Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Battle of Dranesville - Part Two

Stuart wrote to General D.H. Hill about the battle. Stuart says he wrote in haste… so the paragraph that follows is succinct.

“Dranesville, Virginia
December 21, 1861


We had a hard-fought battle here yesterday. I had four pieces and four regiments, say 1,200 strong. The enemy had from five to ten regiments, six or seven pieces of artillery. They say 3,100. Finding heavy reinforcements arriving, I withdrew my command in perfect order from the field, carrying off nearly all wounded. The enemy’s loss was over 50 killed; our killed 27. They evacuated at dark. I return to Centreville today.

In haste.

J.E.B. Stuart,

He also writes Flora on the 23rd and relates what happened.

“My Dear Darling,

I haven been so intensely occupied in the saddle and on my report since the battle that it has been literally impossible for me to write to you until now. I rec’d the bank acct’s last night and enclose one set signed, have them cashed, the money placed in your dear little pocket; as you are my better half, I send you the better half of a month’s pay (20 days).

On the 20th I was placed in command of 4 Inf’y Regt’s, 1 Battery & some cavalry to protect an expedition after forage over next to Dranesville. I marched over and found the enemy had that day advanced a large force to that point and in order to prevent our wagons falling his hands, I had to attack him vigorously attracting his attention to me until the wagons could escape. This I did, saving all the wagons & came very near whipping the enemy, so near that they left the placed soon after I did, & left several of our wounded having so many of their own that they couldn’t carry them off. I found after a fight of two hours that, I could not force the position, on account of their great superiority of numbers -- & being myself beyond the reach of reinforcements, I determined to withdraw my troops from the field, which was done in perfect order, the men marching leisurely & without confusion, and the enemy being too much crippled to pursue us. The loss on our side was severe 43 killed or since dead, 143 wounded and 8 missing. But strange to say the citizens of the place declare that the enemy’s loss was heavier than ours, that 20 wagon loads of killed and wounded were carried off by them, it seems almost incredible yet vouched for by the people of Dranesville, of which I took peaceable possession next day, bringing off our wounded and killed, to Centreville. The people declared that we engaged 15 Regt’s, several batteries, & 7 Co’s of cavalry. Whether this force was large or not, we can’t tell, but that it was 4 times larger than mine (1600) there could be no doubt. Our side therefore came out first best—I am perfectly satisfied that my conduct was right, and I have the satisfaction to know that it meets the approval of General Johnston, & all others who know the facts, and my reputation has not doubt been the gainer. I was never in greater personal danger & men & horses fell around me like ten-pins, but thanks to God to whom I looked for protection, neither myself nor my horse was touched.

There is a good deal of envy in this army among Ransom, Robertson, & al – but I assure you I let it trouble me precious little. I have had several Brigade drills to show them how I could handle a Brigade of Cavalry, & it went off splendidly, all hands seemed delighted. All the Generals were out to witness them, & expressed themselves highly gratified.

If you telegraph me the morning you start, I will have the conveyance for you. All hands are preparing for winter quarters.

Kisses to the dear ones and kind regards to all hands – write me often – write me long ----

Tell all our friends the correct version of the battle as they will get it mixed up in the paper.

Kisses, Dear ones. Ever yours

J.E.B. Stuart.”

Much has been written about Stuart’s vanity and this weakness will ultimately be responsible for Lee’s loss at Gettysburg. In fact, all that remains about Stuart in modern history is the vainglorious egotist…I think this is wrong. Even when I read this letter where he talks about his reputation and his assurances that his conduct was right, I don’t see a vainglorious egotist.

Am I blind? Can I not see the obvious? Maybe… but my introduction to Stuart came from reading his personal album and many of his letters written from the time he was a young teenager to his death. In them, I see a young man (and he was young – barely 31 when he died) who wanted to be valued and appreciated. He was the youngest son and somewhat lost in a big family.

But Stuart had the love of both Lee and Jackson and these two men trusted him implicitly. If Stuart was the shallow and dangerous egotist that seems to be the modern portrayal… then I don’t think he would have commanded Lee’s or Jackson’s trust and respect. Nor would he have been given the command and responsibility that they freely gave him.

His advancement to the head of the ANV’s cavalry was opposed. Obviously, word of this opposition got back to him. His reaction to such criticism was to be the best he could be. His insecurity is apparent in the lines he writes to the woman who knows him and understands him. What safer place to reveal them.

I like Jeb Stuart. I like the young man in this letter very much.

Next, I will publish excepts from the diary of J.B. Jones, a clerk in the War Department. What he has to say about the battle is very illuminating.