Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Major General J.E.B. Stuart by Captain William P. Snow - Part Two

Here is part two of the chapter on Stuart from Snow's book, Lee and His Generals.

Fairfax Court-house was occupied by Colonel Stuart the next day, and shortly afterwards he received a letter from Colonel McCunn, of the Federal army, on the subject of Colonel Cameron’s body, left on the battlefield. This letter spoke in appealing terms on behalf of Cameron’s wife and family, and alluded to Stuart’s “kindness of heart, and high soldierly qualities;” but, of course, he could do no other than refer it to his commanding general, though he sent back a courteous reply.

A few weeks later, September 11th, Colonel Stuart successfully attacked and routed a party of Federals at Lewinsville, some six or seven miles from Washington. The affair was of no great importance, but it was the means of his being promoted to a brigadier-generalship, and this gave him more opportunity for the performance of several daring exploits. They are, however, so varied and numerous throughout his truly brilliant career, that we can only refer to minor ones, and give a little more space to those of most importance.

In the month of December, there was a fight between General Stuart’s forces and the Federal troops at Dranesville, Va., in which the Confederates were defeated. Then followed a period of mere skirmishing, occasionally, between the detached parties of both armies; and finally, in March, the Confederate forces moved southward to meet McClellan on the Peninsula. The evacuation of Yorktown took place in the beginning of May, 1862, and the battle of Williamsburg occurred on the 4th. Here, as we have seen, General Stuart commanded the cavalry rear guard, and proved of great service in the after movements of the army on its way to Richmond.

But the affair which, more than anything else, first made his name so famous, was the bold reconnaissance conducted by him, through and around McClellan’s army, in the middle part of June. This exploit borders so much upon the romantic, in its dash and gallant character, that it is almost impossible to compress it into a few lines of sober truth. It was one of those achievements that make men’s blood warm up, even at the mere recital of it, more especially so to those who were participators in the stirring scene. With a force of 1,200 cavalry, and a section of the Stuart horse-artillery—having Colonel Fitz Lee, Colonel W. H. Fitzhugh Lee, Colonel W. T. Martin, and Lieutenant J. Brethed accompany him in command—he first quietly rendezvoused beyond the Chickahominy, near Kilby’s station on the Northern railroad, and then, without any one else knowing where they were bound, moved along the left of that road, scouts on the right, videttes in advance, guards in the rear, and every precaution against surprise, or allowing the enemy to conceive their intention.

Twenty-two miles of ground from Richmond did the bold raiders cover that day, and then silently bivouacked in the woods, near the South Anna bridge. A few hours’ rest, and again, at sunrise, without flag or bugle-sound, they remounted, and turning sharply to the southeast, dashed along the roads towards Old Church. This was held by the enemy; but Colonel Fitz Lee quickly made a detour, got behind their force, and induced them, under a false idea of numbers, to move rapidly away.

Cleared from this, on went the horsemen to Howe’s store, hastily captured some Federals stationed there, pushed forward to the Tolopotamy, crossed it without delay, and then, with Lieutenant Robins in the advance, skirted fields, leaped fences and ditches, rushed through woods, and suddenly came upon a party of the enemy’s dragoons, reinforced, near Old Church.

Instantly sabers were drawn; two squadrons went ahead at a gallop; a hand-to-hand conflict ensued; the Federals were quickly routed, though at a cost to the Confederates of the brave Captain Latune,--and away went Stuart and his men as briskly as ever. Then went forward Colonel Fitz Lee, burning to have a brush with the enemy, now again collected near the home of his family.

The country people cheered him on; they gave him information: “Hurry on, boys; hurry on; they’re only a mile ahead,” said one. “Four of them are prisoners here in the house,” said another—a young girl with a gun in her hand. “Go in, boy; go into them,” said a third; and thus it was the whole way.

At the White House, Lee’s squadron charged the foe; he dashed into their camp, took possession of horses, arms, stores of every kind which they burnt, captured prisoners, looked around for more, then halted for the rest of the band to join them.

Now came the limits of their raid. Turn they must, and turn they did, but, not back by the way they came. No; they would try to pierce the enemy’s lines, swim the Chickahominy, if need be, and so make the complete circuit back to their own camp. Briefly, Stuart mentioned this to his officers. Cheerfully they agreed; and then, once more, at a gallop along the road, now towards Tunstall station, did the daring horsemen go. Did they heed the danger? Did a man hesitate or complain? No; in good truth, not so. The gallant Stuart led them on; it was enough! Sublime in unshaken trust and confidence, the brave rank and file, not once nor for a moment faltered, though a huge army of well-trained soldiers and skilful officers, under McClellan himself, was before them! Seemingly straight into the very jaws of the enemy, this heroic band dashed forward.

But now the foe has become alarmed; still greater caution is needed; Colonel Martin is placed to guard the rear, but, instead of being attacked, a small outpost party voluntarily surrendered to him. On and on, however, Stuart and his followers urge their way.

Tunstall’s station is reached; telegraph wires cut; the depot secured; five companies of cavalry escorting wagon trains, fly, and leave the stores; an infantry guard is captured; destruction of the railroad is begun, when lo! A heavy train of cars with troops aboard, comes thundering down from the Federal army! It is attacked, but the obstructions on the track are insufficient. Some loss, the troops in that train receive, and away it rushed to the Pamunkey depot. Night now comes on; the burning stores illume the country around; the work is done; and once more Stuart and his brave command gallop forward. Moonlight helps them; but after a time they halt to close up their column. Then again at midnight the march is resumed.

Day dawns: the Chickahominy is reached; the stream is found unfordable; axes are used, trees felled; a foot bridge improvised under Lieutenant Redmond Burke’s skilful hands; a friendly voice from some stranger gives good information; an old bridge is mended and cavalry, artillery, horses and men cross rapidly, and then, another dash along the Charles City road, and a mile or two more brings them near their main encampment.

Faint, famished, worn out, utterly exhausted, the enemy now in full pursuit, the gallant band arrives within the Confederate lines, and draw rein, almost for the first time, except as mentioned, for more than sixty hours.

We may now only add that for this daring achievement Stuart was promoted to be a major-general of cavalry, and none of his officers or main failed to receive reward. The damage to the enemy was great, and perhaps more through the circumstance itself, than on account of stores and property destroyed.

A few days afterwards, General Stuart rode from camp into town, and paying his respects to the authorities in a quiet way, at the executive mansion, when, as it became known to the large crowd of strollers in the Capitol square, that he was near by, the building was immediately surrounded by an enthusiastic multitude vociferating for Stuart. The gallant general in a few minutes made his appearance upon the portico and acknowledged the compliment paid him in a few remarks full of spirit and good cheer.

Among other things he said he had been to the Chickahominy to visit some of his old friends of the United States army, but they, very uncivilly, turned their backs upon him. Seeing a manifest desire on the part of the people to make for him an ovation, the general then mounted his charger and galloped off amid the shouts of the crowd, which, by this time, had increased to more than a thousand persons.

The preceding illustration of one of Stuart’s exploits will serve in a measure for the whole. After the same fashion did he and his men traverse the whole region of the principal battlefields of Virginia, except the Shenandoah Valley, and , could we find space, many a stirring incident might be related.