J.E.B. Stuart, An Admirer's View
I am an unabashed admirer of General Jeb Stuart. What first attracted me to him, may well be what attracted others to him in the 1860's -- his seemingly effervescent personality, his sunny disposition, even in the face of crushing adversity. Such color and flash are so associated with his presence that he seems, even today, to be larger than life -- a dynamic, dominating individual in every sense of the word, who was vividly remembered years after his death by ancient veterans, as recalled by John Thomason in his Jeb Stuart. Perhaps in the tenuous early days of the Confederacy, this flash and vigor was exactly what was needed to inspire in the common soldier that confidence in his commander so necessary when facing seemingly insurmountable odds.
The real story of General Stuart's contributions to the Confederacy, however, are more frequently overlooked and forgotten today. They lay in hidden reports in the Official Records in the interim days and weeks between the great campaigns that have received the most historical attention and analysis. General Stuart's great contribution to the Confederacy lay on the picket line, which had to be manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year...not only as a signal post through which intelligence reports from scouting parties could be sifted, but also as a guarantee that the Federals did not "steal a march" on General Lee.
Thanks to General Stuart and his usually air-tight screen of pickets and scouts, General Lee did not have to face unpleasant "surprises" such as did Union General 0.0. Howard's 11th Corps at Chancellorsville, or General John Pope's left flank at Second Manassas. Stuart's expert screening maneuvers allowed Stonewall Jackson's men and finally those of General Joseph E. Johnston to leave the Shenandoah Valley in 1861 and reach Manassas, while Robert R. Patterson was telegraphing Washington, D.C. that Johnston was “still at my front.” Stuart's men also effectively screened Jackson's flanking movement at Second Manassas, and his (Stuart's) subordinate, Fitz Lee, made the vital discovery of Joe Hooker's "flank in the air" at Chancellorsville in May, 1863. These movements, however, receive far less attention in today's analyses of Stuart than do his more flashy raids on the Peninsula, or to Chambersburg in 1862.
Stuart was not without fault. Who is? Stonewall Jackson erred at White Oak Swamp, and Lee's assaults against Malvern Hill were pointless. Some of Stuart's contemporaries, such as Lafayette McLaws, were critical of the banjo-playing ribaldry in the cavalry camps. Yet, I place more significance on the worthy opinions of Stonewall Jackson, for whom his friend Stuart was an excellent foil; or on those of Robert E. Lee, who in grief and respect stated that "he never brought me a piece of false information."
Vain, showy, self-centered, and a host of other less complimentary adjectives may come to mind when Stuart's name is mentioned. Yet...his equestrian statue stands on Monu¬ment Avenue in Richmond. A lively General Stuart graces a panel of “The Four Seasons of the Confederacy” in Battle Abbey in Richmond. His name has become one of the Great Triumvirate of Confederate Generals -- Jackson, Stuart, and Lee. A celebration in February, 1983 marked the 150th anniversary of his birth and was attended by honored descendents, patriotic groups and admirers. In short, Stuart's place in history is safe.
I believe that General Stuart would be well pleased with his place in history. Each of us hopes that when we leave this earth, that we will have made a contribution in some way and that we are remembered. Jeb Stuart has met this goal, several times over. Surely his spirit smiled and sang on February 6th, 1983, as his memory was duly honored in Richmond.
This article first appeared in Volume 1, No. 5 of The Cannoneer.