J.E.B. Stuart

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J.E.B. Stuart : biography

February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864

Stuart’s ride in the Gettysburg Campaign

Following a series of small cavalry battles in June as Lee’s army began marching north through the Shenandoah Valley, Stuart may have had in mind the glory of circumnavigating the enemy army once again, desiring to erase the stain on his reputation of the surprise at Brandy Station. General Lee gave orders to Stuart on June 22 on how he was to participate in the march north, and the exact nature of those orders has been argued by the participants and historians ever since, but the essence was that he was instructed to guard the mountain passes with part of his force while the Army of Northern Virginia was still south of the Potomac and that he was to cross the river with the remainder of the army and screen the right flank of Ewell’s Second Corps. Instead of taking a direct route north near the Blue Ridge Mountains, however, Stuart chose to reach Ewell’s flank by taking his three best brigades (those of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, and Col. John R. Chambliss, the latter replacing the wounded Brig. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee) between the Union army and Washington, moving north through Rockville to Westminster and on into Pennsylvania, hoping to capture supplies along the way and cause havoc near the enemy capital. Stuart and his three brigades departed Salem Depot at 1 a.m. on June 25.Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 104–06; Longacre, pp. 148–52; Gottfried, p. 28; Coddington, p. 108.

Unfortunately for Stuart’s plan, the Union army’s movement was underway and his proposed route was blocked by columns of Federal infantry, forcing him to veer farther to the east than either he or General Lee had anticipated. This prevented Stuart from linking up with Ewell as ordered and deprived Lee of the use of his prime cavalry force, the "eyes and ears" of the army, while advancing into unfamiliar enemy territory.Coddington, pp. 108–13; Longacre, pp. 152–53; Sears, Gettysburg, p. 106; Gottfried, p. 28.

Stuart’s command crossed the Potomac River at 3 a.m. on June 28. At Rockville they captured a wagon train of 140 brand-new, fully loaded wagons and mule teams. This wagon train would prove to be a logistical hindrance to Stuart’s advance, but he interpreted Lee’s orders as placing importance on gathering supplies. The proximity of the Confederate raiders provoked some consternation in the national capital and two Union cavalry brigades and an artillery battery were sent to pursue the Confederates. Stuart supposedly said that were it not for his fatigued horses "he would have marched down the 7th Street Road [and] took Abe & Cabinet prisoners."Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 19–32; Longacre, pp. 154–56; Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 106, 130–31.

In Westminster on June 29, his men clashed briefly with and overwhelmed two companies of Union cavalry, chasing them a long distance on the Baltimore road, which Stuart claimed caused a "great panic" in the city of Baltimore.Coddington, pp. 199–200; Longacre, pp. 156–58; Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 47–64. The head of Stuart’s column encountered Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry as it passed through Hanover and scattered it on June 30; the Battle of Hanover ended after Kilpatrick’s men regrouped and drove the Confederates out of town. Stuart’s brigades had been better positioned to guard their captured wagon train than to take advantage of the encounter with Kilpatrick. After a 20 mile trek in the dark, his exhausted men reached Dover on the morning of July 1, as the Battle of Gettysburg was commencing without them.Coddington, pp. 200–01; Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 65–117; Longacre, pp. 161, 172–79.

Stuart headed next for Carlisle, hoping to find Ewell. He lobbed a few shells into town during the early evening of July 1 and burned the Carlisle Barracks before withdrawing to the south towards Gettysburg. He and the bulk of his command reached Lee at Gettysburg the afternoon of July 2. He ordered Wade Hampton to cover the left rear of the Confederate battle lines, and Hampton fought with Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Hunterstown before joining Stuart at Gettysburg.Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 139–78; Longacre, pp. 193–202.