Husband, Father, Indian Fighter, Inventor, Patriot, Hero: Happy Birthday, General Stuart!
James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart (February 6, 1833 – May 12, 1864) was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia, who later became a Confederate general during the War for Southern Independence. He was known to his friends as “Jeb”, from the initials of his given names. Gen. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use of cavalry in support of offensive operations. While he cultivated a cavalier image (red-lined gray cape, yellow sash, hat cocked to the side with an ostrich plume, red flower in his lapel, often sporting cologne), his serious work made him the trusted eyes and ears of General Robert E. Lee’s army and inspired Southern morale.
“[Stuart] is a rare man, wonderfully endowed by nature with the qualities necessary for an officer of light cavalry. … Calm, firm, acute, active, and enterprising, I know no one more competent than he to estimate the occurrences before him at their true value. If you add to this army a real brigade of cavalry, you can find no better brigadier-general to command it.”
General Joseph E. Johnston, letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, August 1861
Gen. Stuart served courageously in the Peninsular Campaign, as well as in Northern Virginia and Maryland. His superlative performances of leadership shone especially bright at the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, and into Pennsylvania in support of the Gettysburg Campaign, which I wrote about his exploits through in “Look Away: An Alternate History of the Civil War“.
Stuart’s error in moving too far north and allowing the federal army to come between his forces and General Lee’s effectively blinded the Confederate invasion to Union troop movements, and may have cost the South the battle. However, he attempted to make up for the blunder for the next two years, during the Overland Campaign and at the battle of Yellow Tavern, where he was mortally wounded in combat.
Only the otherwise spotless record of this Southern hero makes his mistake at Gettysburg memorable in contrast. Overall, Jeb Stuart is correctly regarded as one of the greatest cavalry commanders to have ever climbed into a saddle. Remember him today, and always.
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