Colonel John Mosby served under Stuart’s command as a partisan and scout. After the war, he served as the consulate in Hong Kong. He returned to Washington in the winter of 1886-1887 to settle his accounts when he became aware of an article Longstreet authored charging Stuart with insubordination. Incensed to find Stuart so unfairly accused and without adequate defense, Mosby went to the archives and read all the correspondence and reports of the Gettysburg campaign. His defense, based on his research, was spirited, passionate, and at times, acrimonious.
In 1917, Mosby’s book, The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby, was published. It was one of the last in a long series of biographies and memoirs written by former officers of the ANV. Within the pages, he devotes a chapter to the Gettysburg campaign. Mosby was an excellent attorney, and the chapter reads like a legal brief. He begins by listing the three charges against Stuart. “The complaint against Stuart is that the cavalry – the eyes of the army – were improperly absent, (and because of this) the Confederate army was ordered by Lee to Gettysburg and […], ran unexpectantly against the enemy.” (34) Then he systematically proceeds to answer each charge.
As to the accusation that Stuart was improperly absent, he cites the orders and simply asks the following question: How is it possible for Stuart to be with Lee on the Potomac and with Ewell on the Susquehanna at the same time? He leaves it for the reader to answer.
By time Mosby penned his book, Gettysburg had become more than where the armies accidentally collided. Now, Gettysburg was the ANV’s destination, chosen by Lee while he was still at his headquarters on the Rappahannock. This new retelling of the importance of the town was advanced by General A.L. Long, Lee’s military secretary, who related the following conversation in his memoirs of Lee’s life and campaigns. “At the period mentioned, he called the writer into his tent headquarters then being near Fredericksburg. On entering I found that he had a map spread on the table before him, which he seemed to have been earnestly consulting. He advised me of his designated plan of operations, which we discussed together and commented upon the probable result. He traced on the map the proposed route of the army and its destination in Pennsylvania.” (35)
If, as Long contends, Gettysburg was the army’s destination, Mosby brings to light the following contradictions. Why did Lee order Ewell to capture Harrisburg; write Stuart that York was the probable point of concentration; stop his advance at Chambersburg on June 27 (one day march from Gettysburg) to gather supplies; when hearing the AOP was in Maryland, advanced the Third Corps to Cashtown (six miles from Gettysburg); and finally, not have Early hold the town when he marched through it just days before. (36)
The last allegation Mosby tackles is the one that states Lee was surprised to find the enemy had cross the Potomac. He finds it demeaning to Lee’s military acumen to be accused of such a reaction. He reiterates Lee conceived the campaign to draw the AOP from Virginia. Hooker had mirrored the ANV’s movement north in order to keep itself between the ANV and Washington. On June 18, Lee wrote he was aware that the AOP was near the Potomac and in his June 22 order to Stuart, he was afraid they would beat him across the river. In a message to President Davis, he states the AOP had thrown down pontoon bridges at Edward’s Ferry. Finally, Mosby states Lee should have known that the AOP was headed north because he had not received word from Stuart. This silence was the key indicator that the AOP was crossing the Potomac. (37)
Mosby’s defense of Stuart is hard to refute. The logic is unassailable especially in light of the original orders. He is fully confident of the answer to the question he posed in his book. How could Stuart be on the Potomac and on the Susquehanna at the same time? Ninety years after the question was posed, it still needs to be answered by all historians who hope to write about Stuart’s role during the Gettysburg campaign.
It may be more difficult for Mosby to prove Gettysburg was not Lee’s objective, but it is hard to argue with his reasoning on why it was not. If Gettysburg was as important in 1863 as Long made it to be in 1886, then why did Early raid the town and move on, or at least when Lee heard from the spy that the AOP was less than a day's march from the town, not advance immediately to take it. Instead, Lee ordered Hill to Cashtown. When Ewell was recalled from the Susquehanna, he too was ordered to Cashtown and not Gettysburg. These decisions make it hard to believe Lee held Gettysburg with any great importance.
Did Lee know the AOP had crossed the Potomac? His staff is adamant that he was surprised when the spy brought him the news. The rest of the articles written during this period confirm Lee did not know. But Mosby was right. There was nothing else the AOP could do. Hooker could not just sit in Virginia while the Confederates moved through Pennsylvania unopposed. Lee should have known the AOP was pursuing his army since he ordered Stuart around the enemy if the AOP was moving north. Communication between Lee and Stuart would have been virtually impossible due to the AOP being between Lee and his cavalry leader. Stuart’s silence was the one true indicator Lee had that the AOP was pursuing him into Pennsylvania. The other proofs Mosby lists only strengthen his argument that Lee should not have been caught unaware.
(34)John S. Mosby, Colonel. The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1917), 236.
(35)A.L. Long, General. Memoirs of Robert E. Lee. (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. 1886.), 268
(36)Mosby. The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby., 230.