Monday, May 13, 2013

J.E.B. Stuart, died May 12, 1864

James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart graduated from West Point in 1854.  Robert E. Lee had been appointed superintendent of the Academy in 1852, and Stuart became friends with the Lee family, seeing them socially on frequent occasions. Lee's nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, also arrived at the academy in 1852.  In Stuart's final year, in addition to achieving the cadet rank of second captain of the corps, he was one of eight cadets designated as honorary "cavalry officers" for his skills in horsemanship.  Stuart graduated 13th in his class of 46. 

Stuart was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant and assigned to the U.S. Regiment of Mounted Riflemen in Texas.  He was soon transferred to the newly formed 1st Cavalry Regiment at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory where he became regimental quartermaster and commissary officer.

In 1855, Stuart met Flora Cooke, the daughter of the commander of the 2nd U.S. Dragoon Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke.  Flora was described as  "an accomplished horsewoman, and though not pretty, an effective charmer."  

Flora Cooke Jackson
They became engaged in September 1855, less than two months after meeting.  Stuart humorously wrote of his rapid courtship in Latin "Veni, Vidi, Victus sum" (I came, I saw, I was conquered). The death of Stuart's father on September 20 caused a change of plans and the marriage on November 14, 1855 was small and limited to family witnesses. The couple owned two slaves until 1859, one inherited from his father's estate, the other purchased.

Their first child, a girl, was born in 1856 but died the same day.

Stuart was wounded on July 29, 1857, while fighting at Solomon River, Kansas against the Cheyenne. Colonel Sumner ordered a charge with drawn sabers against a wave of Indian arrows. Scattering the warriors, Stuart and three other lieutenants chased one down, whom Stuart wounded in the thigh with his pistol. The Cheyenne turned and fired at Stuart with an old-fashioned pistol, striking him in the chest with a bullet, which did little more damage than to pierce the skin.

On November 14, 1857, Flora gave birth to another daughter, whom the parents named Flora after her mother. The family relocated in early 1858 to Fort Riley, where they remained for three years.

Harpers Ferry 1859
While in Washington, D.C. in 1859 to discuss government contracts, Stuart heard about John Brown's raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.  Stuart volunteered to accompany Colonel Robert E. Lee with a company of  U.S. Marines and four companies of Maryland militia.  While delivering Lee's written surrender ultimatum to the leader of the group, who had been calling himself Isaac Smith, Stuart recognized "Old Ossawatomie Brown" from his days in Kansas.

Philip St. George Cooke
Stuart resigned from the U.S. Army on May 3, 1861, to join the Confederate States Army,  following the secession of Virginia.  Upon learning that his father-in-law, Colonel Cooke, would remain in the U.S. Army during the coming war, Stuart wrote to his brother-in-law (future Confederate General John Rogers Cooke), "He will regret it but once, and that will be continuously."  

John Rogers Cooke
On June 26, 1860, Flora had given birth to a son, Philip St. George Cooke Stuart, but Stuart changed the boy's name to James Ewell Brown Stuart, Jr. ("Jimmie"), in late 1861 out of disgust with his father-in-law.

He served first under Stonewall Jackson in the  Shenandoah Valley, but then in increasingly important cavalry commands of the Army of Northern Virginia, playing a role in all of that army's campaigns until his death. He established a reputation as an audacious cavalry commander.

 Joseph Johnston
In 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac began its Peninsula Campaign against Richmond, Virginia, and Stuart's cavalry brigade assisted General Joseph Johnston's army as it withdrew up the Virginia Peninsula in the face of superior numbers.  When Robert E. Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, he requested that Stuart perform reconnaissance to determine whether the right flank of the Union army was vulnerable. Stuart set out with 1,200 troopers on the morning of June 12 and, having determined that the flank was indeed vulnerable, took his men on a complete circumnavigation of the Union army, returning after 150 miles on July 15 with 165 captured Union soldiers, 260 horses and mules, and various quartermaster and ordnance supplies. His men met no serious opposition from the more decentralized Union cavalry, coincidentally commanded by his father-in-law, Colonel Cooke. The maneuver was a public relations sensation and Stuart was greeted with flower petals thrown in his path at Richmond.

On November 6, 1862, Stuart received sad news by telegram that his daughter Flora had died just before her fifth birthday, of  typhoid fever on November 3.

In the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, Stuart and his cavalry protected Stonewall Jackson's flank at Hamilton's Crossing.  General Lee commended his cavalry, which "effectually guarded our right, annoying the enemy and embarrassing his movements by hanging on his flank, and attacking when the opportunity occurred." 

Stuart reported to Flora the next day that he had been shot through his fur collar but was unhurt.

Montgomery Meigs
After Christmas, Lee ordered Stuart to conduct a raid north of the Rappahannock River to "penetrate the enemy's rear, ascertain if possible his position & movements, & inflict upon him such damage as circumstances will permit." Assigning 1,800 troopers and a horse artillery battery to the operation, Stuart's raid reached as far north as 4 miles south of Fairfax Court House, seizing 250 prisoners, horses, mules, and supplies. Tapping telegraph lines, his signalmen intercepted messages between Union commanders. Stuart sent a personal telegram to Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, "General Meigs will in the future please furnish better mules; those you have furnished recently are very inferior."

On March 17, 1863, Stuart's cavalry clashed with a Union raiding party at Kelly's Ford.   The minor victory was marred by the death of Major John Pelham, which caused Stuart profound grief, as he thought of him as close as a younger brother. He wrote to a Confederate Congressman, "The noble, the chivalric, the gallant Pelham is no more. ... Let the tears of agony we have shed, and the gloom of mourning throughout my command bear witness." 

John Pelham
Flora was pregnant at the time and Stuart told her that if it were a boy, he wanted him to be named John Pelham Stuart. (Virginia Pelham Stuart was born October 9, 1863.)

At the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1864, he distinguished himself as a temporary commander of the wounded Stonewall Jackson's infantry corps.  Stonewall Jackson died on May 10 and Stuart was once again devastated by the loss of a close friend, telling his staff that the death was a "national calamity." Jackson's wife, Mary Anna, wrote to Stuart on August 1, thanking him for a note of sympathy: "I need not assure you of which you already know, that your friendship & admiration were cordially reciprocated by him. I have frequently heard him speak of Gen'l Stuart as one of his warm personal friends, & also express admiration for your Soldierly qualities."

Stuart's most famous campaign, Gettysburg, was marred when he was surprised by a Union cavalry attack at the Battle of Brandy Station and by his separation from Lee's army for an extended period, leaving Lee unaware of Union troop movements.

Cavalry Charge Near Brandy Station
One of the most forceful post-war defenses of Stuart was by Colonel John 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.

John Mosby
The Overland Campaign, General Ulysses 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 skillfully delayed the advance of the Federal army for nearly 5 critical hours.

Learning of Union General John Sedgwick's death near Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, Stuart told a staffer that he would have gladly shared a blanket and his last crust of bread with him.

Philip Sheridan
General Philip 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, Major Andrew Reid Venable, they were able to stop briefly along the way to be greeted by Stuart's wife, Flora, and his children, Jimmie and Virginia.  They rode a mile and a half to the Edmond Fontaine plantation, where his family, who had been staying as guests of Colonel Fontaine.  After embracing his wife, Flora, Stuart kissed four-year-old James, Jr., and 17-month-old Virginia Pelham Stuart. 

The "most affectionate fare-well," as Venable pronounced it, lasted only minutes; then Stuart and he galloped back.  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."

The Battle of Yellow Tavern occurred May 11, at an abandoned inn located six miles north of Richmond. The Confederate troopers tenaciously resisted from the low ridgeline bordering the road to Richmond, fighting for over three hours. A countercharge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry pushed the advancing Union troopers back from the hilltop as Stuart, on horseback, shouted encouragement while firing his revolver at the Union troopers. 

As the 5th Michigan Cavalry streamed in retreat past Stuart, a dismounted Union private, 48-year-old John A. Huff of Amanda, Michigan, turned and shot Stuart with his .44-caliber revolver from a distance of 10–30 yards.  Huff's bullet struck Stuart in the left side. It then sliced through his stomach and exited his back, 1 inch to the right of his spine. 

Gustavus W. Dorsey
Members of Stuart's staff turned to see their general, an expert horseman, reel in his saddle. When a crimson stain spread along the waist of his gray jacket, they realized to their horror that Stuart had been wounded. One of Stuart's closest subordinates, Captain Gustavus W. Dorsey of the 1st Virginia, was close enough to reach up and steady him in the saddle. When Dorsey asked Stuart about his condition, Stuart replied in a quiet voice, "'I'm afraid they've killed me, Dorsey."

The noise and carnage on every side had rendered Stuart's horse unmanageable, so Dorsey helped the general to the ground, placed him against the base of a tree, rounded up another horse, and, with the assistance of comrades, helped him remount. Holding the suffering Stuart in the saddle, Dorsey and the others helped him to the rear. 

En route, an increasing number of riders passed them at breakneck speed. The sight so overwhelmed Stuart that he called out in an anguished voice, "Go back! go back! and do your duty as I have done mine, and our country will be safe. Go back! go back! I had rather die than be whipped."

The Battle of Yellow Tavern, May 11, 1864
About half a mile behind the front, Confederates placed Stuart in an ambulance, which he shared with Venable and a second aide, Lieutenant Walter Hullihen.  Soon afterward, Fitz Lee and Stuart's medical director, Major John B. Fontaine, arrived. Stuart formally passed his command to Fitz Lee, and then Doctor Fontaine turned Stuart onto his side and gently probed the wound. During or immediately after the procedure, Stuart, fearing he had taken on the death-pallor he had observed on the countenance of so many badly wounded subordinates, asked Venable and Hullihen how he looked "in the face."  Hesitating only slightly, both aides pronounced him free of the pallor. Stuart was silent for a moment and then remarked, " Well, I don't know how this will turn out; but if it is God's will that I shall die I am ready." 

At one point Fontaine suggested that Stuart would benefit from an alcoholic stimulant. At first Stuart, a lifetime teetotaler, refused, but at Venable's strong urging, he relented.

Fontaine's original diagnosis — that Huff's bullet had severed blood vessels and perforated Stuart's intestines, a fatal condition — was later confirmed via more thorough examination by other surgeons. Stuart suffered great pain as an ambulance took him to Richmond.  Early on May 12, Stuart was placed in bed at the Grace Street home of his brother-in-law Dr. Charles Brewer. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to stop the internal hemorrhaging. 

About noon on that Thursday, Confederate President Jefferson Davis visited his bedside, and spent some fifteen minutes with him.   The President, taking his hand, said, "General, how do you feel?" He replied, "Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty." 

Jefferson Davis 
To Mrs. Robert E. Lee, the wife of the general, Stuart directed that spurs be given to the general and his sword given to his son. He gave his horses to his staff officers. He disposed of his official papers, and  led his attendants in the singing of hymns:  
"Rock of ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in thee"
During the afternoon, Stuart asked, "How long can I live, Charles?  Can I last through the night?"  "I'm afraid the end is near," Brewer said.  Stuart asked for Flora several times during the afternoon.

Death from peritonitis overtook Stuart at 7:38 p.m. on May 12, hours before his wife, Flora,  could reach his side.  His last whispered words were: "I am resigned; God's will be done." He was 31 years old. 

More than three hours later, Flora arrived.  After only nine years of marriage, Flora at age 28 became a widow.  Her sister, Maria, snipped off a lock of the red-golden hair from Stuart's head, tied it with a ribbon and put it into an envelope. 

Upon learning of Stuart's death, General Lee is reported to have said that he could hardly keep from weeping at the mere mention of Stuart's name and that Stuart had never given him a bad piece of information.  Lee later said he had lost his right arm when Jackson died, and his eyes when Stuart was killed.

Stuart was 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 were John Winder, Braxton Bragg, Joseph R. Anderson, George W. Randolph, and Commodore Forrest.  The sounds of cannon fire and fighting at Drewry's Bluff could be heard as the procession bearing the metal coffin drew up at St. James Church at about 5 o'clock.  Burke Davis wrote: "There was no music on the streets, and no military escort, since the Public Guard was in the field." Among the mourners were President Davis, General Bragg, General Ransom, and other civic and military officials in Richmond.  The coffin was then put in the hearse, decorated with black plumes and drawn by four white horses.

Temporary Marker at Grave of Stuart in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
Like his friend, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart was a legendary figure and is considered one of the greatest cavalry commanders in American history.  His friend from his federal army days, Union General John Sedgwick, said that Stuart was "the greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America."

On January 25, 1865, General Philip St. George Cooke in  New York City sent a letter  to Ulysses Grant in Virginia: "I have two daughters, one a widow, with infant children suffering for clothing--I propose sending them a box, of two cubic feet or less, containing clothing and nothing other, on honor: unless letters of affection only, from their mother. The box to be sent to you, with the request that you have it marked 'For Mrs Charles Brewer or Mrs J. E. B. Stuart; care of Genl. Lee or Mr. Ould; by flag of truce. My feelings & strong motive must be my only justification, for attempting thus to trouble you, & to consume even a moment of your so valuable time. (Such things, I know, have been allowed.) An Aide, D. C. can write me if you approve & assent."

Stuart Monument near site of shooting
 A monument was erected near where Stuart was shot, enclosed by an iron fence. A plaque at the site reads:

“This monument, erected in memory of Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart, C.S.A. by his cavalrymen about thirty feet from the spot where he fell mortally wounded on May 11, 1864, was dedicated June 18, 1888, by the Governor of Virginia, Fitzhugh Lee, a former division commander in Stuart’s cavalry.”  

Flora wore the black mourning clothes for the remainder of her life, and never remarried. She lived in Saltville, Virginia for 15 years after the war, where she opened and taught at a school in a log cabin. 
Saltville, Virginia
She worked from 1880 to 1898 as principal of the Virginia Female Institute in Staunton, Virginia, a position for which Robert E. Lee had recommended her before his death ten years earlier.  Upon the death of her daughter Virginia, from complications in childbirth in 1898, Flora resigned from the Institute and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where she helped Virginia's widower, Robert Page Waller, in raising her grandchildren.  In 1907, the Institute was renamed Stuart Hall School in her honor.

Stuart Hall
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.

John Esten Cooke

A statue of General J.E.B. Stuart by sculptor Frederick Moynihan was dedicated on Richmond's Monument Avenue at Stuart Circle in 1907. Like General Stonewall Jackson, his equestrian statue faces north, indicating that he died in the war.

Statue of General J.E.B. Stuart
Richmond's Monument Avenue at Stuart Circle
With Lee and Jackson, he was 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, Stuart will be remembered as the caped Cavalier, leading his troopers through the Virginia woods and waving his plumed hat.

Stuart in Charles Hoffbauer's large-scale mural, "Autumn,"
from "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy"
Flora Jackson died in Norfolk on May 10, 1923, after striking her head in a fall on a city sidewalk. 

Grave of Flora and J.E.B. Stuart
She was buried alongside her husband and their daughter, Little Flora, in Hollywood Cemetery. 

Stuart Monument at Hollywood Cemetery
In December 2006, a personal Confederate battle flag, sewn by Flora Stuart, was sold in an auction for a world-record price for any Confederate flag, for $956,000 (including buyer's premium).  

Confederate battle flag, sewn by Flora Stuart
The 34-inch by 34-inch flag was hand-sewn for Stuart by Flora in 1862 and Stuart carried it into some of his most famous battles.  However, in December of 1862, it fell from a tent front into a campfire and was damaged. Stuart returned it to his wife with a letter describing the accident and telling of his despondency over the banner's damage.  The flag remained with the Stuart family until 1969 when it was given to Stuart Hall, Staunton, Virginia, by a granddaughter of the general.  The school quietly sold the flag and letter to a private collector in 2000.  In 2006, the flag and letter, which had been displayed in a single frame in the Stuart Hall front parlor, were sold separately at auction.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Alyce, This is an interesting article. Thanks for your blog. I want to call attention to two errors, however. The first is that you refer to Flora's death in 1923 but you call her Flora Jackson. The second is that on the battlefield, Stuart states that his spurs are to go to Lily Parran Lee, of Shepherdstown, not Robert E. Lee. This is well documented. Lily was married to William Fitzhugh Lee, son of the Rev. William Fitzhugh Lee of Richmond who was a first cousin to Robert E. Lee. His son, Willie graduated from VMI and was a student of Stonewall Jackson. He was also valedictorian of his class at VMI. Shortly after Willie married Lily, the began serving the US Army in both Fort Riley, Kansas and Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. There, the young couple became fast friends with Flora and J.E.B. In honor of their friendship and to support Lee, who was a less experienced officer, gave William Fitzhugh Lee a pair of spurs. After they both resigned their commissions so they could join the Army of Virginia, Lily Lee hid the spurs under her skirts, afraid they would be confiscated by US Army personnel. Her husband wore those spurs during his brief Civil War experience, but he died in the first battle, at Manassas. Lily later sent the spurs back to Stuart through her sister, and when Stuart died, he proclaimed that they be returned to Lily. If you want to read about William Fitzhugh Lee, please read the following article:

    Thank you,

    Ann C. Reeves