He was commissioned to the substantive grade of second lieutenant on October 31, 1854, and was transferred to the new 1st United States Cavalry on March 3, 1855, then headquartered at Fort Leavenworth on the Kansas frontier. On November 14, 1855, he was married at Fort Riley, Kansas Territory, to Flora Cooke, the daughter of Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, and in the following month, December 20, 1855, he was promoted to first lieutenant. He was wounded in a skirmish with the Cheyenne Indians on the Solomon River in Kansas on July 29, 1857. In October 1859 he served as volunteer aide to Robert E. Lee who had been dispatched to Harpers Ferry to deal with John Brown's raid, and, under a flag of truce, attempted to negotiate the surrender of Brown and his followers. Hollywood has twice filmed this incident, with the role of Stuart played by Errol Flynn in Santa Fe Trail (1940) and by John Lupton in Seven Angry Men (1955).
Manassas to Fredericksburg
Stuart burnished his legend by executing the famed "Ride around McClellan," leaving Richmond on June 12, 1862, with 1,200 troopers and circling the Army of the Potomac in a three-day raid that supplied Robert E. Lee with the intelligence necessary to launch his counteroffensive against the Union right wing north of the Chickahominy River—which came to be known as the Seven Days' Battles—that ultimately resulted in the repulse of George B. McClellan's advance against the Confederate capital. This raid also contributed a badly needed boost to Confederate morale—then dwindling due to the loss of New Orleans and most of Tennessee and to the horrible bloodletting at Shiloh the previous April—and provided the Confederacy with a dashing, popular young hero cut from the Cavalier mold. Consequently, Stuart was promoted to major general and given command of the cavalry division—later to become the cavalry corps—of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Chancellorsville to Yellow Tavern
These brilliant achievements were cast under a cloud, however, when, on June 9, 1863, the day after Stuart's second grand review and mock cavalry battle at Brandy Station, a Union cavalry reconnaissance in force caught him by surprise. Although the Confederate horsemen rallied and drove back Union general Alfred Pleasonton's raiders, this unprecedented show of Union enterprise so vexed Stuart as to cause him to apply to Lee for permission to mount a large-scale raid in the direction of Washington, D.C., largely to redeem his wounded pride. Lee, then planning his second invasion of the North, somewhat reluctantly approved the raid. He specified, however, that Stuart, his "eyes and ears," was to maintain contact with the main Confederate army, continuing to screen its movements from Union observation and to provide timely intelligence reports.
In his greatest bungle of the war, however, Stuart, after capturing 125 Union supply wagons near Rockville, Maryland, on June 28, 1863, chose to bring them into Lee's lines rather than to burn them and move quickly back to the army. Having sacrificed his mobility for a relatively insignificant prize, he was caught behind Union lines when the Army of the Potomac marched out of Washington, D.C., and was therefore unable to carry out Lee's prime directive. The lack of intelligence from his chief of cavalry forced Lee to concentrate his forces prematurely and to fight the subsequent Battle of Gettysburg without the quality of reconnaissance to which he was accustomed.
During the long Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Sheridan convinced Grant that his cavalry corps could interdict Lee's line of communication and supply, threaten Richmond, and deal a perhaps mortal blow to Stuart's cavalry. Stuart intercepted Sheridan at the village of Yellow Tavern, some six miles north of Richmond, and there, although outnumbered more than two to one, repulsed the Union drive on the Confederate capital in a three-hour fight. In the battle's closing action, however, Stuart was mortally wounded. "Go back boys," he told the men of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, his former regiment. "I'd rather die than be whipped." He was removed to the Richmond home of his brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Brewer, where he died one day later, May 12, 1864. He was buried in the city's Hollywood Cemetery.
Stuart and the Lost Cause
Lover of gesture, lover of panache,
With all the actor's grace and the quick, light charm
That makes the women adore him. To Benét, he was "a wild cavalier" who nevertheless seldom drank and who worshiped a God as sober as Stonewall Jackson's. Despite his reputation for flirtation and romantic charm, he was steadfastly loyal to his wife and children.
One of Stuart's great literary advocates was his wife's first cousin, John Esten Cooke, who also served as one of Stuart's staff officers. In newspaper dispatches during the war and in books after, Cooke glorified his commander's exploits, describing the famous Ride Around McClellan in terms of "the fun, the frolic, the romance—and the peril, too—of that fine journey." Although the admiration apparently was not mutual between the two men, Cooke was also responsible for a widely quoted description of Stuart's final moments, one that gave him, in nineteenth-century terms, the "good death" of a hero: As his life had been one of earnest devotion to the cause in which he believed, so his last hours were tranquil, his confidence in the mercy of heaven unfailing. When he was asked how he felt, he said, "Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have done my duty." His last words were: "I am going fast now; I am resigned. God's will be done."
With Lee and Jackson, he has been enshrined as the third member of the "Holy Trinity" of the secular religion of the postbellum South, as illustrated in Charles Hoffbauer's large-scale mural, "Autumn," from the Four Seasons of the Confederacy. Commissioned by the Confederate Memorial Association in 1914 and completed in 1921 for Richmond's Battle Abbey (now the home of the Virginia Historical Society), the paintings use the seasons of the year as a metaphor for the Confederate army's declining fortunes during the war. As Hoffbauer's work suggests, even during the fall of the year, Stuart will forever be remembered as the caped Cavalier, leading his troopers through the Virginia woods and waving his plumed hat.
February 6, 1833 - James Ewell Brown Stuart is born at Laurel Hill in Patrick County, Virginia.
October 31, 1854 - After duty in Texas, where he fought Apache Indians, J. E. B. Stuart is commissioned a second lieutenant.
December 20, 1855 - J. E. B. Stuart is promoted to first lieutenant.
July 29, 1857 - J. E. B. Stuart is wounded in a skirmish with the Cheyenne Indians on the Solomon River.
October 18, 1859 - Robert E. Lee sends J. E. B. Stuart into the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, under a flag of truce, to negotiate the surrender of the abolitionist John Brown and his followers.
September 24, 1861 - J. E. B. Stuart is promoted to brigadier general.
June 12, 1862 - Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart launches his famous "Ride around McClellan," leaving Richmond with 1,200 troopers and circling the Union Army of the Potomac in a three-day raid that supplies Robert E. Lee with critical intelligence.
June 28, 1863 - After capturing 125 Union supply wagons near Rockville, Maryland, J. E. B. Stuart chooses to bring them into the Confederate lines rather than burn them. This slows him down and hampers his important mission of gathering intelligence on the Union army during Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North.
May 13, 1864 - J. E. B. Stuart is buried at Hollywood Cemetery from St. James' Episcopal Church where the funeral service was performed by Joshua Peterkin, Pastor of St. James' Church. Among the pall bearers are John Winder, Braxton Bragg, Joseph R. Anderson, George W. Randolph, and Commodore Forrest.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
Cite This EntryAPA Citation:
First published: January 14, 2010 | Last modified: December 28, 2013