J.E.B. Stuart

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J.E.B. Stuart : biography

February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864

Although Stuart was not reprimanded or disciplined in any official way for his role in the Gettysburg campaign, it is noteworthy that his appointment to corps command on September 9, 1863, did not carry with it a promotion to lieutenant general. Edward Bonekemper wrote that since all other corps commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia carried this rank, Lee’s decision to keep Stuart at major general rank, while at the same time promoting Stuart’s subordinates Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee to major generals, could be considered an implied rebuke.Bonekemper, p. 139. Jeffry D. Wert wrote that there is no evidence Lee considered Stuart’s performance during the Gettysburg Campaign and that it is "more likely that Lee thought the responsibilities in command of a cavalry corps did not equal those of an infantry corps."Wert, pp. 308–09.

Fall 1863 and the 1864 Overland Campaign

Lee reorganized his cavalry on September 9, creating a Cavalry Corps for Stuart with two divisions of three brigades each. In the Bristoe Campaign, Stuart was assigned to lead a broad turning movement in an attempt to get into the enemy’s rear, but General Meade skillfully withdrew his army without leaving opportunities to take advantage. On October 13, Stuart blundered into the rear guard of the Union III Corps near Warrenton. Ewell’s corps was sent to rescue him, but Stuart hid his troopers in a wooded ravine until the unsuspecting III Corps moved on, and the assistance was not necessary. As Meade withdrew towards Manassas Junction, brigades from the Union II Corps fought a rearguard action against Stuart’s cavalry and the infantry of Brig. Gen. Harry Hays’s division near Auburn on October 14. Stuart’s cavalry boldly bluffed Warren’s infantry and escaped disaster. After the Confederate repulse at Bristoe Station and an aborted advance on Centreville, Stuart’s cavalry shielded the withdrawal of Lee’s army from the vicinity of Manassas Junction. Judson Kilpatrick’s Union cavalry pursued Stuart’s cavalry along the Warrenton Turnpike but were lured into an ambush near Chestnut Hill and routed. The Federal troopers were scattered and chased five miles (8 km) in an affair that came to be known as the "Buckland Races". The Southern press began to mute its criticism of Stuart’s following his successful performance during the fall campaign.Wert, pp. 313–21; Davis, pp. 360–67.

The Overland Campaign, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s offensive against Lee in the spring of 1864, began at the Battle of the Wilderness, where Stuart aggressively pushed Thomas L. Rosser’s Laurel Brigade into a fight against George Custer’s better-armed Michigan Brigade, resulting in significant losses. General Lee sent a message to Stuart: "It is very important to save your Cavalry & not wear it out. … You must use your good judgment to make any attack which may offer advantages." As the armies maneuvered toward their next confrontation at Spotsylvania Court House, Stuart’s cavalry fought delaying actions against the Union cavalry. His defense at Laurel Hill, also directing the infantry of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, skillfully delayed the advance of the Federal army for nearly 5 critical hours.Wert, pp. 338–46; Davis, pp. 378–84.

Yellow Tavern and death

The commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George Meade, and his cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, quarreled about the Union cavalry’s performance in the first two engagements of the Overland Campaign. Sheridan heatedly asserted that he wanted to "concentrate all of cavalry, move out in force against Stuart’s command, and whip it." Meade reported the comments to Grant, who replied "Did Sheridan say that? Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it." Sheridan immediately organized a raid against Confederate supply and railroad lines close to Richmond, which he knew would bring Stuart to battle.Wert, p. 346; Davis, p. 384.

Sheridan moved aggressively to the southeast, crossing the North Anna River and seizing Beaver Dam Station on the Virginia Central Railroad, where his men liberated a train carrying 3,000 Union prisoners and destroyed more than one million rations and medical supplies destined for Lee’s army. Stuart dispatched a force of about 3,000 cavalrymen to intercept Sheridan’s cavalry, which was more than three times their numbers. As he rode in pursuit, accompanied by his aide, Maj. Andrew R. Venable, they were able to stop briefly along the way to be greeted by Stuart’s wife, Flora, and his children, Jimmie and Virginia. Venable wrote of Stuart, "He told me he never expected to live through the war, and that if we were conquered, that he did not want to live."Wert, pp. 346–49.