J.E.B. Stuart

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J.E.B. Stuart : biography

February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864

Stonewall Jackson died on May 10 and Stuart was once again devastated by the loss of a close friend, telling his staff that the death was a "national calamity." Jackson’s wife, Mary Anna, wrote to Stuart on August 1, thanking him for a note of sympathy: "I need not assure you of which you already know, that your friendship & admiration were cordially reciprocated by him. I have frequently heard him speak of Gen’l Stuart as one of his warm personal friends, & also express admiration for your Soldierly qualities."Wert, p. 233.

Brandy Station

Returning to the cavalry for the Gettysburg Campaign, Stuart endured the two low points in his career, starting with the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the war. By June 5, two of Lee’s infantry corps were camped in and around Culpeper. Six miles northeast, holding the line of the Rappahannock River, Stuart bivouacked his cavalry troopers, mostly near Brandy Station, screening the Confederate Army against surprise by the enemy. Stuart requested a full field review of his troops by Gen. Lee. This grand review on June 5 included nearly 9,000 mounted troopers and 4 batteries of horse artillery, charging in simulated battle at Inlet Station, about two miles (3 km) southwest of Brandy Station.Longacre, Cavalry at Gettysburg, pp. 39–40; Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 62–64; Wert, pp. 238–39.

Lee was not able to attend the review, however, so it was repeated in his presence on June 8, although the repeated performance was limited to a simple parade without battle simulations.Longacre, Cavalry at Gettysburg, pp. 40–41; Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 62–64. Despite the lower level of activity, some of the cavalrymen and the newspaper reporters at the scene complained that all Stuart was doing was feeding his ego and exhausting the horses. Lee ordered Stuart to cross the Rappahannock the next day and raid Union forward positions, screening the Confederate Army from observation or interference as it moved north. Anticipating this imminent offensive action, Stuart ordered his tired troopers back into bivouac around Brandy Station.Salmon, p. 193; Wert, p. 239.

Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker interpreted Stuart’s presence around Culpeper to be indicative of preparations for a raid on his army’s supply lines. In reaction to this, he ordered his cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, to take a combined arms force of 8,000 cavalrymen and 3,000 infantry on a "spoiling raid" to "disperse and destroy" the 9,500 Confederates.Salmon, p. 198; Wert, p. 240. Pleasonton’s force crossed the Rappahannock in two columns on June 9, 1863, the first crossing at Beverly’s Ford (Brig. Gen. John Buford’s division) catching Stuart by surprise, waking him and his staff to the sound of gunfire. The second crossing, at Kelly’s Ford, surprised Stuart again, and the Confederates found themselves assaulted from front and rear in a spirited melee of mounted combat. A series of confusing charges and countercharges swept back and forth across Fleetwood Hill, which had been Stuart’s headquarters the previous night. After 10 hours of fighting, Pleasonton ordered his men to withdraw across the Rappahannock.Salmon, pp. 199–203; Wert, pp. 241–48; Davis, pp. 305–12.

Although Stuart claimed a victory because the Confederates held the field, Brandy Station is considered a tactical draw, and both sides came up short. Pleasonton was not able to disable Stuart’s force at the start of an important campaign and he withdrew before finding the location of Lee’s infantry nearby. However, the fact that the Southern cavalry had not detected the movement of two large columns of Union cavalry, and that they fell victim to a surprise attack, was an embarrassment that prompted serious criticism from fellow generals and the Southern press. The fight also revealed the increased competency of the Union cavalry, and foreshadowed the decline of the formerly invincible Southern mounted arm.Longacre, Cavalry at Gettysburg, pp. 65–86; Wert, pp. 249–52.