The campaign of Gettysburg commenced with a series of cavalry fights in Loudoun and Faquier. For five days Stuart was a constantly engaged with Pleasanton's whole corps, who, supported by the infantry, assumed the offensive and displayed an energy and audacity which would otherwise never have been exhibited. The resulting losses were severe, and when we commenced the long march to the enemy's rear, threatening Washington City, our men and horses were already worn and jaded.
The fact that it took Stuart one day longer than he expected to fight his way to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, arriving on the field of Gettysburg on the second day of the battle, has been used to account for the failure of the Army of Northern Virginia to keep up its unbroken score of victories.
To say that the battle would have been won if Stuart had arrived a day earlier is to tribute to him greater than his most ardent admirers could claim. General Lee believed that if Stonewall Jackson had been there the victory would have been assured. But Stuart was blameless for his march to Carlisle as Jackson was for his absence in another and better world. The charge that Stuart's march from the Potomac to the Susquehanna was not warranted by his orders or by the best military judgment at the time, has been completely refuted by the masterly pens of Colonel John S. Mosby and Major H.B. McClellan, based on the official records.
General Lee's letters to Stuart on the 22nd and 23rd of June, 1863, establish the fact that General Lee authorized Stuart to use his discretion as to crossing the Potomac by the way of the enemy's rear, and General Longstreet, who communicated to him those instructions, distinctly advised General Stuart to choose that route. Two brigades of cavalry were left on the Blue Ridge to watch Hooker's army, while Stuart with his other three brigades moved on through Maryland. A cavalry fight at Hanover took place on June 30th with Kilpatrick's division. It caused a wide detour, in the course of which we cross the trail of Early's division. General Early heard our guns at Hanover and rightly conjectured that they were Stuart's Horse Artillery. Strangely and unhappily he failed to communicate with Stuart or leave any intimation that he was on the march for Cashtown.
Napoleon's guns at Waterloo were heard by Grouchy on the road to Wavre, and if he had crossed over to the Emperor's assistance the story of Waterloo would have been differently told. But no sound of Ewell's battle on the 1st of July at Gettysburg reached Stuart's ears as he pressed on to Carlisle, where he expected to find the right wing of General Lee's army. Therefore if happened that the cavalry attacked Carlisle, and there, near midnight, by the glare of the burning Barracks, Stuart read the dispatch announcing the victory of Ewell and Hill over the Federal forces. Instantly the attack on Carlisle was abandoned, and by a hard night march we pressed south to Gettysburg, arriving just as Ewell was beginning his assault upon Culp's Hill on the evening of the second day's battle.
It is needless to tell you of the severe cavalry fight on July 3rd between Stuart and Gregg on our extreme left--a position which we held as the battle closed, and which was of critical value if the charge of Pickett and Pettigrew had resulted as General Lee expected.
To those who know General Stuart's character as we knew it, the bare suggestion that he was capable of of disobeying any order of General Lee, either in letter or in spirit, is not only incredible, but absolutely untrue. General Lee himself, in his official report, makes not the slightest intimation of such a monstrous impossibility.
Colonel Mosby, in righteous indignation, has exclaimed: How could Stuart join Ewell on the Susquehanna, guard the gaps of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, watch and impede Hooker's crossing of the Potomac; and then place himself on the right of our column, as it advanced into Pennsylvania, unless he was inspired with ubiquity? Even Hercules could not perform all of his twelve labors at the same time.
The last word has not yet been said about Gettysburg. It will be discussed long after Waterloo has been forgotten, but history will not permit the fame of Stuart to be tarnished by the false claim that he disobeyed any order ever received by him from General Lee.
His conduct in reaching the battlefield as soon as he did is as praiseworthy of his invaluable service on the retreat to the Potomac. Of this service the author of the "Crisis of the Confederacy," a trained military critic, says: That Lee brought his forces out of this dilemma, not only without serious loss but with an air of reluctantly relinquishing the theatre, was due to the skill of his dispositions and to the admirable coordination of the movements of his lieutenants; but the march was only possible, thanks to the bold and skillful handling of his cavalry by Stuart, who excelled himself in these dark days of misfortune.
And the same excellent authority says: Stuart's indefatigable horsemen could be counted on to render valuable help in delaying the enemy's advance and guarding the left which was the exposed flank, if the enemy should venture to attack. All day on July 8th, while the cavalry was fighting, the Confederate army rested after the feat of marching which had brought it from Gettysburg to the Potomac.
Bear in mind that in this retreat Stuart was suffering from the loss of many of his best officers, and among the severely wounded was the gallant Hampton, whose services for many days were lost to the cavalry.