Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Address Delivered at the Unveiling of the Statue of General J.E.B. Stuart - Part 3

What a splendid panorama was unfolded to your steady gaze as the fog lifted above the snowy canopy of that rolling plain, disclosing in vast array the long blue lines of battle. On the right near Hamilton's crossing, Stuart attacked the enemy, and with impetuous dash he led his horse artillery, under the gallant Pelham, into the jaws of death, hammered the flank of Meade's grand division, and with two guns, far to the front, opposed a multitude of batteries, breaking their lines and aiding most materially the victory won by Jackson and his indomitable veterans.
Chancellorsville followed with the first breath of spring, and in its wonderful story is found the climax of Stuart's glorious career.

History and Art are fond of portraying the last meeting of Lee and Jackson. To those immortal names the great heart of the South instinctively adds, by common and universal consent, the name of Stuart as worthy to ride with them down the ages. In that last meeting the hand of Stuart clasped the hand of Jackson in a long farewell as Stuart moved in front to clear the way for the last great triumph and tragedy of Jackson's life. And when Lee's "right arm" was stricken helpless by that fearful accident, and Jackson lay bleeding on the fatal field, who of all that host could dare to grasp and wield the fallen chieftain's sword? Night had closed in upon the halting lines, and confusion worse confounded threatened to turn back the tide of victory. With the wounding of General A.P. Hill, and the noble self-denial of General Rodes, the command of Jackson's corps devolved upon General Stuart -- the most trying responsibility that was ever forced upon any officer in any battle of the war.

"Send for General Stuart," said Jackson, and with this last order ever uttered by him on the field of his great glory, he added the noble sentence inscribed upon this monument: Tell General Stuart to act upon his own judgment and do what he thinks best -- I have implicit confidence in him.

With that message ringing in his ears, and inspired with superhuman energy, the young cavalryman spent the dark hours of that eventful night in ceaseless activity, restoring order out of chaos; and when the day dawned every man was in his place, the line well drawn, and with a spirit as indomitable as Jackson's own, he hurled his troops in fresh onset upon the bristling ranks of the astonished foe. Crowning Hazel Grove with massed artillery, he swept away Hooker's last refuge, joined his right wing to the advancing troops under the eyes of General Lee, and burst over the plateau of Chancellorsville with shouts of victory louder than the roar of battle.

You, his old troopers, who knew and loved him so well, need no other reason for your faith and pride in him than the fact that the names of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart are indissolubly linked together in the proud record which history has inscribed for him in the temple of fame.

A distinguished officer of the artillery of Longstreet's corps (General Porter Alexander) has placed on record this tribute to Stuart, as true as it is generous, when he wrote: Altogether, I do not think there was a more brilliant thing done in the war than Stuart's extricating that command from the extremely critical position in which he found it, as promptly and boldly as he did. We knew that Hooker had at least 80,000 infantry at hand... The hard marching and the night fighting had thinned our ranks to less than 20,000. But Stuart never seemed to hesitate or doubt for one moment... He decided to attack at daybreak, and, unlike many planned attacks that I have seen, this one came off promptly on time, and it never stopped to draw its breath until it had crashed through everything, and our forces stood united around Chancellor's burning house.

And General Alexander adds: I always thought it an injustice to Stuart and a loss to the army that he was not from that moment continued in command of Jackson's corps. He had the right to it. I believe he had all of Jackson's genius and dash and originality... Stuart possessed the rare quality of being always equal to himself at his very best.

I have said that Chancellorsville was the climax of Stuart's glory. It convinced the army of Stuart's power to handle large bodies of infantry and artillery in action, under desperate circumstances and against desperate odds.

We come now to the battle of Fleetwood, as he called it, but better known by his men as Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, in which we see him as the victor of the greatest cavalry battle of the nineteenth century.

General Pleasanton's twenty-four regiments of cavalry were supported by ten regiments of Federal infantry, while only fifteen regiments of Stuart's command was actually engaged in the battle, unsupported by any infantry whatever. Pleasanton's plan of battle was admirable. Under the gallant Gregg one division was thrown directly in the rear of our line at Fleetwood Hill, while Buford with two divisions of his cavalry and one brigade of infantry assaulted our whole front at St. James Church. By all the laws of war and chances of battle, Stuart should have been crushed and utterly destroyed. But by a rapid change of front to rear Stuart hastened to Fleetwood with regiment after regiment of Jones' and Hampton's brigades, and by a succession of most gallant and desperate charges wrested victory from the jaws of defeat and drove Gregg and Kilpatrick from the vantage ground of Fleetwood Hill.

No more brilliant spectacle was ever witnessed than the brave Hampton leading his gallant Carolinians, as with flashing sabers they plunged into the masses of Gregg's troopers and scattered them far and wide. Nor will the saber ever play a more glorious part in battle than did that day the shining blades of the Virginians under Harman, Elijah White, Lindsay Lomax, and Flournoy, and of the North Carolinians under Lawrence Baker, the South Carolinians under Black, the Georgians under Young, and the Mississippians under Waring. I mention these glorious names not because they excelled in valor the steady work of W.H.F. Lee's brigade and the Seventh Virginia Cavalry and others, who held back the two division of Buford, but because it was vouchsafed to them to show the world that the saber is, after all, the weapon for grand cavalry battle.

For partisan warfare, or Indian and cowboy skirmishes, let the pistol and carbine hold undisputed sway; but for the fields on which thousands of cavalry strive for mastery in the shock of great battle, may the sabers of Stuart, of Forrest, and of Hampton ever lead the charging squadrons to victory or death.