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John Pelham Historical Association

Stuart's Ride Around McClellan

On June 10, 1862, Robert E. Lee called members of his staff together to discuss strategy. The high level meeting took place at the Dabb House on the Nine Mile road. Present was Jeb Stuart. Stuart had favored an attack on McClellan's unfinished fortifications south of the Chickahominy. Lee, however, proposed just the opposite -- he would hold the south with a small force and his main blow would fall north of the river. Although his plan was rejected, Stuart's disappointment faded when Lee disclosed his assignment -- Stuart was to find out how far McClellan's right flank extended. He would gain intelligence for future operations by a scouting movement in the enemy's rear. This entailed inspecting communications, taking prisoners, and burning wagons. It was an assignment that appealed to Stuart's sense of daring and adventure. Stuart replied to Lee that it might 'be possible for him to ride around McClellan's entire army; this drew no comment from Lee.

Stuart's handpicked contingent of 1200 men rendezvoused beyond the Chickahominy. Officers included Robert E. Lee's son, Col. "Rooney" Lee (9th Virginia Cavalry) and his nephew, Col. Fitzhugh Lee (1st Virginia Cavalry), Col. W.T. Martin of the Jeff Davis Legion, and Lieut. James Breathed with a section of cannon. The latter owed a special thanks to Stuart. Jeb personally urged Breathed's transfer to Pelham's horse artillery and arranged his election as first lieutenant. The Lees were no strangers to combat; Rooney Lee was 25 when he fought at Seven Pines, and Fitz Lee had seen previous service at Ewell's side at First Manassas.

At 2 a.m., June 12th the men broke camp. Stuart's men advanced with scouts on the right, videttes up ahead, and guards positioned in the rear. Stuart and John Esten Cooke caught up with the column at 5 a.m. Stuart's route would be past Emmanuel Church, by the old Yellow Tavern, westward across the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, thence northward toward the South Anna River. The route gave the impression of heading toward Louisa Court House, perhaps to join Jackson in the Valley. Stuart's men stopped, after going 20 miles, at the Winston home near Taylorsville, where Stuart encamped. The next day, June 13th, Stuart moved eastward toward Hanover Court House -- his men now knew McClellan's flank was their objective.

In the vicinity of Hanover Court House were the pickets of Captain W. B. Royall' s 5th U. S. Cavalry. Eighteen miles away was Royall's position at Old Church. At 6 a.m. on June 13th Royall had sent Lieut. Edward Leib and F Company westward to patrol Hanover Court House. They spotted Stuart's cavalry at 11 a.m. Leib personally assessed the force as no more than two squadrons with 10 to 15 pickets and saw nothing to be alarmed about. He informed Royall of this, and then pulled his men back. His assumption later proved to be fatal.

Stuart continued on, passing Taliaferro's Mill, Enon Church, and Hawes Shop. Leib, who had been ordered by Royall to fall back to Old Church, found his pickets overwhelmed by Stuart. Leib issued a call for help, but none would be forthcoming. A Federal stand at Totopotomoy Creek was swept aside by Rooney Lee's 9th Virginia Cavalry. During this brief skirmish, Captain William Latané, a handsome boy and command favorite, died at Royall 's hands. Having drawn a saber, Latané gashed Royall's arm. The Union cavalryman shot him down with a pistol. Stuart would feel his loss keenly. Captain Latané's body was taken to Mrs. Catherine Brockenbrough's residence at Westwood. No minister being found, services for the slain cavalryman were held at the graveyard at Summer Hill Plantation. This scene would be celebrated by Confederate song and poetry.

The Confederate pursuit continued. Fitz Lee begged Stuart to be allowed to clean out the camps of the 5th U.S. Cavalry -- his former regiment. Permission was granted, and Lee burned and looted the camps near Old Church.

The expedition now reached a crucial point. Two options were open --one, to return via Hanover Court House, or two, to pass around New Kent and, if necessary, swim across the Chickahominy. Stuart decided to complete the circle already begun around McClellan's supply lines; i.e., he chose the latter option. Stuart already knew what Lee wanted to know -- the Federal right flank was "in the air" north of the Chickahominy. As the march progressed deeper into enemy territory, it evoked feelings bordering on exhilaration. Stuart, in gay spirits, shared their mood.

Three or four miles from the skirmishes with Leib's pickets and Stuart's vanguard stood the headquarter's of General Philip St. George Cooke, Stuart's father-in-law, who commanded the Federal cavalry. At 3 p.m., after just getting word of Stuart's raid, Cooke ordered six squadrons under Major Lawrence Williams to horse. After driving in a few Confederate pickets at Hanover Court House, Williams learned he had just missed Stuart, who had passed over a half an hour ago. Williams detached a platoon to follow Stuart's trail. Cooke called for infantry support, but did not leave his camp until 8 p.m., and arrived at the site of the first skirmish at 10 p.m. -- the infantry having beaten him. About midnight he heard that enemy forces were on the Hanover Road, but this proved false. He marched back to Old Church expecting to meet the raiders on June 14th. Only smoking debris greeted him upon his return; Stuart had left him hopelessly behind. Speculation ran that Cooke's lethargic actions were because he and Stuart were related. Be this as it may, Stuart faced a new problem -- how to get home.

Having made the decision to circle McClellan's entire army, Jeb Stuart pressed on, enroute to Tunstall's Station on the York River Railroad. Citizens informed him that vessels were at Garlick's Landing and a guard was at Tunstall's. Von Borcke at one point saw white tents in the distance, perhaps McClellan's headquarters! Stuart sent squads to destroy two docked transports at Garlick's Landing. Just then Richard Frayser, a scout, came back to report two companies of Federal infantry at Tunstall's. Staurt ordered a saber charge. The Federals scattered. Mosby and Will Farley were sent to cut the telegraph wires. Redmond Burke was sent to burn the bridge over Black Creek. Meanwhile, Stuart decided to try to derail the train on the railroad. He placed obstructions on the track and set up an ambush.

As the train came up the track, one Confederate got nervous. He fired before the others were quite ready, alerting the engineer. Suspecting something, the engineer speeded up the train, bypassing the Confederates despite a short, hot fight. The train escaped, although Farley was successful in shooting the engineer.

Enroute to Tunstall's Stuart bypassed the White House, Rooney Lee's home, and the Federal base of supplies. Doubtless, it was a tempting target to Stuart, but he concluded he lacked the force to take it.

Reaching the small town of Talleysville, the men pounced on the sutler's wagons and feasted on such delicacies as figs, beef tongue, lemons and preserves. Here was also a Federal hospital, which Stuart left alone.

Dawn of the 14th found Stuart ready to cross the Chickahominy. He was guided by Lieutenant Jonas Christian, who lived at Sycamore Springs along the Chickahominy
copyright © 2007 John Pelham Historical Association

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