To his old comrades here, and to most of those who were in other arms of the service, it is a thrice-told tale to recount his mighty deeds, his prowess in battle, his sleepless vigilance, his unerring judgment in strategy and attack, his faith in our cause, and his devotion to duty. But it is right, on this historic occasion, when his memory rises for the coronation of the hour, to take brief note of the achievements of this great commander of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Identified with that army from its first skirmish to the day of his death, he knew no other duty nor any loftier ambition than to serve the cause of freedom and the welfare of his country.
With all his soul he loved his country. No patriot in all the tide of time ever worshiped at the pure shrine of Liberty with nobler devotion than he. As we were bringing him mortally wounded off the field at Yellow Tavern, he exclaimed with intense feeling to some who were retreating by him. "Go back, my men, go back! and do your duty as I have done mine, and our country will be free."
Bear with me, then, while I hasten through the thrilling record of his wonderful and brilliant career.
From the day when, with a small force, he captured an entire company of the enemy's infantry near the Potomac, to the hour of that fatal charge in which he received his death wound, there was not a moment of his life which lacked the inspiration of his high ambition or the tireless energy of his zealous soul.
Pressing forward his handful of cavalry, through byways and difficult paths, he passed from rear to front of Johnston's column on the march from the Valley to first Manassas, eager to be in at the death of McDowell's army. There, at the crucial moment, he led a mounted charge into the midst of the Federal infantry, breaking their lines and precipitating the disorder which soon became a panic and a rout more complete that any ever afterward seen on the field of battle. Of this movement General Early, in his official report, says: Stuart did as much toward saving the battle of First Manassas as any subordinate who participated in it.
From Manassas to the Peninsula, now as a brigade commander, he served General Johnston with such indefatigable skill as to merit that great General's heartiest acknowledgement, and wrung from him, afterward, when separated, the deep lament, "How can I eat or sleep in any peace without you on the outpost!"
The crossing of sabers at Williamsburg was the beginning of the long list of cavalry battles in which Stuart's genius for war shone so conspicuously bright, and in which he taught his troopers the lessons from which the cavalry of Europe now seek their inspiration and education.
The engagements along the Chickahominy made manifest the superiority of Stuart's cavalry over McClellan's, and here, for the first time, a feat then unparalleled in war was accomplished, which it is doubtful whether any other man than Stuart would have dared to attempt. The first raid around McClellan's army, not only made him famous as a cavalry leader, but blazed the way for that grand strategy of General Lee which brought Jackson from the Valley and overwhelmed McClellan in the Seven Days' battle.
The march of General Stuart in June, 1862, with 1200 men and two guns under Lieutenant Breathed of the Stuart Horse Artillery, making the entire circuit of McClellan's army, with the loss of one officer, the gallant Captain William Latane, of the Essex Troop, was an achievement not only unique in war, but the information thus obtained was the moving cause of the defeat of McClellan's entire campaign.
Speedily assembling his command in July of that year, when his well-won commission as major-general was conferred upon him, he hastened to the assistance of Jackson in the campaign against Pope, and again in the rear of the enemy he captured Manassas and played havoc with supplies and communications of Pope's army.
An English military critic has recently recorded this opinion: Without the help which Stuart was able to give, the flank march around Pope's army by Jackson's corps and the concentration of the two Confederate wings on the battlefield of Manassas, would not have been possible. -- "Crisis of the Confederacy," page 392.
Then crossing the Potomac, Stuart occupied the rich pastures of Maryland and protected the cantonments of General Lee as his army rested at Frederick, recuperating its strength for the fierce encounter at Sharpsburg. Here he took position on the left of Jackson's corps and held off the masses which threatened to envelop and destroy our exposed left wing, thus rendering possible the bloody repulse inflicted upon McClellan's preponderant forces.
Returning to Virginia, he conceived and executed a second expedition around McClellan's host, via Chambersburg and the enemy's rear, recrossing the Potomac into Virginia after inflicting great losses, capturing prisoners, horses, and transportation, and putting to flight all McClellan's dreams of conquest. So great, indeed, was the effect of the movement that President Lincoln induldged his sarcastic humor at the expense of McClellan, laughing to scorn the alleged brokendown condition of his cavalry, and placing on record the President's own testimony to the fact that Stuart's cavalry had "outmarched and outfought" its opponents, and was still ready for battle. The fact, so plain to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton, after the Chambersburg raid, caused the loss of McClellan's offical head, and Burnside supplanted him.
The long march to Fredericksburg soon followed, and great credit must be awarded to Stuart for the masterly handling of his small forces in protecting the exposed flank of the army as it marched eastward to interpose between Richmond and the heavy advancing columns of Burnside. Day after day our cavalry met the enemy's in severe and incessant combat, while the army pursued the even tenor of its way, undisturbed by the distant thunder of our guns and the shock of charging squadrons.
So was it ever with us, my comrades, and our brethern of the infantry and artillery. While the Army of Northern Virginia slept in peace, Stuart on the outpost made their rest secure. If the men composing Stuart's Cavalry Corps were not worthy of the best troops of any army, then it is vain to seek for soldiers in any part of the world.
Brother Cavalrymen! I salute you, survivors of a body of horsemen worthy of King Arthur, Richard Coeur de Leon, Godfrey de Bouillon, Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers, Cromwell and his troopers, or the greatest of all cavalrymen, Robert E. Lee.