetwood Hill when the 1st North Carolina and the Jeff Davis Legion arrived. Hampton led the North Carolinians in their charge, moving a cavalryman to proclaim, "Never did an officer exhibit more cool, daring gallantry, on any occasion, than was shown by Gen. Wade Hampton." In a final attack, the 11th Virginia, led by Stuart's friend Colonel Lunsford Lomax, captured three cannon of the 6th New York Independent Battery. Earlier, White's Virginians had overrun the gun crews in a spirited assault, shooting and slashing the Union artillerists, but were repulsed by a counterattack of the 1st Maine.52

The fighting at Brandy Station ended on Yew Ridge in a desperate struggle by Rooney Lee's men to protect the Confederate left flank and rear. When Union infantrymen enfiladed Lee's flank, Buford ordered a cavalry charge. Once again, the combat was marked by mounted thrusts and counterthrusts. At one point, a trooper in the 10th Virginia shouted to his comrades as they met the Yankees, "Hurrah for Hell, Wade in." The 2nd North Carolina's Colonel Soloman Williams was killed as he re-formed his ranks. Williams had been married for only two weeks.53

A lieutenant in the 9th Virginia wrote of his brigade commander, "General Lee's coolness and courage were of a high order, and his presence in battle was an inspiration to the bravery and constancy of his men." But late in the action, Rooney Lee suffered a serious leg wound from a pistol ball. Afterward, he was taken to Hickory Hill, his wife, Charlotte Wickham's, family home, north of Richmond, to recover. When the Federals learned from Richmond newspapers of his location, they came to Hickory Hill and captured him on June 26. Lee would not be exchanged until February 25, 1864. While he was imprisoned, his wife died on Christmas Day 1863.54

While the contest raged for possession of Fleetwood Hill and Yew Ridge, Gregg directed Duffié to march to Brandy Station from Stevensburg. Instead of taking the direct road, Duffié took a roundabout route, coming up on Gregg's rear too late to join in the fighting. Had Duffié brought the Second Division onto the field expeditiously, the Federals might have prevailed and uncovered the presence of Confederate infantry in Culpeper County. Instead, with Stuart's veterans holding the high ground, Pleasonton ordered a withdrawal across the Rappahannock.55

The Battle of Brandy Station was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Union casualties exceeded 850 killed, wounded, and missing, while Confederate losses amounted to more than 425. A trooper in the 10th New York entered into his diary, "i think it was the hardest Cav fite we hav had." Southerners shared the New Yorker's view, with one of Grumble Jones's Virginians nothing in his diary, "We were on the field all the day it was the hardest cavalry fight that Steward [Stuart] ever witnessed." A Rebel artillerist confided to his journal, "As we move back to camp the boys are too tired to joke and were very quiet."56

As was his habit, Alfred Pleasonton exaggerated Stuart's numerical strength by threefold and his command's disruption of enemy plans. He had failed, however, in wrecking Stuart's force, his primary mission. An officer contended, "I am sure a good cavalry officer would have whipped Stuart out of his boots; but Pleasonton is not and never will be that." The day's accomplishments belonged not to Pleasonton, but to the officers and men in the corps.57

The blue-jacketed horse soldiers had fought with skill, valor, and tenacity. A member of the 1st Maine wrote afterward: "All mouths are full of praise for our gallant actions.... The Cavalry is getting to be as much a valued branch of the service as heretofore it has been a ridicule." Stuart's adjutant, Henry McClellan, probably overstated the result when he argued in his memoirs that Brandy Station "made the Federal cavalry." McClellan's fellow staff officer William Blackford was closer to the truth, "The cavalry of the enemy were steadily improving and it was all we could do sometimes to manage them."58

From the surprise at Beverly Ford, to the bloody work around St. James Church, and to the fierce defense of Fleetwood Hill and Yew Ridge, Stuart owed the outcome to his subordinate commanders and the veterans in the ranks. In a larger sense, his command's performance could be attributed to him. From the spring of 1861, when he assumed command of volunteer companies at Harper's Ferry, he had instituted drills and training, demanded discipline, and instilled a spirit for combat that proved vital at Brandy Station. When the fighting concluded, he and Hampton rode by Cobb's Legion. "As they passed," stated a Georgian, "three cheers were given to each of them. Such cheering I never heard before."59

Robert E. Lee had watched the battle from a distance. He was concerned that the Federals might discover Confederate infantry in the area and expressed this in a message to Stuart during the fighting. Lee brought forward an infantry division if needed to support the cavalry, but it remained concealed from the enemy. A week later on June 16, after Lee read Stuart's report, the army commander wrote: "The dispositions made by you to meet the strong attack of the enemy appear to have been judicious and well planned. The troops were well and skillfully managed, and, with few exceptions, conducted themselves with marked gallantry."60

Within the army, however, criticism of Stuart arose, centered on the cavalry being surprised by the enemy. "Genl Stewart [Stuart] it is said," one Rebel informed his father, "has been paying more attention to the Ladies at Culpepper than to his business as a soldier." Another army member stated that officers and men "are hard on Stuart." A Georgia infantryman wrote, "I am sorry to state that from all I can learn they [the enemy] caught our dragoons napping." Another foot soldier maintained: "Genl Stuart was beautifully surprised & whipped the other day.... It is amusing to hear the cavalry fellows trying to bluff out of it."61

Some of the army's generals expressed similar observations. "Think Stuart had best stop his reviews and look to his laurels," jotted George T. Anderson in his diary. Lafayette McLaws, who had called Stuart "a buffoon to attract attention" in an earlier letter, complained to his wife, "Our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day." James Longstreet stated that it was "well known as a surprise" in the army.62

How "well known" it was to Stuart is uncertain. He unquestionably knew, however, of the judgment of the Southern press. In editorials across the Confederacy, newspapers condemned Stuart for an obvious lack of vigilance. The Charleston Mercury used the words "ugly surprise." The Savannah Republican opined: "There is little doubt, from all accounts, that our cavalry, resting secure in believing there was no danger with so much infantry surrounding them, allowed the enemy to surprise them everywhere.... The whole affair was, to say the least, very discreditable to somebody."63

The Richmond newspapers were particularly acerbic in their comments. The Examiner attributed the surprise to "negligence and bad management" by "a few vain and weak-headed officers," who had conducted cavalry operations as if it were "a tournament." The Sentinel argued: "Vigilance, vigilance, more vigilance, is the lesson taught us by the Brandy surprise, and which must not be forgotten by the victory which was wrested from defeat. Let all learn it, from the Major General down to the picket." The Dispatch reported erroneously that Stuart's headquarters had been shelled by artillery before the Rebels knew of the Yankees' crossing of the river. The paper then repeated a rumor that Stuart and his staff had been "rollicking, frolicking and running after girls."64

The Richmond Enquirer was caustic in its comments: "If Gen. Stuart is to be the eyes and ears of the army we advise him to see more, and be seen less." The newspaper asserted, "Gen. Stuart has suffered no little in public estimation by the late enterprises of the enemy." Reflecting current opinion in the capital, a War Department clerk, J. B. Jones, wrote in his diary, "The surprise of Stuart, on the Rappahannock, has chilled every heart." A week after the engagement, however, the Whig speculated, "We shall be surprised, if the gallant Stuart does not, before many days, make the enemy repent solely the temerity that led them to undertake as bold and insulting a feat."65

Stuart learned of the newspapers' articles and editorials within days of the battle. Writing on June 12 to Flora, he averred: "The papers are in great error as usual about the whole transaction. It was no surprise the enemy's movement was known, and he was defeated." The "great error" referred to a report in the Richmond Examiner that the Federals had captured official papers at his headquarters. "I will of course take no notice of such base falsehoods," he swore.66

In fact, Stuart took considerable notice of the press's censure of him. Flora Stuart forwarded copies of the newspapers to her husband. He denied again to Flora that he had been surprised. "The newspapers are false in every statement except as to the victory.... The papers ought to apologize." He sent a copy of Lee's June 16 note — "a very handsome letter," in his words — to Dr. Charles Brewer, his brother-in-law. Brewer was to distribute copies to the newspapers. The letter was, he assured Flora, "the only one I ever allowed to be published." He regarded the battle at Brandy Station as "the greatest triumph I ever had."67

The Richmond Sentinel published a copy of Lee's letter in its June 22 edition. In his letter to Flora, Stuart declared, "I pleasure myself on my vigilance." When the press accused him, with sound reason, for being caught unprepared, Stuart was incensed. According to Longstreet, Stuart tried "to stave it off on others," but the effort failed, at least within the army. In Longstreet's estimation the facts could not be denied.68

The newspapers' reaction to Brandy Station entailed more than the question of whether the cavalry had been surprised. It threatened to damage what Stuart coveted — public acclaim. "He ardently desired the applause of his superiors and his country," admitted Henry McClellan, "and was keenly alive to adverse criticism.... He could never see or acknowledge that he was worsted in an engagement." A Confederate cavalryman writing of Brandy Station argued, "I can't imagine anyone more likely to suffer in his own feelings than Gen Jeb from the withdrawal of that popular applause which he is so fond of sunning himself in."69

Historian Douglas Southall Freeman believed that Stuart "was humiliated more deeply than ever he had been in his campaigning" by the battle's contentious aftermath. The tone of his letters to Flora indicated anger and resentment of the press's treatment of him. Even the Federals, who had read the Southern newspapers, expected Stuart "to do something to retrieve his reputation."70

Copyright © 2008 by Jeffry D. Wert

Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgmentsxi

Chapter 1 Son of Virginia 1

Chapter 2 West Point and Texas 12

Chapter 3" I Go with Virginia" 24

Chapter 4 "A Rare Man" 46

Chapter 5 "I Will Not Leave the Van of Our Army" 66

Chapter 6 "Our Exploit Is All the Talk Here" 84

Chapter 7 "Great Spirits of the Land" 114

Chapter 8 "We Cannot Afford to Be Idle" 139

Chapter 9 To Pennsylvania and Back 163

Chapter 10 Winter War 186

Chapter 11 "Right Noble Did Stuart Do" 211

Chapter 12 "The Hardest Cavalry Fight" 234

Chapter 13 To Gettysburg 253

Chapter 14 "I Have Been Blessed with Great Success on This Campaign" 283

Chapter 15 Corps Command 303

Chapter 16 "Grand Jeb Stuart" 324

Chapter 17 "I Had Rather Die, Than Be Whipped" 338

Chapter 18 "The Greatest Cavalry Officer Ever Foaled in America" 363




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Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too much detail for casual reader of Civil War stories Too much detail
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone who enjoys reading about The Civil War should love this book. I have read others on Stuart, but this one is by far the best. Writer keeps it interesting, very well written.