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J. E. B. Stuart

J. E. B. Stuart – Knight of the Confederacy

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This entry is part 4 of 4 in the The Lives of Confederate Generals

General James Ewell Brown Stuart, shortened to J. E. B. Stuart and named Jeb by his fellow cadets at West Point, was born in Patrick County, Virginia, February 6, 1833. He was a lineal descendant of ancestors distinguished in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He gained his early education in the grade schools of Virginia and entered Emory and Henry College in Virginia, later entering West Point.

Stuart was commissioned brevet second lieutenant in the U.S. Army July 1, 1854 and in October of the same year promoted to second lieutenant. He served as a mounted rifleman against the Apache Indians in Texas. Advancing to first lieutenant he was transferred to the East where he married the daughter of Colonel P.S.G. Cooke. Shortly afterward while on a visit to his home state of Virginia, he volunteered to accompany the then Colonel Robert E. Lee in an attack on insane John Brown and his raiders, where he read to Brown the summons to surrender.

Receiving his commission as Captain in 1861 from the U.S. Government, young Jeb, was unhesitating in resigning it almost immediately. Three days later he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army. Reporting to Stonewall Jackson, he was promoted to Colonel on July 16, 1861 and at the head of 350 Cavalrymen, he began his ride as a Cavalryman that was to write pages of history in glory, chapters in bravery, and volumes in legend of his military daring and ingenuity.

Jeb Stuart was a large man, tall and broad of shoulders. His manner was one of almost rollicking cheerfulness, always ready with a song or a joke. He loved the cavalier fellowship that he seemed to gather about him with his swashbuckling wit, his plumed hat, and ever ready pistols.

As the huge Federal Army began gathering around Manassas, Jeb Stuart was detached to scout and maintain constant watch on their forces. Many nights, as the moon thinned to a curved slit in the sky, Jeb Stuart and his men, with muffled horses hooves, threaded their way boldly through the Yankee lines, single file, their gray uniforms lending easily to the friendly darkness that made of them the “Ghosts of Jeb Stuart,” the moon, a “Jeb Stuart Moon.”

Such phrases that became common, were not the only tributes for Stuart’s amazing boldness. More and more of the Yankee wagons rumbled through the night toward Manassas, thousands, and thousands more of Yankee troops quietly assembled and threading through them all; carrying the vital information back to Jackson of every additional Yankee and gun, of every position, was Jeb Stuart and his Cavalrymen.

Suddenly, without warning, the Yankee struck in well ordered ferocity, throwing his weight of superior guns and numbers at Jackson’s center; it was here that Jackson gave the order that named him hence, “Stonewall.” The force of the terrific charge whirled toward the left flank of the Confederates and the thin gray line bent dangerously from its force. At that moment, from a flank position, came the thundering cavalry of Jeb Stuart, in the first of what was to become almost immortal charges in military lore. Standing high in the stirrups, sabers extended far past the heads of the wild, straining, horses; they came, men seemingly devoid of all care, with savage abandon they struck the Yankee… who fled, dropping their guns in terror-stricken awe and wanting only to vanish from before that almost supernatural charge. Thus, a well-organized Federal Army was turned into a mob of routing, frightened men. They fled the scene, and the entire army rushed pell mell, stumbling over each other, all the way back to Washington, D.C., away from the immovable, imperturbable Jackson, away from the terrible man on horseback, of whom they were now convinced was not man, but devil-monster, Jeb Stuart. Stuart followed the running Yankee, and when night caught him, he had “seen the Yankees tucked away,” in Washington, D.C. Then with deliberate impudence, he set up camp within sight of the Capitol. Throughout the fall and winter, he stubbornly held this position, fighting off Federal Cavalry each time they ventured forth. And the cold winter night air carried to the ears and the frustrated Federals, soldier and civilian alike, the campfires of this small band of Cavalrymen, even now, fast becoming a legend.

Sunday, September 24, 1861, Stuart was commissioned Brigadier General and in the spring of 1862, he was ordered back to Richmond. When Stuart reached Richmond, he found the city in a state of alarm; Yankee General McClellan, in command of ninety thousand men was moving toward it, down the Yorktown peninsula. Confederate General Joe Johnston was wounded and Stuart was ordered to guard the rear of the retreating Confederate force of forty thousand men. Stuart with his small force, moved into position between the retreating Confederates and the rapidly advancing Yankee. He struck, first on point, then another, momentarily driving the Yankee back, bloody and cowering from his ferocity. He and his men slept in their saddles, moving from one terrible charge, through the night, only to launch another, until the Confederate Army was safely entrenched behind breastworks. Not once did the Yankee close the gap.

General Robert E. Lee took command of the army, and immediately requested information on the positions of McClellan’s army. It was here that Jeb Stuart, only 29 years of age, performed the feat that brought amazed gasps of disbelief from every military student in the world. With a force of only 1200 men, including the great scout and ranger John Mosby, Captain Heros Von Borke, and Redmond Burke, he left Richmond at two o’clock in the morning, heading in a southward position; but soon he swung around and turned northeast, directly into the line of the Yankee Army of ninety thousand men! They soon reached Hanover Court House and the outposts of the enemy, capturing the guards and pickets. Night and day they rode, burning bridges and Yankee wagon trains. They hid in thickets from the large body of the army and charged and outfought the Yankee patrols. Passing twice within gunshot of General McClellan’s own quarters, they raided and burned a large supply depot under the Yankee General’s nose. This put a large detachment of Yankee Cavalry on their trail.

Reaching the usually placid Chicahominy River, they found it out of its banks in flood stage, with the only bridge burned out with an outraged Yankee Army not far behind them. Stuart ordered his men to throw timbers across the old stone bridge abutments remaining; and while they worked in feverish haste, Jeb joked and laughed in high good spirits. As the last of his troopers crossed the river, with 165 Yankee prisoners and many captured cavalry horses, the first of the red-faced Yankees appeared on the opposite bank. Stuart’s men held them off while they burned the bridge, and faded again into the countryside. This time, headed for Lee and Richmond, with all the information Lee needed to whip McClellan’s Army (which he did). They had been without sleep 72 hours, but as they disappeared from the opposite river bank, the Yankee clearly heard the boisterous voice of Jeb Stuart lifted in song to the swinging tune of “Old Joe Clark.

Military critics in America and Europe called Stuart’s ride one of the greatest cavalry feats in history, and the great cavalry leaders of Europe honored him as being the greatest cavalryman ever “foaled” in America. But perhaps the greatest tribute came from an unknown Yankee officer who turned in his report with this finishing remark, “A more reckless crew, I have never witnessed, but knowing that their Commander was Jeb Stuart, well explains it.” It was just “another day” to Jeb… and when asked to describe his action to a group of Richmond civilian leaders, he laughed and said, “I just went north to visit some of my old friends from West Point in the Yankee Army, but they turned their backs on me.”

Again Jeb Stuart daringly stabbed behind enemy lines. Yankee General Pope’s Army was the victim, and Pope himself narrowly escaped capture, by being absent from his headquarters when Stuart moved in, taking his staff and destroying his headquarters. This particular Stuart raid threw Pope completely off balance and delayed his attack on Jackson until Lee could reinforce him.

After the second battle of Manassas he skillfully screened Lee’s Army on his march into Maryland. His charges and brilliant maneuvers at the passes of South Mountain kept the Yankees huge army from striking Lee’s three Corps one at a time before they could be united. At Sharpsburg, he struck General Sumner, the Yankee general, such terrible blows on his flanks, and met the heavy charging of the Yankees in head on charges of his own, that Sumner retreated in dejection and confusion.

Stuart took his bold horsemen northward, into Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, passing between McClellan’s Yankee Army and Washington, D.C.! He criss-crossed the area, raiding as he went, crossing back over the Potomac into Virginia, bringing large supplies of captured ammunition and horses.

After the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson and the disabling of Gen. A.P. Hill, Stuart took over command of Jackson’s corps. He drove the Yankee, again, north of the Potomac, with his lightning hammer blows. Defeating the Federal Cavalry at Fleetwood, he again passed between the Federal Army and Washington and with almost constant fighting on the way, joined Lee at Gettysburg. His Gettysburg cavalry charges are well recorded for their ferocity. As Grant advanced at the Battle of the Wilderness, Jeb Stuart threw his gallant cavalrymen in his path, fighting Grant’s entire army until Lee had his chance to move infantrymen into position. On May 11, 1864, Yankee Sheridan made a sudden dash toward Richmond. Stuart, with a part of his Cavalry, barred the way at Yellow Tavern, Virginia, and drove Sheridan, bloodied and demoralized back to the hills, but as the Yankees fled, a single Yankee soldier lifted his rifle and shot toward a tall figure racing toward him. The shot went true, and Major General J.E.B. Stuart fell mortally wounded, his pistol in his hand. On May 12, he died, only 31 years of age. As life began to ebb away, he was asked how he felt and he answered, “Easy…. but, willing to die if God and my country think I have done my duty. I am going now, I am resigned. God’s will be done.”

General Jeb Stuart has been called a throwback to the Knights of old, perhaps he was; and that heritage of Knighthood, gallantry and bravery, he most surely lived and perpetuated in his dying. Another example as forebear for the Southerner.

The following is a summary of the service history of Jeb Stuart compiled from:
Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. “Civil War High Commands”. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. pp. 517–18.

Yankee Service (abridged):

  • ●  Born: Patrick County, Virginia – 6 February 1833
  • ●  Graduated: West Point Military Academy – 1 July 1854
  • ●  Brevet Second Lieutenant U.S.A. Mounted Rifles – 1 July 1854
  • ●  Second Lieutenant U.S.A. – 31 Oct. 1854
  • ●  Regimental Quartermaster – 5 July 1855 to 31 May 1857
  • ●  First Lieutenant U.S.A. – 20 Dec. 1855
  • ●  Wounded: in the chest, Solomon’s River, Kansas Territory – 29 July 1857
  • ●  Captain U.S.A. – 22 April 1861
  • ●  Resigned: 14 May 1861Confederate Service (abridged):
  • ●  Captain, Confederate States of America (CSA) – 16 March 1861
  • ●  Lieutenant Colonel CSA Virginia Infantry – 10 May 1861
  • ●  Colonel CSA First Virginia Cavalry – 16 July 1861
  • ●  Brigadier General CSA – 24 September 1861
  • ●  Major General CSA – 25 July 1862
  • ●  Wounded: by a falling chimney that had been struck by a shell, Upperville, Virginia – 3Nov 1862
  • ●  Awarded “The Thanks of Congress” (CSA) – 17 February 1864: for “distinguishedgallantry and skill” especially in the summer of 1862, “in the raid around the army of McClellan across the Chickahominy, the expedition into Pennsylvania, and to Catlet’s Station, and in the battles of Fleetwood, Chancellorsville, and other places.”
  • ●  Mortally wounded: shot in the abdomen, Yellow Tavern, Virginia – 11 May 1864
  • ●  Died: Richmond, Virginia – 12 May 1864

Originally published in The Southerner Magazine, October 1956.

Series Navigation<< John Singleton Mosby – Confederate Raider

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