Monday, June 23, 2008

Address Delivered at the Unveiling of the Statue of General J.E.B. Stuart - Part 5

Time does not permit, nor will your patience allow, even a brief outline of Stuart's further service in the last year of his life. Twice more on the field of Brandy Station he encountered the enemy's cavalry, and each time he drove him back across the Rappahannock. And in the Bristoe campaign he scattered the command and well-nigh ruined the reputation of General Kilpatrick at the "Buckland races." The Mine Run campaign with its intense cold and suffering soon followed, and after Meade's retreat from Mine Run with an army more than double that of General Lee, we settled down in winter quarters at Orange, awaiting the final struggle in northern Virginia.

The official records give no sign of the tremendous effort put forth by Stuart to overcome the disparity of force then existing and daily increasing between Stuart and Sheridan. With less than half his cavalry mounted, General Stuart moved against the twelve thousand cavalry of Sheridan, and in the Wilderness, at Todd's Tavern, and Spottsylvania Court House he neutralized the vast body of cavalry attending Grant's army.

On Monday, May 9, 1864, Sheridan with 10,000 well mounted and equipped cavalry and several batteries of artillery, flanking our extreme right at Spottsylvania Court House, marched rapidly south to capture and destroy the city of Richmond. Promptly Stuart moved with two brigades of Fitz Lee's division, Wickham and Lomax, leaving orders for Gordon with his North Carolina brigade to follow fast. A severe fight with Sheridan's rearguard took place that evening, and next day we pressed the rapidly moving enemy until Stuart succeeded in placing his two brigades in close contact with Sheridan's immense force, and boldly gave him battle at Yellow Tavern.

For several hours Sheridan's whole column was checked. Gordon's brigade had attacked his rear many miles distant on the Mountain road, and so was separated from Stuart in the hour of his greatest need. Toward evening, after much fighting, with nearly our whole force dismounted, Sheridan, confident in the overwhelming numbers of his mounted troops, threw his heavy regiments, squadron after squadron, in a mounted charge upon our exposed left flank and broke through our artillery with resistless force.

Capturing three of our guns, the head of the enemy's column became engaged with our dismounted men and were suddenly checked in their advance. They had passed by General Stuart, who had emptied his pistol at them and was sitting quietly on his horse as they hastened back by him on their return. Man after man fired upon him without hitting him, until nearly the last one of them dashed past, and putting his pistol close up to his side fired the fatal bullet and hastened away. The General was taken from his horse by Captain Gus Dorsey, of Maryland, Company K, First Virginia Cavalry, Stuart's old regiment, and then reviving a little from the shock, he was placed on the horse of Private Fred L. Pitts of that company, and led to an ambulance in the rear of the line. In this connection the names of Corporal Robert Bruce and Private Charles Wheatley are mentioned by Captain Dorsey as having rendered gallant service in removing the General to the ambulance, thus saving him from capture by the enemy. Thus safely brought off the field by the assistance of some of his staff, among them Major A.R. Venable, his gallant and devoted Inspector-General, he reached Richmond by way of Mechanicsville about eleven o'clock that night. He died there on the evening of May 12, 1864. Death never claimed a nobler victim.

Thus fell the matchless leader of the Veteran Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia.

We come not now to mourn his loss. This had been one long lamentation throughout the years which have crowded out the recollection of his brave deeds. But we, his brothers-in-arms, partakers of his glory, assemble here in loving fellowship to commemorate his services in this enduring and fitting monument.

The sculptor, Moynihan, has shared with us the inspiration of Stuart's career, and has fashioned both horse and rider with the spirit that animated his great soul. Idealized, it may be, to a degree that speaks eloquently of the superb horseman, the alert active, dashing leader of brave men, it is at the same time a likeness of the man just as he was when General Sedgwick, his old commander, in rude appraisement, exclaimed: "Stuart is the best cavalry officer ever foaled in North America!"

The military student of Great Britain and the Continent is never weary of studying the campaigns of Stuart. One of them has recently written: To Stuart belongs the credit of having brought to perfection a use of the cavalry arm which had been foreshadowed by the dragoons of Marlborough's epoch, but which has not been seen during the intervening great wars of Europe, nor has it ever yet been imitated.

In the bold combination of fire and shock at the right moment, Stuart's cavalry stands pre-eminent among the nations of the world. What loftier tribute can be paid to the heroes of our corps, living and dead, whose proudest boast, in either the triumphs of life or in the agonies of death, is Stuart's great name! Drilled and disciplined by him, they learned the severe lessons of outpost duty, sleepless vigilance, patient endurance and skill in battle, until they became the steady reliance of General Lee in all his campaigns -- the eyes and ears of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Day after day the bravest and best were slain in battle. Innumerable skirmishes diminished our numbers as sorely as the losses of our infantry in many pitched battles, until our weary men with starving horses could scarce disguise the fact that we were fighting against hope.

The late Colonel Henderson, of the British Army, the brilliant author of "The Life of Stonewall Jackson," has left this tribute to the veteran cavalry of both armies: It may, however, be unhesitatingly admitted that no cavalry of the nineteenth century, except the American, could have achieved the same results... And it may be just as unhesitatingly declared that the horseman of the American war is the model of the efficient cavalryman.