J.E.B. Stuart : biography
Stuart’s birthplace, Laurel Hill, located in Patrick County, Virginia, was purchased by the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust, Inc., in 1992 to preserve and interpret it..
Stuart was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of Virginia Infantry in the Confederate Army on May 10, 1861. Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee, now commanding the armed forces of Virginia, ordered him to report to Colonel Thomas J. Jackson at Harper’s Ferry. Jackson chose to ignore Stuart’s infantry designation and assigned him on July 4 to command all the cavalry companies of the Army of the Shenandoah, organized as the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment.Wert, p. 49; Davis, pp. 51–52. He was promoted to colonel on July 16.
After early service in the Shenandoah Valley, Stuart led his regiment in the First Battle of Bull Run, and participated in the pursuit of the retreating Federals. He then commanded the Army’s outposts along the upper Potomac River until given command of the cavalry brigade for the army then known as the Army of the Potomac (later named the Army of Northern Virginia). He was promoted to brigadier general on September 24, 1861.
In 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac began its Peninsula Campaign against Richmond, Virginia, and Stuart’s cavalry brigade assisted Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army as it withdrew up the Virginia Peninsula in the face of superior numbers. Stuart fought at the Battle of Williamsburg, but in general the terrain and weather on the Peninsula did not lend themselves to cavalry operations. However, when Gen. Robert E. Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, he requested that Stuart perform reconnaissance to determine whether the right flank of the Union army was vulnerable. Stuart set out with 1,200 troopers on the morning of June 12 and, having determined that the flank was indeed vulnerable, took his men on a complete circumnavigation of the Union army, returning after 150 miles on July 15 with 165 captured Union soldiers, 260 horses and mules, and various quartermaster and ordnance supplies. His men met no serious opposition from the more decentralized Union cavalry, coincidentally commanded by his father-in-law, Col. Cooke. The maneuver was a public relations sensation and Stuart was greeted with flower petals thrown in his path at Richmond. He had become as famous as Stonewall Jackson in the eyes of the Confederacy.Wert, pp. 93–101; Davis, pp. 111–30.
Early in the Northern Virginia Campaign, Stuart was promoted to major general on July 25, 1862, and his command was upgraded to the Cavalry Division.Wert, pp. 125–29; Davis, pp. 167–72. He was nearly captured and lost his signature plumed hat and cloak to pursuing Federals during a raid in August, but in a retaliatory raid at Catlett’s Station the following day, managed to overrun Union army commander Maj. Gen. John Pope’s headquarters, and not only captured Pope’s full uniform, but also intercepted orders that provided Lee with valuable intelligence concerning reinforcements for Pope’s army.
At the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), Stuart’s cavalry followed the massive assault by Longstreet’s infantry against Pope’s army, protecting its flank with artillery batteries. Stuart ordered Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson’s brigade to pursue the Federals and in a sharp fight against Brig. Gen. John Buford’s brigade, Col. Thomas T. Munford’s 2nd Virginia Cavalry was overwhelmed until Stuart sent in two more regiments as reinforcements. Buford’s men, many of whom were new to combat, retreated across Lewis’s Ford and Stuart’s troopers captured over 300 of them. Stuart’s men harassed the retreating Union columns until the campaign ended at the Battle of Chantilly.Wert, pp. 136–37; Davis, pp. 183–84.
During the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Stuart’s cavalry screened the army’s movement north. He bears some responsibility for Robert E. Lee’s lack of knowledge of the position and celerity of the pursuing Army of the Potomac under George B. McClellan. For a five-day period, Stuart rested his men and entertained local civilians at a gala ball at Urbana, Maryland. His reports make no reference to intelligence gathering by his scouts or patrols.Wert, p. 144. As the Union Army drew near to Lee’s divided army, Stuart’s men skirmished at various points on the approach to Frederick and Stuart was not able to keep his brigades concentrated enough to resist the oncoming tide. He misjudged the Union routes of advance, ignorant of the Union force threatening Turner’s Gap, and required assistance from the infantry of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill to defend the South Mountain passes in the Battle of South Mountain.Wert, pp. 147–50. His horse artillery bombarded the flank of the Union army as it opened its attack in the Battle of Antietam. By mid-afternoon, Stonewall Jackson ordered Stuart to command a turning movement with his cavalry against the Union right flank and rear, which if successful would be followed up by an infantry attack from the West Woods. Stuart began probing the Union lines with more artillery barrages, which were answered with "murderous" counterbattery fire and the cavalry movement intended by Jackson was never launched.Wert, pp. 156–58; Davis, pp. 205–06.