Daily Archives: March 5, 2015

Vanity Seeking a Legacy: JEB Stuart at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Back to my work on the Gettysburg text. I have done a lot of edits and work on this chapter. There is a little bit more to do including an edit from my wife Judy before it goes into the text and I start working on the edits for the next chapter. 

Anyway, yet another crazy weather day in Hampton Roads. Yesterday 73 degrees, today rain with sleet and snow later with temperatures tomorrow barely above freezing. I can’t wait for real spring, and by the way I’m issuing a Fat Wahhh on the Groundhog. Not a Fatwah, but a Fat Wahhh, because I’m short stocky and whining. 


Padre Steve+

While the embattled Hooker slowly pursued Lee with the Army of the Potomac another drama of major significance was unfolding. The developing drama was of Robert E. Lee’s own making and it was beginning to engulf his army’s operations as leave him blind to the intents and movements of the Federal Army, and it is related to the concept of Commander’s Intent.

The concept “Commander’s Intent” is actually quite old and something that even not using today’s terminology that the commanders of the Civil War, especially those educated at West Point would have understood.

While the older understanding enunciated by Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Jomini, Clausewitz and Dennis Hart Mahan would be couched in different language the concept itself was similar. The modern understanding of the concept is found in numerous doctrinal publications of the U.S. Military and the most concise definition in found in Joint Publication 3-0:

“A clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that supports mission command, provides focus to the staff, and helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned” [1]

The drama engulfing Lee’s headquarters was the first of a number of operational mistakes committed by Lee, and dealt with his singular inability to get his commanders to understand his intent. The necessity of subordinate commanders understanding the intent of their superior is essential to the success of any military operation. During the Gettysburg campaign, Robert E. Lee failed miserably at this.

The first instance of this lack of clarity and vagueness in regard to Lee’s orders to his subordinates involved Major General J.E.B. Stuart, who commanded Lee’s cavalry division and the results of this would help doom Lee’s campaign in Pennsylvania.

Lee and Stuart

To understand how this happened we need to start with the character of J.E.B. Stuart and his relationship with Robert E. Lee. Without understanding these men it is impossible for us to understand how such a disastrous series of events and miscommunications could occur in an army which was so used to victory.

Before Brandy Station J.E.B. Stuart was at pinnacle of his fame and celebrity. Only thirty-two years old Stuart had gained an amount of fame, and the romantic aura of a chivalrous, bold and daring commander, something akin the gallant knights of an early era. One of his biographers, Burke Davis, whose work about Stuart is at times closer to hagiography than to history called Stuart “The Last Cavalier.” 

If People magazine had been published in 1863, Stuart would have certainly made the cover.

One of Stuart’s officers wrote after the war “There were few men produced by the war whose character was so mixed with gold and dross as Stuart… He could be “brave as his sword,” but “frivolous to the point of ridicule.” [2] Though faithfully married he was a flirt who women swooned over when they met him. “He possessed a zest for life and a flamboyance of style that made him the embodiment of a knight errant, a cavalier warrior from an evocative past.” [3] This is not to say that Stuart was not a gifted offer, leader or commander. Even before the war he was regarded as “a young officer of great promise, a natural horseman with a reputation for dash and bravery gained in countless clashes with Indians throughout the West, and for steady competence in the pro- and antislavery warfare of Kansas.” [4]

In the early part of the war he proved to be a dependable cavalry officer who supplied Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee with reliable information regarding the composition, movements and intention of their opponents, and who in battle usually bested his Federal opponents.

However, it was his ride around McClellan during the Seven Days that established Stuart as a Confederate hero.

There had been little good news for Confederates during the previous months, but “there was an air of romantic adventure to Stuart’s exploit which touched every Southerner who read it.” [5] Newspapers published accounts which lauded Stuart’s exploit. The Richmond Examiner called it “one of the most brilliant affairs of the war, bold in its inception and the most brilliant in its execution.” [6] A correspondent from the Charleston Mercury wrote “It is a question of whether the annals of warfare furnish so daring a deed.” [7] The result of the ride was fame for Stuart and a new respect for the Confederate cavalry within the Army of Northern Virginia. “Stuart had become the hero of his troopers and one of the idols of the public.” [8]

The fact that Stuart succeeded in large part due to the inability of the Federal Cavalry commander, General Phillip St. George Cooke, Stuart’s father-in-law, to grasp what was happening or respond in an effectual manner did not dim the luster of the accomplishment. One of Stuart’s officers wrote that the newspapers “were filled with accounts of the expedition, none accurate, and most of them marvelous.” [9] The success and adulation that Stuart received in the Confederate press only cemented in Stuart’s mind that such raids would garner him fame and advance his career.

Stuart was not only adept at using the media to advance himself, but he also used his relationships and cultivated those in power to get ahead. He was a friend of the Lee’s before the war, and Robert E. Lee treated Stuart as if he were a son. He had the good fortune to staying with the Lee’s at Arlington and be at the War Department when John Brown seized Harper’s Ferry, where he had won Lee’s admiration. When Joseph Johnston commanded the army Stuart ingratiated himself to him and used flattery to gain favor saying “Johnston is in capacity head and shoulders above every general in the Southern Confederacy.” [10] At the same time he wrote about Lee’s lack of success in Western Virginia “With profound personal regard for General Lee, he has disappointed me as a General.” [11]

When Johnston was wounded Lee was appointed to command the army and Stuart quickly reconnected with Lee and following the success of his ride around McClellan’s army became Lee’s favorite cavalryman. Following the Seven Days battles when the Cavalry was expanded Lee nominated Stuart to command the division and ensured his promotion to Major General. Stuart responded in kind by recommending Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee to command a brigade in the division. As the division grew Stuart, knowing Lee’s preference for Virginians in the senior ranks of army leadership appointed “Virginians to command four of his division’s five brigades.” [12] These included Fitzhugh Lee as well as Lee’s son Rooney.

Following the Battle of Antietam Stuart made another spectacular ride around McClellan in Maryland and Pennsylvania, an escapade which helped Lincoln in his decision to relieve that ineffective army commander. Apart from the effect on Northern morale the raid accomplished little of military value, including not achieving its primary objective, the destruction of the B & O railway bridge across the Conococheague River. Porter Alexander wrote that “the raid risked a great deal in proportion to the results it accomplished. It might have easily happened easily happened that the whole command might have been captured.” [13]

At Chancellorsville, after Jackson was mortally wounded and A.P. Hill wounded he took command of Second Corps, and led it well enough that some thought that after Jackson’s death that he should be appointed to command the corps.

Despite his brilliance on the battlefield, Stuart had little capacity for self-reflection and was terribly insecure. “Like many people who rise rapidly from obscurity to prominence, Stuart was insecure in his success.” [14]  During a second raid at the end of the Seven Days his actions helped ensure the escape of the Federal Army, something that fellow commanders and staff officers noticed and which he would not admit. In this action, as well as others, Stuart was “known to take risks with his own life and the lives of his men, sometimes during ill-conceived operations of debatable strategic value.” [15]

Likewise Stuart regarded the Battle of Brandy Station as “the greatest triumph I ever had.” [16] Stuart could not understand how the media or fellow officers could see things differently than him. Brandy Station should have given Stuart ample evidence to reevaluate his performance, but he could not. Instead of working to improve his performance, he insisted “that a poor performance had been just perfect. He seemed more concerned with image than substance because he confused the two.” [17]

A Cavalier Seeks to Redeem His Legacy

After the surprise at Brandy Station Stuart, was unhappy. His pride had been wounded by all of the criticism heaped on him by the Confederate press and well as by politicians and officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart now found out what many others who have who sought the media spotlight; that the press can rapidly turn from being a friend and promoter, to being strident critic. He expressed his anger to his wife Flora in a number of letters. In one saying “The newspapers are false in every statement except as to the victory….The papers ought to apologize.” [18]

The temptation here would to assume that all that motivated Stuart was the desire to redeem himself, to make up for what happened at Brandy Station. This is at least partially true. However, there was something bigger, and that was Stuart’s need that the myth that he had created around himself, the persona he had taken on, was unsullied. Since the war began he had known nothing but success and celebrity. His unbridled success had not taught him how to deal with failure.

One of more recent biographers, Emory Thomas wrote that Stuart “feared failure perhaps more than anything else in life and certainly more than death. He dealt with failure not by dealing with it, by denying it.” [19] As such his actions are much more than seeking to make up for defeat, but an attempt to build a legacy.

The attacks in the newspapers which had previously fawned over his exploits certainly wounded Stuart. But not all papers had completely lost faith in Stuart, nor doubted that he would redeem himself against the hated Yankee cavalry. The Richmond Whig “concluded an editorial defense of the Beau Sabreur, “We shall be surprised if the gallant Stuart does not, before many days, make the enemy repent sorely the temerity that led them to undertake as bold and insulting feat [as the advance on Brandy]. [20]

The troopers of Stuart’s division screened the right flank of the army as it moved north. The mission of his brigades was to defend the gaps in the Blue Ridge, and to keep Pleasanton’s cavalry from interdicting the march, or discovering the location of Lee’s infantry corps. In this effort Stuart was successful, but not happy.

Between June 17th and June 21st Stuart’s troopers fought a series of engagements at Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg and Upperville. While Stuart’s troopers had held off Pleasanton the “running combats were taking a toll on the Southern mounted arm, however. Stuart had already suffered several hundred casualties defending gaps and passes.” [21] The Confederates also noted the improvements in the Federal cavalry during these battles. Captain William Blackford, who served as an engineer on Stuart’s staff noted:

“the improvement of enemy cavalry was enormous, mainly in the heavy fire from long range carbines, and horse artillery that was a match for Stuart’s own These cavalrymen fought as if they had been taken from infantry regiments, for they knew how to fight with horses left behind.” [22]

Unlike the rest of the army which was now marching into Pennsylvania and Maryland, Stuart’s Cavalry Division had little cause to rejoice. They had been surprised at Brandy Station and Stuart had been humiliated in the Southern press. “Stuart read, raged, and doubtlessly resolved that the Whig’s prediction should be fulfilled. First must come opportunity.” [23]

It would take nearly two weeks before Stuart got his chance as the Federal cavalry under Pleasanton gave him no opportunity to redeem himself during the clashes along the Blue Ridge.

While Pleasanton’s troopers never broke through Stuart’s screen, they had pressed him hard and this had a major effect on Stuart’s division, which was “really fought out during those two weeks from June 9 until the misty morning of June 22….Not only had Stuart’s cavalry been pressed on the defensive as never before, but also they had not been able to gain a spot of information about the enemy.” [24]

In effect, these actions had not only screened Lee’s army from Hooker, but what went unnoticed by Confederate commanders was that “this succession of fights screened the Army of the Potomac as well” leaving Stuart “somewhat in the dark as to the location and intent of the Federal infantry.” [25] This would have exceptionally dire consequences for Lee as Stuart was no longer supplying him with the thing he needed most, information on the location and intentions of the Army of the Potomac.

On the other hand the Federal cavalry, through its interrogations of prisoners and conversations with civilians had now learned that the “main body of the rebel infantry is in the Shenandoah Valley.” [26] Additionally at Ashby’s Gap, some of John Buford’s troopers had gotten past the Confederates and “peering into the valley beyond, they gazed upon a Confederate infantry encampment – tangible evidence at last of Lee’s progress toward Maryland and Pennsylvania.” [27]

Pleasanton’s troopers, under able commanders like John Buford had proved that the days of “easy Confederate cavalry triumphs were gone,” [28] and Stuart “smarting over the cuts to his ego, refused to read the portents.” [29]

The emotional state of Stuart in the wake of Brandy station had much to do with this condition, but where others, including his media critics could see the improvements in the Federal Cavalry arm, Stuart seemed to live with a fair amount of denial regarding the capabilities of his foe. Stuart still not believe that the Union Cavalry arm had reached a point in the war where they could take on his troopers and be successful, despite the mounting evidence.

Stuart had been fighting defensively the entire campaign beginning with the surprise at Brandy Station, but desperately wanted to go on the offensive. As his troops battled Pleasanton’s aggressive and well led troopers at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, Stuart formulated a plan to go on the offensive himself, which he submitted to Lee. Stuart reasoned now that “all the infantry were west of the Blue Ridge…that it would be possible to leave one or two brigades of cavalry to defend the gaps and with the remaining three to descend on the enemy and harass Hooker in any advance into Pennsylvania.” [30]

Conditional, Contradictory and Vague: Lee’s Order to Stuart

On the morning of the 22nd of June Stuart noticed that the Federal cavalry which had engaged him at Upperville the previous day was no longer present. This led Stuart to propose an operation to Lee. It was an operation that Stuart hoped would restore his glory, for he had to protect his legend at any cost, and he was extremely sensitive about what people thought, wrote and said about him. “he had cultivated his public image and in turn the poems, songs, and praise seemed to confirm his vision of himself. How could the newspapers and gossips be son wrong?” [31] As such when he found an opportunity he took it. In his after action report he said:


“I submitted to the commanding general the plan of leaving a brigade or so in my present front, passing through Hopewell or some other gap in the Bull Run Mountains, attain the enemy’s rear, passing between his main body and Washington, and cross into Md., joining our army north of the Potomac. The commanding general wrote authorizing this move, if I thought it practicable….” [32]

Lee’s reply via the order that Stuart received from Lee was the first of a series of vague, poorly written and contradictory orders by Lee that were to plague the campaign. It was an order that gave Stuart exactly what needed to embark on an expedition to regain his luster.

The order “offered his cavalry commander wide latitude to select his route in accord with circumstances.” [33] Lee’s order left “the decision to Stuart” [34] as to how he would execute it. It was also an order that gave Stuart the idea “that something better than the drudgery of a march along our flank might be open to him, and that one of General Stuart’s activity and gallantry should not be expected to fail to seek it.” [35]

It was an order that Stuart seized upon to regain his reputation.

Unlike Lee’s two new infantry corps commanders, Ewell and Hill, Stuart was very familiar with Robert E. Lee’s method of command, and Lee had “so much faith in Stuart’s judgment and ability to make the right moves that after indicating his wishes he gave him considerable latitude in carrying them out. His orders were more suggestions than commands….” [36] However well that may have worked for Lee in the past with Jackson and Stuart, at this time it failed Lee.

Lee’s orders to Stuart were conditional in nature, in other words they were operative as long as the conditions allowed. Since they were conditional orders, Lee needed to clearly address “the conditions upon which they are based.” [37] This Lee did not do and it was a critical oversight. His order to Stuart read:


“I judge the efforts of the enemy yesterday were to arrest our progress and ascertain our whereabouts. Perhaps he is satisfied. Do you know where he is and what he is doing? I fear he will steal a march on us and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find that he is moving northward and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland and take position on General Ewell’s right, place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank, keep him informed of the enemy’s movements and collect all the supplies you can….” [38]

Longstreet, who Stuart was cooperating with on the northward march, added his own comments to Lee’s instruction which even further clouded the order:
General Lee has enclosed this letter for you, to be forwarded to you, provided you can be spared from my front, and provided I think that you can move across the Potomac without disclosing our plans. He speaks of your leaving via the Hopewell Gap and passing by the rear of the enemy. If you can get through by that route I think that you will be less likely to indicate what our plans are than if you should be passing to our rear. I forward the letter of instructions with these suggestions. Please advise me of the condition of affairs before you leave, and order General Hampton, whom I suppose will leave here in command, to report to me at Millwood, either by letter or in person, as may be most agreeable to him.” [39] 

Stung by the criticism of his conduct of the Battle of Brandy Station in the Southern press and frustrated by Pleasanton’s constant thrusts Stuart, “who always interpreted cavalry orders to their outer limits” [40] did just that and interpreted them in a manner that appealed to his need to redeem his now tarnished reputation. Stuart believed that he would repeat his triumph of the previous year when he rode around the Army of the Potomac.

For Stuart this was a chance to regain the limelight and add to his luster. Stuart “summed up his interpretation of his orders when he said later: …it was deemed practicable to move entirely in the enemy’s rear, intercepting his communications with his base (Washington), and, inflicting damage upon his rear, to rejoin the army in Pennsylvania in time to participate in its actual conflicts.” [41]

Stuart was already planning his offensive which he believed would restore his glory. Days before Stuart had sent Major John Mosby with a small detachment of troopers to reconnoiter behind the Union lines. Mosby reported the location of all the infantry corps of the Army of the Potomac. Mosby reported to Stuart on June 23rd that the Federal corps of the Army of the Potomac were stationary and “were so widely separated…that a column of cavalry could easily get between them.” [42]

Mosby’s report painted a glowing picture of how an operation using the Hopewell Gap could create havoc in the Federal rear and cause panic in Washington as he could “severe communications between Hooker and Pleasanton, destroy a “large portion” of Hooker’s transportation, and take some of the pressure off Lee by creating a diversion for the Union cavalry.” [43]

The purported inactivity of the Federal army reported by Mosby was exactly the news Stuart wanted to hear, and he asked Lee for permission to plunge into the Federal rear. In his after action report Stuart wrote:

“I submitted to the commanding general the plan of leaving a brigade or so in my present front, and passing through Hopewell, or some other gap in Bull Run Mountain, attaining the enemy’s rear, and passing between his main body and Washington, to cross into Maryland and joining our army north of the Potomac.” [44]

Lee concurred and noted that “Upon the suggestion of the former officer (General Stuart) that he could damage the enemy and delay his passage of the river by getting to his rear, he was authorized to do so.” [45]

In his after action report of the campaign Lee wrote:


“General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to impede and harass as much as possible, should he attempt to cross the Potomac. In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as, in his judgment, should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced.” [46]

That night, during a heavy rainstorm Stuart’s chief of staff Major McClellan received Lee’s reply, written by Colonel Charles Marshall, to his superior’s request which he immediately delivered to Stuart. It is this final order which forms the basis of the great controversy of Stuart’s actions during the campaign. Lee’s order stated:
“If General Hooker’s army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountains tomorrow night, cross as Shepherdstown next day, and move over to Frederickstown.

You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc.” [47]

The order continued with a further paragraph which Stuart seems not to have fully conveyed to the commanders of the brigades being left behind to screen the army:


“Give instructions to the commander of the brigades left behind, to watch the flank and rear of the army, and (in the evidence of the enemy leaving their front) retire from the mountains west of the Shenandoah, leaving sufficient pickets to guard the passes, and bringing everything clear along the Valley, closing upon the rear of the army.” [48]

Finally, Marshall provided an additional admonishment to Stuart “I think the sooner you cross into Maryland, after to-morrow, the better.” [49] However, the orders or suggestions that Lee and Longstreet gave Stuart “are so badly worded that it is difficult to make sense of them.” [50] In them, Stuart was directed maintain contact with Ewell, screen the Blue Ridge gaps, collect information, “raiding around the rear of Hooker’s forces” [51] damaging the enemy, and collecting supplies.

Lee should have “established that Stuart’s most important task was to guard Ewell’s right and report on the direction of Hooker’s advance once Lee crossed the Potomac.” [52]

This he did not do.

Lee’s lack of clarity and vagueness allowed to Stuart interpret the order in the manner that benefited his need to redeem his reputation. The order could easily be interpreted as getting Stuart and his men into Pennsylvania as quickly as possible to guard Ewell’s flank and discern the intentions of the enemy, which in hindsight and according to his aids appears to have been Lee’s intent. But as written, they could easily ben interpreted as permission to conduct a raid to “roam in the enemy’s rear for an unpredictable period of time, raising havoc with his communications, supplies, and isolated commands” and then “seek out Ewell’s corps and use it as a place of refuge from an aroused enemy.” [53]

Porter Alexander was quite critical of Lee’s decision and wrote after the war:
“In view of the issues at stake, and of the fact that he had been deprived of two promised brigades (Corse’s and Jenkins’s), it was unwise even to contemplate sending three brigades of cavalry on such distant service. When one compares the small beneficial results of raids, even when successful, with the risks here involved, it is hard to understand how Lee could have given his consent.” [54]

Stuart, as he was want to do, used “the freedom that he had long enjoyed in implementing Lee’s orders” [55] to carry out his plan. Now smarting from the Brandy Station criticism, Stuart “interpreted them as a sanction for another White House raid….” [56] While it is certain that Lee meant to give Stuart permission for a “joyride around the entire Army of the Potomac or even just the three Federal corps which formed the westernmost wing of Hooker’s pell-mell rush to the Potomac” [57] he had given his knight errant just enough permission to do exactly that, exactly what he wanted to do in the first place.

Had Lee’s orders been clear there is no doubt that Stuart would have obeyed,

The fact is that different standards apply to each of those courses of action, and thus, the orders must be clear. Without such clarity it becomes easy for subordinates to interpret them in a far different way from which they were intended by the issuing commander, with far reaching effects. By giving Stuart the latitude to go around the Federal army Lee had undercut his own preference that Stuart cross into Maryland via Shepherdstown and Frederick on June 24th. Lee had provided Stuart an opportunity for something that “Longstreet half-apologetically called “something better than the drudgery of a march around our flank.” [58] It was a critical mistake, which was then further compounded by Stuart and the movement of the Army of the Potomac.

Porter Alexander compared Stuart’s Ride to Joe Hooker’s use of his cavalry corps at Chancellorsville noting: “I think that Joe Hooker’s defeat was due to the absence of his cavalry on just such a useless raid as this. We ought to have recognized Hooker’s error & avoided repeating it….We took unnecessary risk, which was bad war, & the only bad war too, I think, in all our tactics.” [59] However, in retrospect it does not appear that Lee, Longstreet or Stuart recognized the problems this risk would entail, or just how much it resembled Hooker’s use of his cavalry corps at Chancellorsville.


Historians have long wondered why Lee was not more explicit in his orders to Stuart and why Stuart conducted an operation that left Lee blind and had no obvious advantages, except to allow Stuart to recover his tarnished reputation. Stephen Sears noted in his book Gettysburg that: “The very concept of Stuart’s expedition was fueled by overconfidence and misjudgment at the highest command level.” [60]

In a sense the decision harkens back to the hubris of Lee and others about the superiority of his army, and Lee’s well known distain for the Federal army’s leadership and soldiers. This hubris is even more profound when one considers the fact that as early as June 23rd Lee knew “that the Federals were laying a pontoon bridge at Edward’s Ferry, indicative of a crossing.” [61]

Stuart’s Ride

“Stuart had decided to do what he wanted to do – a march between Hooker’s army and Washington and mix raiding with riding en route to Ewell in Pennsylvania.” [62] In organizing his movement, Stuart decided to take his three best brigades with him, and leave the brigades of “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson to defend gaps and screen the rear of the army. The choice was unfortunate; Jones was considered the “best outpost officer in his command,” [63] but Robertson, though known to be unpredictable was placed in command because he was “senior to the dependable Jones.” [64] The choice ridded Stuart of Robertson, who he did not trust in battle and Jones “whose antipathy for Stuart at least equaled Stuart’s for him.” [65] Stuart instructed Robertson to “observe and harass the Federals as long as they remained in Virginia.” [66]

On the surface to Stuart it appeared the right choice, Robertson “showed neither the initiative or enterprise of a cavalry officer in the Army of Northern Virginia, Robertson could only be used for routine work, such as guarding the mountain passes.” [67]

The intent was that Robertson would screen the army and follow it into Maryland, in fact Stuart gave Robertson “explicit instructions” [68] to do so, but Stuart’s order also contained a statement which Robertson used to justify his actions years later. Stuart instructed Robertson, who could be expected to obey orders:
“After the enemy has moved beyond your reach, leave sufficient pickets in the mountains and withdraw to the west side of the Shenandoah and place a strong and reliable picket to watch the enemy at Harper’s Ferry….

As long as the enemy remains in your front, in force, unless directed otherwise ordered by General R.E. Lee, Lieutenant-General Longstreet, or myself, hold the gaps with a line of pickets reaching across the Shenandoah by Charlestown to the Potomac.

Avail yourselves of every means in your power to increase the efficiency of your command and keep it up to the highest number possible. Particular attention will be paid to the shoeing of horses, and to marching off the turnpikes….” [69]

Robertson, interpreted the order that he was to go to the western side of the Shenandoah and avoid using the turnpikes, which he noted “the only road by which the orders (which particularly specified the avoidance of “turnpikes” on the difficulty and delay of shoeing horses) could be complied with, carried my command to Martinsburg….” [70]

Thus, “the two brigades would remain fixed, as if planted there, in an inanition of command which immobilized the men for whom Lee in Pennsylvania was anxiously watching.” [71] Longstreet had requested the industrious and dependable Hampton to command the remaining cavalry, but Stuart disregarded his counsel and took Hampton with him, after all, he was J.E.B. Stuart, the finest cavalryman on the American continent.

Stuart set off with his three best brigades, those of Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Rooney Lee. Since Lee had been wounded at Brandy Station, his brigade was now under the command of Colonel John R. Chambliss, another former West Pointer retired from the old army. Almost immediately after setting off Stuart and his brigades encountered a situation that should have immediately stopped movement to the Federal rear and instead move west of the Blue Ridge.

Moving through Glasscock’s Gap they “bumped unexpectedly into “an immense wagon train,” which happened to be the tail end of Winfield Hancock’s 2nd Corps, blocking the road in exactly the fashion Lee had described as a hindrance.” [72] In light of his encounter with the Army of the Potomac, it “was now clearly impossible for Stuart to follow the route originally intended.” [73] Stuart was now faced with a critical choice, either withdraw and follow the army, or attempt to continue his raid.

Instead of going back when he had the chance Stuart elected to continue with his “plan to go around the Federal army. It was a crucial decision, for he still could have turned back without losing any more time.” [74] Stuart consulted with “no ranking subordinate or staff member” [75] as he made his decision. On June 25th Stuart’s brigades had to spend a day grazing their horses since they had brought no grain with him, which delayed their advance north and east. This placed him a day behind schedule. Though he made better time on the 26th, advancing twenty-five miles he had to again stop to graze his horses at the Occoquan River. It had “taken forty-eight hours to march thirty-five miles.” [76]

The Price of 125 Wagons

Stuart continued on past the outskirts of Washington on June 27th and was again delayed when attempting to cross the Potomac at Rowser’s Ford by the “water level two feet higher than normal.” [77] He then encountered a large Federal wagon train not far from Washington capturing over 100 wagons and 600 mules. Stuart reveled in that feat and boasted that “he had taken more than one hundred and twenty-five best United States model wagons and splendid teams and gay caparisons,” containing “foodstuffs, oats, hay…bacon, ham, crackers and bread” but his progress was slowed by his enormous wagon train of captured supplies…” [78] He and briefly wondered “whether it might be worth “our entering Washington City” [79] before determining that the effort might be too costly because of the fortifications and proliferation of artillery.

At Fairfax Courthouse Stuart sent a message to Lee, which was never received by Lee, but which did arrive in Richmond on July 1st. It was a dispatch that was late, and even factually incorrect for the bulk of the Army of the Potomac was in Maryland advancing toward Lee in Pennsylvania. His report stated:

“General: – I took possession of Fairfax C.H. this morning at nine o’clock, together with large quantity of stores. The bulk of Hooker’s army has gone toward Lee’sburg, except the garrison at Alexandria and Washington, which has retreated to its fortifications.” [80]

On June 28th, Stuart received word that Hooker and the Army of the Potomac was across the Potomac. It was a major surprise to him, and by now Stuart “knew nothing of Lee’s position,[81] and instead of abandoning the wagon train, he sacrificed the speed and mobility that he needed to support Lee in order to keep it. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that the “wagon train was Jeb Stuart’s stumbling block.” [82]

Of course it was Lee’s order for Stuart to collect all the supplies that he could justified Stuart’s course of action. Now, Stuart “far from guarding Ewell’s right, he was now moving away from Ewell, with no idea where Hooker’s army might be and no communication with Lee, who frequently inquiring of his aides, “Can you tell me where General Stuart is?” [83] But “ignorant of his chief’s distress, Jeb was not concerned, apparently, over the encumbrance of his wagon train.” [84] Stuart’s chief of staff Henry McClellan wrote after the war that “the capture of the train of wagons was a misfortune. The time occupied in securing it was insignificant; but the delay caused to the subsequent march was serious at a time when minutes counted almost as hours.” [85]

On the wrong side of the federal army, encumbered by the captured wagon train, “Stuart would have to make a half circle of more than fifty miles around Gettysburg before arriving there about noon on the second day of battle with most of his troopers, his artillery, and his wagon train lumbering far behind him.” [86]

On June 30th his men were engaged by Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal near cavalry division near Hanover, and “his men never fought more poorly…and General Stuart and his staff were nearly captured.” [87] As Stuart’s brigades slowly advanced  through Northern Virginia and Maryland the strain was becoming evident. The units had “covered more than one hundred miles since leaving Salem. Horses broke down and were abandoned, with their riders scouring the countryside for replacements. With each successive mile, the problem worsened.” [88]

As Stuart and his men plodded their way around the Army of the Potomac, encumbered by their booty they had to constantly fight off the Federal cavalry units of Judson Kilpatrick who had been dispatched to follow and harass him.

By now, Robert E. Lee was becoming more anxious by the hour. He had no contact with Stuart for nearly five days and he knew little about the locations or intentions of the enemy army. On the 27th at Chambersburg Lee was disquieted and asked various staff members “Can you tell me where General Stuart is?” Have you any news of the enemy’s movements?” [89]

On the morning of July 1st with his army now engaged in battle, “Stuart was practically lost, and had to guess which direction he should go to find Lee’s army.” [90] Lee enquired of Major Campbell Brown of Ewell’s Second Corps staff if Ewell “had heard anything” from Stuart. Brown, who had come to deliver a message from Ewell to Lee noted that Lee’s question was asked “with a particular searching almost quelous impatience.” [91] Lee told Brown that “Gen’l Stuart had not complied with his instructions” but instead had “gone off clear around” the Federal army, because “I see by a (Balto or N.Y.?) paper that he is near Washington.” [92] As Brown left he thought that Lee was “really uneasy & irritated by Stuart’s conduct & had no objection to his [Brown’s] hearing it.” [93]


Return of the Knight Errant

By the time Stuart’s troopers arrived in Gettysburg, “the expedition had occupied eight days, and had traversed in that time about 250 miles.” [94] Meanwhile, Lee had been exceedingly impatient. Stuart’s once proud outfit was “exhausted and too late to be of any service.” [95] The three brigades involved had lost very few men in combat, according to Porter Alexander only eighty-nine men were killed or wounded, [96] however “hundreds, if not thousands, of Stuart’s men had abandoned ranks during the ride, had their mounts break down, or were physically unable to perform their duties.” [97]

Stuart’s arrival at Gettysburg was not a moment of triumph by any means, but was a humiliating experience. Instead of reporting to his commander with information that Lee needed, it was Lee who informed him of the position of his own army and the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s words to his much beloved subordinate were painful. He asked him “General Stuart, where have you been?” [98] Stuart seemed to wilt at his mentor’s words, and attempted to put the best face forward, and told Lee “I have brought you 125 wagons and their teams, General.” This did not mollify Lee, who replied “Yes, General, but they are an impediment to me now.” [99]

Stuart’s raid was disastrous for Lee. He was blind and had no idea where the Federal army was until told by Longstreet’s scout Harrison on June 28th. One historian noted that the ride was “an act of folly- ill-planned, badly conducted, and (until the very end) executed with an almost total disregard for anything for any interest other than the self-promotion of J.E.B. Stuart.” [100] A staff member at Stuart’s headquarters wrote after the war:

“Raiding was Stuart’s hobby…and one which he rode with never failing persistence….What a glorious opportunity was now offered for the indulgence of his love!…What a tempting prize lay within his reach….Here was an undertaking which…would eclipse in brilliance and real importance any exploit of the war.” [101]

Stuart’s actions were heavily criticized by many in the army. Moxey Sorrell who served on Longstreet’s staff described the raid “a useless, showy parade almost under the guns of the Washington forts, and his horse, laurel wreathed, bore the gay rider on amid songs and stories.” [102] Likewise, Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall “urged the commanding general to court-martial Stuart” [103]

Lee was gracious to the extreme in his discussion of Stuart’s actions in his after action report. He made but one inference to Staurt without naming him’ but it was damning: “The movements of the army preceding the battle of Gettysburg had been much embarrassed by the absence of the cavalry.” [104] Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff wrote that the report was a “simple statement of facts: a striking illustration of his tendency to always suppress all consideration of self and spare the reputations and feelings of others.” [105]

In his after action report, which was by far the longest of any confederate commander, Stuart admitted to no mistakes. In it he showed a “self-righteous attitude” and showed a “tendency to complain of the failure of others.” [106] and in a manner blamed Lee and the remaining cavalry commanders for the loss, insisting that “he had left Lee with plenty of cavalry and remarked that “properly handled, such a command should have done everything requisite….” [107] There is some truth in this, but at the same time it is a foil which Stuart used to deflect criticism from himself. He blamed Jubal Early and his infantry for not finding him in Pennsylvania, when such responsibility by the doctrine of the day lay with the cavalry and not the infantry and Hill and Longstreet for not conforming their advance to his timetable.

Edward Coddington described Stuart’s report as “a strange document, more of an apology than a report, in which he tried to prove the virtues of his adventure.” [108] It was unfortunate and when Wade Hampton saw the report he wrote to Thomas Munford “Lately I saw for the first time Stuart’s report of the Gettysburg campaign and I never read a more erroneous – to call it no harsher name – one than it was.” [109]

Basically, in Stuart’s fantasy world, the world where his reputation mattered more than truth “Had Lee “properly handled” the cavalry Stuart left with him; had Early’s infantry found the cavalry column; had Hill and Longstreet acted in accord with Stuart’s after the fact assumptions – then all would have been well.” [110]

But despite Stuart’s hearty exaggerations in his after action report and the claims of his post war apologists, John Mosby and Henry McClellan, the raid had little effect on the army of the Potomac. The losses of wagons were rapidly made up by the massive Union war industry, of his prisoners, the majority of who he had to parole, close to half were teamsters and not trained combat soldiers. Though he had destroyed some rail lines, he never severed the ones that Meade used between his army and Washington D.C.

In sum, Stuart’s  gambit to redeem his reputation and build upon his legacywas a major part of Lee’s failure at Gettysburg. It certainly not the only one, Lee, Hill, Ewell, Longstreet and even Jefferson Davis made terrible decisions that contributed to the defeat. But that being said, in terms of the scope of the single decision of a commander which impacted  the campaign, this one is perhaps the only one which is indefensible by any standard of interpretation.

To this point a number of issues important to those involved in planning campaigns became clear: Deception, commander’s intent and unity of command. Lee successfully used deception to prevent the Federals from discerning his purposes. That was counteracted by his lack of clarity in communicating his intent to Stuart, and Stuart’s, Stuart’s own vague orders to Robertson, and the careless disregard by Stuart of any other consideration but his own reputation and vanity.


[1] ___________. Joint Publication 3-0 Joint Operations Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington DC August 2011


[2] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.53

[3] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.85

[4] Korda, Michael.

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.xxv


[5] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.173


[6] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.26
[7] Ibid. Sears. To the Gates of Richmond p.173


[8] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.158


[9] Ibid. Sears. To the Gates of Richmond p.173


[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.53
[11] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.94


[12] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.53


[13] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 5633


[14] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.232


[15] Longacre, Edward G. Gentleman and Soldier: The Extraordinary Life of General Wade Hampton Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville TN 2003 p.82


[16] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.252


[17] Ibid. Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon p.231
[18] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.252


[19] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.256


[20] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.552


[21] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.41
[22] Ibid. Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier pp.319-320
[23] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.552


[24] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.57
[25] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.253


[26] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.224


[27] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.175


[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.553


[29] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.57
[30] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553


[31] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.233


[32] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location 7210


[33] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.240


[34] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.195
[35]   McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC Location 6131
[36] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.108


[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.108


[38] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.321


[39] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.61
[40] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.332


[41] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.555


[42] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109


[43] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109


[44] Ibid. McClellan The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Location 6087


[45] Ibid. McClellan The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart location 6106


[46] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 285


[47] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324


[48] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.259


[49] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.259


[50] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.226


[51] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.540


[52] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.540


[53] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.110


[54] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location7223 of 12968


[55] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.136


[56] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A.p.226. Note: The White House Raid was Stuart’s ride around McClellan’s army during the Seven Days.


[57] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.96
[58] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.96
[59] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.228


[60] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.106
[61] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.226


[62] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.241


[63] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324


[64] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63
[65] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63
[66] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.241
[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112


[68] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112


[69] Robertson, Beverly The Confederate Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.253


[70] Ibid, Robertson The Confederate Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign p.253


[71] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63
[72] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.96


[73] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.265


[74] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112


[75] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.266


[76] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325


[77] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112


[78] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541


[79] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98
[80] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.272


[81] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325


[82] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.558


[83] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541


[84] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.558


[85] Ibid. McClellan The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart location 6267 of 12283


[86] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541


[87] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.73
[88] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.272


[89] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.273


[90] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location7248 of 12968


[91] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.281


[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.98
[93] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.281


[94] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location7223 of 12968


[95] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.227


[96] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location 7261 of 12968


[97] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.285


[98] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334


[99] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334


[100] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98
[101] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.268


[102] Sorrell, Moxey G. Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer [Illustrated Edition] originally published 1905, Pickle Partners Publishing 2013, Amazon Kindle version location 2585 of 5692


[103] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.252
[104] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition, location 624 of 743


[105] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.185


[106] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.202


[107] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.254


[108] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.202


[109] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.253


[110] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.255

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