J.E.B. Stuart

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J.E.B. Stuart : biography

February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864

Robert E. Lee was appointed superintendent of the Academy in 1852, and Stuart became friends with the Lee family, seeing them socially on frequent occasions. Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, also arrived at the academy in 1852. In Stuart’s final year, in addition to achieving the cadet rank of second captain of the corps, he was one of eight cadets designated as honorary "cavalry officers" for his skills in horsemanship.Wert, p. 18. Stuart graduated 13th in his class of 46 in 1854. He ranked tenth in his class in cavalry tactics. Although he enjoyed the civil engineering curriculum at the academy and did well in mathematics, his poor drawing skills hampered his engineering studies, and he finished 29th in that discipline. A Stuart family tradition says he deliberately degraded his academic performance in his final year to avoid service in the elite, but dull, Corps of Engineers.Thomas, pp. 18–32; Davis, p. 27.

United States Army

Stuart was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant and assigned to the U.S. Regiment of Mounted Riflemen in Texas. After an arduous journey, he reached Fort Davis on January 28, 1855, and was a leader for three months on scouting missions over the San Antonio to El Paso Road.Wert, pp. 22–23. He was soon transferred to the newly formed 1st Cavalry Regiment (1855) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, where he became regimental quartermasterThomas, pp. 40–41. and commissary officer under the command of Col. Edwin V. Sumner.Wert, p. 25. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1855.

Also in 1855, Stuart met Flora Cooke, the daughter of the commander of the 2nd U.S. Dragoon Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke. Burke Davis described Flora as "an accomplished horsewoman, and though not pretty, an effective charmer," to whom "Stuart succumbed with hardly a struggle." Davis, p. 36. They became engaged in September, less than two months after meeting. Stuart humorously wrote of his rapid courtship in Latin, "Veni, Vidi, Victus sum" (I came, I saw, I was conquered). Although a gala wedding was planned for Fort Riley, Kansas, the death of Stuart’s father on September 20 caused a change of plans and the marriage on November 14 was small and limited to family witnesses.Thomas, pp. 41–43; Davis, p. 37; Wert, pp. 26–29. The couple owned two slaves until 1859, one inherited from his father’s estate, the other purchased.Wert, pp. 30–31.

Stuart’s leadership capabilities were soon recognized. He was a veteran of the frontier conflicts with Native Americans and the antebellum violence of Bleeding Kansas. He was wounded on July 29, 1857, while fighting at Solomon River, Kansas, against the Cheyenne. Col. Sumner ordered a charge with drawn sabers against a wave of Indian arrows. Scattering the warriors, Stuart and three other lieutenants chased one down, whom Stuart wounded in the thigh with his pistol. The Cheyenne turned and fired at Stuart with an old-fashioned pistol, striking him in the chest with a bullet, which did little more damage than to pierce the skin.Davis, p. 40; Wert, pp. 33–35. Stuart returned in September to Fort Leavenworth and was reunited with his wife.

Their first child, a girl, had been born in 1856 but died the same day. On November 14, 1857, Flora gave birth to another daughter, whom the parents named Flora after her mother. The family relocated in early 1858 to Fort Riley, where they remained for three years.Wert, p. 35.

In 1859, Stuart developed a new piece of cavalry equipment, for which he received patent number 25,684 on October 4—a saber hook, or an "improved method of attaching sabers to belts." The U.S. government paid Stuart $5,000 for a "right to use" license and Stuart contracted with Knorr, Nece and Co. of Philadelphia to manufacture his hook. While in Washington, D.C., to discuss government contracts, and in conjunction with his application for an appointment into the quartermaster department, Stuart heard about John Brown’s raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Stuart volunteered to be aide-de-camp to Col. Robert E. Lee and accompanied Lee with a company of U.S. Marines from the Washington Navy Yard and four companies of Maryland militia. While delivering Lee’s written surrender ultimatum to the leader of the group, who had been calling himself Isaac Smith, Stuart recognized "Old Ossawatomie Brown" from his days in Kansas.Wert, pp. 37–39.

Stuart was promoted to captain on April 22, 1861, but resigned from the U.S. Army on May 3, 1861, to join the Confederate States Army, following the secession of Virginia. (His letter of resignation, sent from Cairo, Illinois, was accepted by the War Department on May 14.)Wert, pp. 45, 52; Davis, pp. 47–40. Upon learning that his father-in-law, Col. Cooke, would remain in the U.S. Army during the coming war, Stuart wrote to his brother-in-law (future Confederate Brig. Gen. John Rogers Cooke), "He will regret it but once, and that will be continuously." Thomas, p. 95. On June 26, 1860, Flora gave birth to a son, Philip St. George Cooke Stuart, but his father changed the name to James Ewell Brown Stuart, Jr. ("Jimmie"), in late 1861 out of disgust with his father-in-law.Wert, pp. 42, 76.