Friday, August 15, 2008

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

“But while in the Shenandoah valley the achievements of General Jackson aroused towards him a generous feeling of gratitude for danger averted and prosperity preserved, it is doubtful whether east of the Blue Ridge the twenty-nine years of General Stuart, added to that indefatigable energy which teaches him, after he has ridden fifty miles during the day, to regard it as his highest happiness to ride a dozen more miles at night ‘to tread but one measure’ in a Virginian country house, do not incline the scale, especially if the balance be adjusted by fair hands, in favor of the younger general. There have many English officers, particularly in the East Indian service, whose endurance in the saddle has been regarded as unequalled; but I doubt whether any Englishman ever exhibited such superiority to bodily fatigue as is almost nightly evinced by the gay cavalier who knows every hospitable roof within a dozen miles of his headquarters (and what roof is not hospitable?) and, accompanied by his banjo player, visits them by turns, night after night, returning usually to his hard-earned rest long after the midnight hour has flown.

With the earliest dawn of morning, the first voice, calling gaily for breakfast, is that of the midnight merrymaker, who rises the picture of health, good humor, and strength. I may be noticed en passant that to the circumstance that he has never touched tobacco in any form, or any wine, or other liquor, General Stuart attributes much of his health and vigor. Certainly so jovial and merry a company as is assembled at General Stuart’s headquarters I has never been my fortune to see here.”

Another account speaks of Stuart as being of a “free, sociable, agreeable, and lively turn of mind,” and as “a gentleman of high-toned accomplishments, and rare genius;” “of more than ordinary size, very handsome, fair complexion, with bright beaming eyes, quick perception and deep expression.” He had with him, on his staff, “several odd and fantastic characters. His cook was a Frenchman from on of the Café houses in Paris, a ventriloquist and comical genius; the principal business man in his office was a Prussian, a man of distinction, education and wit; and in the musical department he had Sweeny, Jr., son of old Joe.”

In the month of April, 1863, General Stuart was in command of the forces, respectively under Fitz Lee, and W. H. F. Lee, that successfully resisted the enemy’s attempt to establish himself on the south side of the Rappahannock. On the 29th he reported to General Lee the movements of Hooker’s army, and this enabled the Confederates to prepare for the coming battle.

Stuart did all he could to impede the enemy, and was ably seconded by the Lees. He crossed the Rapidan, hung upon Hooker’s flanks, attacked his right at the Wilderness tavern, then marched by Todd’s tavern to Spottsylvania Court-house, to put himself in communication with the main army. In the movement of Jackson to the Wilderness, he was effectually covered by Fitz Lee’s cavalry, commanded by General Stuart in person.

At dark, finding nothing else for him, as a cavalry leader, to do, he proposed to Jackson that the road to Ely’s ford, in the rear of the enemy, should be seized. Jackson approving, he went forward to this task, and had gained the heights when a messenger came with news of both Jackson and A. P. Hill being wounded, and urging him to come back and take command. He did so, and next morning vigorously pushed forward the corps now under his orders. The result is known; and we need only add to what we have before said, that he was very highly complimented in General Lee’s official report, for “the energy, promptness, distinguished capacity, and vigor, added to his own personal example of coolness, and daring displayed.”

In the grand movement of the Confederate army towards Pennsylvania, that followed upon the battle of Chancellorsville, General Stuart concentrated his forces at Culpepper, on the 8th of June, and next day was attacked by the enemy’s cavalry and some infantry, at Brandy station. General Fitz Hugh Lee commanded the Confederates, and General Buford and Gregg the Federals. The battle commenced at 5 a.m., and lasted till 3 p. m., both parties fighting almost entirely with sabers. The result was claimed as a victory on both sides, but the enemy had to recross the Rappahannock, and leave several prisoners, with some artillery, and colors in the hands of Stuart’s command.

Of the march to Pennsylvania, and the succeeding campaign with the battle of Gettysburg, we have already given an account. General Stuart had his full share of that peril and adventure for which his temperament was so well adapted. As an eye witness well observes, “He roamed over the country almost at his own discretion, and always giving a good account of himself, turning up at the right moment, and never getting himself into any serious trouble.”

The subsequent operations of General Stuart were now mostly those connected with the main army, as related in our sketch of General Lee. The flank movement of the Confederates, in October, gave Stuart ample work to perform; and, in December another raid was successfully undertaken upon the Orange and Alexandria railroad.

In the month of January, 1864, General Stuart was again at work on the Potomac, about Leesburg, and the Point of Ricks, and with occasional visits to Richmond and his family, thus fully occupied his time.

On the 28th of February, he was encamped at Orange Court-house, and sent to Richmond a highly complimentary report of Colonel Mosby’s daring exploit near Drainesville; and, in the early part of March occurred the affair already mentioned, between the Federals under General Custer, and the Confederate cavalry near Rio Mills.

The spring campaign then followed; the battle of the Wilderness had been fought, and, at last, the day came when the bold cavalry chief—the dashing raider—the kind and genial companion, as well as the skilful soldier—General Stuart—would be no more.

General Sheridan, of the Federal cavalry, had made a bold dash around Lee’s flank, towards Richmond, and a portion of his command, under Generals Custer and Merrill, arrived at Ashland station, on the 10th of May, just before Stuart with his force reached there after them. The next day they were followed to a place called Yellow-tavern, where an engagement took place. Here, in a desperate charge, at the head of a column, the gallant Stuart fell, terribly wounded. He was immediately taken to Richmond, and every effort made to save his life, but in vain. On the 11th he died, and the following account of his last moments, as related by those around him, may be interesting;

“About noon President Davis visited his bedside and spent some time with the dying chief. In reply to the question put by the President, “General, how do you feel?” he replied, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny, and done my duty.”

“During the day, occasional delirium attacked him, and, in his moments of mental wandering, his faculties were busy with the past. His campaigns on the Peninsula, his raid into Pennsylvania, his doings on the Rapidan, and his several engagements, were subjects that quickly chased themselves through his brain. Fresh orders were given as if still on the battlefield and in junctions to his couriers to “make haste.” Then he would wander to his wife and children, one of whom, his eldest, had died a year previous, while fighting on the Rappahannock, and in relation to whom he had said, when receiving a telegram that the girl was dying, “I must leave my child in the hands of God; my country needs me here; I cannot come.” Then his mind would again carry him on to the battlefield; and so it continued throughout the day. Occasionally his intellect was clear, and he was then calm and resigned, though at times suffering the most acute agony. He would even, with his own hand, apply the ice that was intended to relieve the pain of his wound.

“As the last moments approached, the dying man, with a mind perfectly clear and possessed, then made a disposition of his effects. To Mrs. Lily Lee, he directed that the golden spurs be given as a dying memento of his love and esteem for her husband. To his staff officers he gave his horses; and other mementoes he disposed of in a similar manner. To his young son, he left his sword. He then turned to the Reverend Dr. Peterkin, of the Episcopal church, of which he was a strict member, and asked him to sing the hymn commencing;

Rock of ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

“In this he joined with all the strength of voice his failing powers permitted. He then prayed with the minister and friends around him; and, with the worked, ‘I am going fast now, I am resigned; God’s will be done,’ yielded his fleeting spirit to Him who gave it.”

“The funeral of this much lamented and brave general took place on the 13th, at five o’clock, from St. James’s church, corner of Marshall and Fifth streets.

“At the appointed hour the cortege appeared in front of the church, and the metallic coffin, containing the remains of the noble soldier, whose now silent voice had so often startled the enemy with his stirring battlecry, was carried down the centre isle and placed before the alter. Wreaths, and a cross of evergreen, interwoven with delicate lilies of the valley, laurel and other flowers of purest white, decked the coffin.

“The pallbearers were General Bragg, Major-general McCown, General Chilton, Brigadier-general Lawton, Commodore Forrest, Captain Lee, of the Navy, and General George W. Randolph, formerly Secretary of War.

“The scene was sad and impressive. President Davis sat near the front, with a look of grief upon his careworn face; his cabinet officers were gathered around, while on either side were the senators and representatives of the Confederate Congress. Scattered through the church were a number of generals and other officers of rank, among the former, General Ransom, commanding the department of Richmond. Hundreds of sad faces witnessed the scene; but the brave Fitz Lee and other war-wearied and war-worn men, whom the dead Stuart had so often led were the red battle was fiercest, and who would have given their lives for his, were away in the fight, doubtless striking with a double courage as they thought of their fallen general.

“The short service was read by Rev. Dr. Peterkin, a funeral anthem sung, and the remains were carried out and placed in the hearse, which proceeded to Hollywood Cemetery, followed by a long train of carriages.

“No military escort accompanied the procession, but the hero was laid in his last resting-place on the hillside, while the earth trembled with the roar of artillery and the noise of the deadly strife of armies—the one bent upon desecrating and devastating his native land, and the other, proudly and defiantly standing in the path and invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their cause, to fight in better cheer for the memory of such as Stonewall Jackson and J. E. B. Stuart.”