Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Death of General J.E.B. Stuart

After concluding the series commemorating both Jackson and Stuart’s deaths, I came upon this eyewitness account from the Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, which is based on the Century war series published November 1884 to November 1887 in Century Magazine. This account was written by a private of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry, CSA, and comes from Volume 4, page 194.

On the morning of the fight at Yellow Tavern, May 12th, 1864, I was acting as one of Stuart's couriers. At the beginning of it, I was stationed in front of the tavern, under one of a row of trees that lined the way close by. To my left, about four hundred yards off, the enemy could be easily seen emerging from a piece of woods and forming for battle. A short distance to my right, I saw an irregular line of Confederates. Pretty soon from the enemy came lively volleys whistling through the trees and starting the dust in the road.

In a few minutes, I saw two horsemen approach from the Confederate side. As they drew near I recognized General Stuart and Colonel Walter Hullihen. They halted near by in the road, and Stuart, taking out his field-glass, deliberately watched the maneuvers of the enemy, though balls were whizzing past him. Presently, regardless of the increasing fire, which was now accompanied with shouts, Stuart put his glass away, and taking out paper and pencil wrote an order. Handing it to Colonel Hullihen, he told him to take it to General Lomax. That officer replied by pointing to me and suggesting that I should carry it. Stuart assented, and I rode off in search of General Lomax.

The firing continued to increase, and many squadrons were in sight. The enemy, awake to their superior numbers, seemed about to make a general advance, while our men were availing themselves of the character of the ground to repel their attack. After going a few rods to the rear, my horse, excited by the firing, , suddenly stopped and refused to budge. After several vain attempts with the spur and the fiat side of my sword to start him, I at last struck him with all my strength right between the ears. This "downed" him, but he soon rose and ran off at the top of his speed. I soon came to where General Lomax was, and coming into collision with his horse gained his immediate attention. After reading the note he told me to go back and tell General Stuart that the order had been delivered. In a few moments I rejoined him sitting on his horse, close behind a line of dismounted men, who were firing at the advancing Federals. The disparity of numbers between the opposing forces was very great, to judge from appearances. Our men seemed aware of their inferior strength, but were not dismayed. The enemy confidently pressed forward with exultant shouts, delivering tremendous volleys. The Confederates returned their fire with yells of defiance.

Stuart, with pistol in hand, shot over the heads of the troops, while with words of cheer he encouraged them. He kept saying: “Steady, men, Steady. Give it to them." Presently, he reeled in his saddle. His head was bowed and his hat fell off. He turned and said as I drew nearer: “Go and tell General Lee and Dr. Fontaine to come here.”

I wheeled at once and went as fast as I could to do his bidding. Coming to the part of the line where General Lomax was, I told him Stuart was hurt and that he wanted General Fitz Lee. He pointed to the left and told me to hurry. Soon I found General Lee and delivered the message. He was riding a light gray, if I remember, and instantly upon receipt of the news went like an arrow down the line. When I returned, Stuart had been taken from his horse and was being carried by his men off the field. I saw him put in an ambulance and I followed it close behind. He lay without speaking as it went along, but kept shaking his head with an expression of the deepest disappointment.

He died the next day, May 12th.

Reprinted from the "Southern Bivouac" for September, 1884.