Monday, September 29, 2008

General Orders Twenty-Five

Questions abound for me about Jeb Stuart. As I have said before, the Stuart I find in recent biographies and literature is far different than the Stuart I have discovered by reading primary sources, his letters, and biographies written by his staff. I realize that I'm just starting the long research process, and my questions will be answered as I plow through the huge pile of research on my desk.

In Lee Takes Command, Clifford Dowdy writes the following regarding A.P. Hill's actions at the Battle of Mechanicsville. "Lee's admirers have view him (Lee) as the complete soldier and have tended to put the blame (for the failure of the Seven Days Battle to destroy the Army of the Potomac) on Jackson and A.P. Hill. In turn, Jackson's admirers have tended to blame Lee and A.P. Hill. As no legend grew around Powell Hill between the charges of the Lee and Jackson camps, the impression has been allowed to stand that the "impulsive Hill" attacked single-handed the Federal stronghold where Lee wished to avoid battle." (page 190)

I think this quote applies to Stuart. Certain impressions abound in the war's, Lee's and Stuart's historiographies that has been repeated and cemented in biographies, magazines, books, and films. They have become the "truth" by which Stuart, in my opinion, has been unfairly portrayed.

Here are just a few of the questions that I have:

1) Is the portrayal of Stuart as the vain-glorious, ego-centric man-child, who was more concerned with flirting and dancing than doing his duty, the correct one?
2) Some historians accuse Stuart's decision to ride around McClellan's army as vanity run wild. These same historians then claim that this decision is the primary reason Lee's plans did not come to fruition since it alerted McClellan of the threat to his supplies and communications.
3) Was the grand review on the plains of Brandy Station proof that Stuart's vanity ruled the cavalry? In fact, he was so vain, that he held a second review.
4) Were these reviews responsible for the "surprise" at Brandy Station?
5) Did Stuart honestly believe he lost the Battle of Brandy Station aka the Battle of Fleetwood Hill?
6) Was Stuart so stung by the criticism in the Richmond papers regarding Brandy Station that he disobeyed his orders during the Gettysburg campaign and left Lee "blind?"
7) What is the truth of Stuart's "playboy" persona?
8) Was Stuart unfaithful to Flora?

Now I may be wrong. My continued research may very well lead me to the conclusion that the current portrayal of Stuart is the correct one. But I don't think so. To tell you the truth, I don't recognize the Stuart I read about as the Stuart I have come to know. I believe the "impression" of the playboy, vain man-child ruled by his ego, more interested in flirting and dancing than performing his duty and responsible for the defeat at Gettysburg has not only been allowed to stand but is constantly reinforced. It is my hope that anything I write about Stuart in the future (if it is good enough to be published) will reveal the true Stuart -- the cavalry leader that both Lee and Jackson loved and trusted.