Stuart's cavalry scares region Famed general takes a controversial ride around Union army

135th Anniversary Re-Enactment

Revisiting Gettysburg

June 21, 1998|By Andrew D. Faith | Andrew D. Faith,SUN STAFF

One of the featured events in the Gettysburg re-enactment next month is the Grand Review of Southern Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart's cavalry division at 9:30 a.m. July 5.

Stuart's Grand Review didn't happen on the field at Gettysburg, but rather at Brandy Station, Va., June 8, 1863, at the beginning of the Army of Northern Virginia's march north. Grand as it was, the review is not what Stuart is noted for in the Gettysburg campaign.

At the outset of the Gettysburg campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee gave Stuart orders to guard the right side of the march north. If the Army of the Potomac was not moving, Lee said, Stuart was to cross the Potomac River at Shepherdstown and join him, but if the Union army did move north, Lee gave Stuart permission to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge.

Stuart's division screened the right flank of Lee's advance as far north as the Potomac, fighting a series of battles with Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's cavalry corps along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, Va.

The largest of these encounters was at Brandy Station, where Pleasonton took Stuart by surprise June 9. Stuart emerged the victor from this encounter but was criticized in the South for allowing himself to be surprised.

Lee's instructions

By late June, Lee's army had crossed the Potomac. Stuart received instructions from Lee on June 22, telling him: "If you find that he [Hooker] is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland and take position on General Ewell's right, place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank and keep him informed of the enemy's movements, and collect all the supplies you can for the use of the army."

On June 23, Lee wrote: "If General Hooker's army remains inactive you can leave two brigades to watch him and withdraw with the three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain tomorrow night, cross at Shepherdstown next day and move over to Fredericktown. You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell's troops."

On June 24, Stuart started his controversial Gettysburg raid, taking a route around Hooker's flank and rear, rather than the more protected way west of the Blue Ridge. He left behind the brigades of Brig. Gen. Beverly H. Robertson and Brig. Gen. William E. Jones.

Southern writers have been almost unanimous in criticizing Stuart for this raid.

To begin with, Stuart's motives in making this raid behind enemy lines have been impugned. In "Witness to Gettysburg," published in 1994, Richard Wheeler writes:

"Jeb Stuart was the object of a good bit of censure in the wake of Brandy Station. 'The battle,' said the Richmond Examiner, 'narrowly missed being a great disaster to our arms. Our men were completely surprised, and were only saved by their own indomitable gallantry and courage.' An official of the Confederate Bureau of War wrote in his diary: 'Stuart is so conceited that he got careless.' A female resident of Culpeper, signing herself a Southern Lady, sent a note to Jefferson Davis in which she accused Stuart of being more interested in conducting reviews to impress his lady friends than in doing his job. The woman went so far as to say that she feared for the Confederate cause if Stuart was kept in command."

And there was Lee's report on the battle, written in January 1864:

'Much embarrassed'

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