J.E.B. Stuart

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J.E.B. Stuart : biography

February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864

Gettysburg and its aftermath

When Stuart arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 2—bringing with him the caravan of captured Union supply wagons—he received a rare rebuke from Lee. (No one witnessed the private meeting between Lee and Stuart, but reports circulated at headquarters that Lee’s greeting was "abrupt and frosty." Colonel Edward Porter Alexander wrote, "Although Lee said only, ‘Well, General, you are here at last,’ his manner implied rebuke, and it was so understood by Stuart."Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 257–58. Longacre, pp. 215–16, argues that a bitter confrontation never took place.) On the final day of the battle, Stuart was ordered to get into the enemy’s rear and disrupt its line of communications at the same time Pickett’s Charge was sent against the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge, but his attack on East Cavalry Field was repulsed by Union cavalry under Brig. Gens. David Gregg and George Custer.Longacre, Cavalry at Gettysburg, pp. 220–31.

During the retreat from Gettysburg, Stuart devoted his full attention to supporting the army’s movement, successfully screening against aggressive Union cavalry pursuit and escorting thousands of wagons with wounded men and captured supplies over difficult roads and through inclement weather. Numerous skirmishes and minor battles occurred during the screening and delaying actions of the retreat. Stuart’s men were the final units to cross the Potomac River, returning to Virginia in "wretched condition—completely worn out and broken down."Longacre, Lee’s Cavalrymen, pp. 223–37; Wert, pp. 292–98.

The Gettysburg Campaign was the most controversial of Stuart’s career. He became one of the scapegoats (along with James Longstreet) blamed for Lee’s loss at Gettysburg by proponents of the postbellum Lost Cause movement, such as Jubal Early.Coddington, p. 207. This was fueled in part by opinions of less partisan writers, such as Stuart’s subordinate, Thomas L. Rosser, who stated after the war that Stuart did, "on this campaign, undoubtedly, make the fatal blunder which lost us the battle of Gettysburg." In General Lee’s report on the campaign, he wrote

One of the most forceful postbellum defenses of Stuart was by Col. John S. Mosby, who had served under him during the campaign and was fiercely loyal to the late general, writing, "He made me all that I was in the war. … But for his friendship I would never have been heard of." He wrote numerous articles for popular publications and published a book length treatise in 1908, a work that relied on his skills as a lawyer to refute categorically all of the claims laid against Stuart.Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 219-28.

Modern scholarship remains divided on Stuart’s culpability. Edward G. Longacre argues that Lee deliberately gave Stuart wide discretion in his orders and had no complaints about Stuart’s tardy arrival at Gettysburg because he established no date by which the cavalry was required to link up with Ewell. The 3½ brigades of cavalry left with the main army were adequate for Lee to negotiate enemy territory safely and that his choice not to use these brigades effectively cannot be blamed on Stuart. Edwin B. Coddington refers to the "tragedy" of Stuart in the Gettysburg Campaign and judges that when Fitzhugh Lee raised the question of "whether Stuart exercised the discretion undoubtedly given to him, judiciously," the answer is no. Nevertheless, replying to historians who maintain that Stuart’s absence permitted Lee to be surprised at Gettysburg, Coddington points out that the Union commander, Maj. Gen. George Meade, was just as surprised, and the initial advantage lay with Lee. Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi have concluded that there was "plenty of blame to go around" and the fault should be divided between Stuart, the lack of specificity in Lee’s orders, and Richard S. Ewell, who might have tried harder to link up with Stuart northeast of Gettysburg. Jeffry D. Wert acknowledges that Lee, his officers, and fighting by the Army of the Potomac bear the responsibility for the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, but states that "Stuart failed Lee and the army in the reckoning at Gettysburg. … Lee trusted him and gave him discretion, but Stuart acted injudiciously."Longacre, Lee’s Cavalrymen, pp. 215–16; Longacre, Cavalry at Gettysburg, p. 271; Coddington, pp. 205–08; Wittenberg and Petruzzi, pp. 263–98; Wert, pp. 299–302.