Much Pomp Ends in Humiliation
"Jeb" Stuart was to blame. All his enemies said that. The advance of the Army of Northern Virginia toward the Potomac in June, 1863, would not have met that humiliating, initial check if the chief of the cavalry had not been so intent on displaying his increased force. He now had five cavalry Brigades of 9536 officers and men -- more than ever he had commanded. Lee must see them, Lee and all the young ladies of the Piedmont region of Virginia.
After May 20, when Stuart moved his headquarters from Orange to Culpeper, he set his staff to work on plans for such a pageant as the continent never had witnessed. The stage for it fairly thrust itself upon him: It was a long wide field in the vicinity of Brandy Station, between Culpeper and the Rappahannock. At the ideal site on this field was a hillock no craftsman could have excelled in the design of a reviewing stand. To complete perfection, the field was so close to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad that a halted train would offer seats for spectators. Stuart pitched his tents on nearby Fleetwood Hill, overlooking Brandy Station, to supervise everything, and he set June 5 as the date. Each staff officer must provide himself a new uniform and must see to it that mounts were flawless. A ball must be arranged in Culpeper the night before the review and, perhaps, another after the cavalry had shown its magnificence.
Preparation was repaid. From Charlottesville and from the nearer towns on the O. & A. came streams of guests. With Heros von Borcke as his aide, Ex-Secretary George W. Randolph of the War Department arrived to be Stuart's particular guest. Wagons and ambulances distributed beauty at every hospitable gate. All preliminaries were auspicious, though, to be sure, the ball on the evening of the 4th at the Court House was somewhat overpraised by a newspaper reporter as a "gay and dazzling scene, illuminated by floods of light from numerous chandeliers." Von Borcke, who never depreciated anything he planned or shared, reluctantly had to admit that "a few tallow candles" were all that challenged the darkness of the Court House.
By 8 o'clock on the bright morning of June 5, Stuart and his staff, in their new uniforms, started for Brandy Station. Heralded by buglers and welcomed by throngs, the cavalcade rode triumphantly upon the field. One disappointment there was, one only, but it was serious: the commanding General of the Army was concerned with some difficult matters of logistics and could not be present. For General Lee, of course, there was no substitute. Stuart made the best of this. With his staff he started down the front of a line of horses that extended for a mile and a half. On its flank were twenty-four of Beckham's guns, the famous rifles and Napoleons that had been Pelham's. As the reviewing party reached each Brigadier, he and his staff fell in behind. The cavalcade swept to the left flank and then, in regulation manner, rode the length of the line in rear.
It was to o'clock or after when Stuart wheeled from the right flank and took his position on the knoll, beneath a gallantly flying Confederate flag. Again the bugles sounded. The troopers farthest on Stuart's right moved out in columns of squadrons and passed at a walk. Then, when the cavalry had ridden the whole length of the front and had doubled back, the second "march past" began at the trot. A hundred yards from the reviewing stand, the men spurred to a gallop, drew sabres, raised the "rebel yell" and dashed by the admiring "Jeb" at a furious gait. On the ridge west of the branch, Beckham opened with blank charges as if to repel attack.
It was thrilling even to those who had seen those same squadrons yell and thunder past when shells were emptying saddles and the smell and smoke of battle were in the air. For the ladies, the gallop, the excitement, the foxhunters' call from nearly 10,000 throats were overwhelming. Those feminine spectators who had handsome male companions put their handkerchiefs to their eyes and swayed and gracefully swooned. It was observed, strangely enough, that those girls who had come with parents and those who were attended by awkward swains, did not faint, Every one went home to praise the cavalry and its commander. At night, there was another ball; but it was danced more comfortably, if less deftly, under the sparkling heavens, on the greensward, and to the crackling and pungency of great fires.
To the men in the ranks, unbidden to dances, the whole review was a bother. It was a bore even, except for that high moment when each soldier was approaching the stand furiously as if he were going to seize the fairest girl on the hill and bear her off across the pommel of his saddle. Officers, though more favored, had to admit that a long review and all the prologue and aftermath were enough of display. It was not, therefore, with responsive ears that officers heard these orders on the 7th: Prepare for review tomorrow by the commanding General on the same field at Brandy Station. Lee had arrived and wished to see in what condition were officers and men for the next hard adventure across the Potomac.
Had there been zest; there was not time for many invitations, The only one of record served the purpose of thousands. "Come and see the review," said Fitz Lee to John Hood and added politely, "and bring any of your people." On the 8th, perhaps before the commanding General appeared, Hood arrived -- with his entire Division. The Texan rode out and joined some of the cavalry officers. "You invited me and my 'people'," said Hood, with a laugh, "and you see I have brought them!"
Fitz Lee knew how jealous the infantry were of every man who had a mount of any description. In particular, at the moment, the jest-loving Fitz wished to make reservation concerning a favorite jibe by the foot soldiers at all evidence of poor horsemanship on the part of the cavalry. So, instantly, young Lee, in cheerful banter, answered Hood: "Well, don't let them halloo, 'Here's your mule!' at the review."
"If they do," laughed Wade Hampton, "we will charge you!"
Stuart now had the satisfaction of welcoming formally the notables he had missed at the first review. General Lee rode magnificently on the field. After him came Longstreet and the other leading figures of the First and Second Corps. Soon all were ready for the ride down the long, long line. A lively clip was set by the commanding General. It was not too brisk for "Jeb," of course, but it was unpleasant for General Pendleton and, no doubt, for all the awkward riders. When the cavalcade had gone down the front and back to the hillock, Stuart prepared to have his Brigades pass in review, but as he looked to his flank, he noticed that "Grumble" Jones's men were out of place. They were loitering as if they had been given "at ease." Quickly Stuart sent Lieut. Frank Robertson to ask why Jones was not in the saddle and on the alert for the movement of the Brigade next him. When Robertson arrived, he found "Grumble" lying comfortably on the ground as if a review was last and least of the concerns of the Laurel Brigade. Anger and reviling greeted the inquiry from Stuart, but as young Robertson rode off in silent wrath, he observed that "Boots and Saddles" was sounded promptly for Jones's men.
The review went well enough as far as it went. That is to say, Stuart could see that Lee observed keenly and proudly the marching squadrons, but there was no gallop, no yelling and no service of the guns. Lee forbade that. The horses needed their flesh, the gunners their powder. Let the march past be at a walk.
It was a vast show of strength to those who remembered the few mounted battalions that had fought at First Manassas; but m comparison with the display of the 5th, it was tame and, in at least one particular, it might have produced riotous laughter. Preston Chew of the horse artillery must have known the Texans were prepared to yell "Here's your mule" but he permitted George Neese, acting First Sergeant, to ride at the head of the battery astride a mule with ears about a foot long. Fortunately, Stuart saw the mule before it reached that part of the field where Hood's men were waiting. An aide dashed up to Chew and had him hustle Neese off before the infantry observed him; but if they had started that cry about the mule....Neese was nonchalant. He protested afterwards that personally he cared little about the matter; but he had in honesty to add: "the mule looked a little bit surprised, and, I think, felt ashamed of himself and his waving ears, which cost him his prominent position in the grand cavalcade."
The review over, the men walked their horses to the camps, which soon were bivouacs. All the equipage was packed for an early move on the morning of June 9. Lee was about to start Ewell and Longstreet for the Potomac: the cavalry were to cross the Rappahannock River and to cover the march. From the preparations, the men could tell that a large operation was about to be started but they were less interested than usual. The explanation by one of "Lige" White's Captains was that the troopers were "worried out by the military foppery and display (which was Stuart's greatest weakness)."
Stuart himself fared scarcely better than did his men. On Fleetwood Hill everything except two tent-flies was in headquarters wagons. He had a simple bed, but from the grassy eminence he could enjoy a prospect of rural beauty. For several miles, the land, here open and there wooded, had just enough of curve and grade to escape monotony. Where the clover had not yet been cut, it spread its perfume. On ground newly plowed, brown or red, the corn was a foot high and ready for thinning. Wheat, already golden, waited the scythe. Toward the Northeast, on the Fleetwood side of the straight Orange and Alexandria Railroad, woods cut off a view of the declivity of the Rappahannock. Farther eastward were hills where lived the Paynes and the Jamesons. Downstream, beyond green fields and greener forests was Kelly's Ford, forever mournful in cavalrymen's memory because Pelham had fallen there.
After darkness, across the Rappahannock, not a campfire was visible to suggest that the enemy's cavalry under Alfred Pleasanton had sensed the movement of Lee's Army and had begun reconnaissance. Dispositions for the night, in anticipation of the morning march, placed Fitz Lee's Brigade North of the Hazel River and in the vicinity of Oak Shade Church, about seven and a half miles Northwest of Fleetwood. Fitz was near at hand but was sick and unable to exercise command. Acting in his place was Col. Tom Munford of the Second Virginia. Down the Hazel, "Rooney" Lee's Brigade was at Welford's plantation, close to Welford's Ford, which was about two miles West of the point where the Hazel joins the Rappahannock. At Beverly Ford, a major crossing of the Rappahannock, about a mile and a half above the railroad bridge, "Grumble" Jones had placed good pickets. Two miles back from the ford his men were bivouacked along the Brandy road. In front of Jones's Brigade were four batteries of horse artillery, the careless exposure of which was in due time to bring peril. At Norman's Ford, below the railroad, a guard was placed but the ford at the time scarcely could have been in condition for use. Kelly's Ford, four miles down the Rappahannock from the railroad crossing, was in the care of Robertson's pickets. His Brigade and Wade Hampton's were spread where pasturage was good between the Barbour Farm and Stevensburg, a distance of about five miles. All these dispositions were made in the belief that the front was safe and the enemy remote.
The pickets did their duty through the pleasant June night. After the moon set about 2 o'clock, a haze spread over the river in tile vicinity of Beverly Ford. On the narrow road that ran southward through woods for a mile and more, the darkness was unrelieved by the starlight. Although war had swept away most of the man-made obstacles -- fences and gates and draw-bars -- and had created as fair a field as knights could have asked for a tourney, there were treacherous ditches across some of the fields near the river, A horseman had to trust his mount and, if he were nervous, he did well to proceed at a walk and with caution. Sound carried far and loudly.
Just at the cool, hazy dawn of June 9, Stuart on Fleetwood Hill heard the sound of firing from the direction of Beverly Ford. He could not misunderstand the character or the import of the pop-pop-pop and the defiant, echoing answer. The enemy must be crossing. There could be no other explanation. Soon a dashing courier on a panting horse brought the news from "Grumble" Jones: The Federals were on the south side of the Rappahannock at Beverly Ford and were advancing in strength, "Jeb" immediately directed that the wagon trains be started for Culpeper and he prepared to reinforce "Grumble."
The engagement opened in this manner was full of military sensation. Narrowly and by persistent fighting, the exposed guns of the horse artillery were withdrawn to the vicinity of a little brick church, "a modest sanctuary," St. James' by name. In woods to the North of this building, beyond an open field, the Federals soon began to deploy, but before they opened an attack, Stuart received two messages that the enemy was crossing at Kelly's Ford, four miles downstream. "Jeb" sent reinforcements in that direction and summoned all his other troopers to the front and up-stream flank of the Federals who had moved toward Brandy by way of Beverly Ford.
In confidence that these dispositions would protect his front, Stuart watched some clever woods fighting by Wade Hampton. It was difficult, but it progressed. The situation seemed entirely in hand when "Grumble" Jones sent word of a threatened attack on the right flank by troops that had crossed below Beverly Ford. Stuart's pride and his dislike of "Grumble" probably shaped his answer. "Tell General Jones," he said, "to attend to the Yankees in his front, and I'll watch the flanks."
Jones's reply was: "So he thinks they ain't coming, does he? Well, let him alone; he'll damn soon see for himself."
About noon a courier spurred to Stuart from Major McClellan, who had been left at Fleetwood: Hostile cavalry in strength, the staff officer reported, was almost at Brandy!
Stuart had confidence in Henry McClellan, but he was incredulous. "Ride back there," Stuart said to Capt. James F. Hart of the horse artillery, "and see what this foolishness is about!" Obediently Captain Hart started for Fleetwood but he did not have to send back a report. Before he had gone far, Frank Deane, an intelligent, confidential headquarters clerk, galloped up to Stuart. "General," cried Deane, before he reached Stuart, "the Yankees are at Brandy!"
In mocking confirmation, there rolled down at that instant from the hill the sound of rapid fire. Stuart immediately ordered two regiments of Jones's Brigade back to Fleetwood. With equal decision, when Stuart's aide arrived, "Grumble" directed Asher Harman to take his Twelfth Virginia and "Lige" White's battalion and to hurry to the high ground above Brandy. Stuart himself started after them. As soon as he got out of the woods South of the church, his mood must have become grim. Instead of two regiments, a long column was in sight and was mounting Fleetwood Hill boldly. Stuart snapped out orders for one and then for a second of Wade Hampton's regiments to ride at a gallop for the heights -- a superfluous order, as it proved, because the South Carolinian had seen the Union troopers and already was withdrawing to meet them.
A fine situation, surely, this was for the day after a review. The most distinguished regiments of the Cavalry Division caught in the rear while engaged heavily in front! Nothing but hard, stand. up combat could win the field now. In the first clash, the Confederate advance to Fleetwood was repulsed. The next charge carried the hill and drove the Federals eastward across the railroad, but for a few minutes only did the Southerners remain in possession of the long hill. The counter-attack of the bluecoats was swift and effective. Part of Fleetwood was theirs again. Stuart saw that all his cavalry and all his artillery must be massed on Fleetwood if he was to hold it against an adversary who, most incredibly, had assumed the offensive. Repulse of a sharp attack by Flournoy's Sixth Virginia demonstrated that the Federals were in strength and, prisoners said, were of the Division of David Gregg, who had crossed at Kelly's Ford.
These Federals surged forward again and sought to get to the top of the hill three guns they had advanced to its foot. As the bluecoats pushed up the eminence, those Confederates who looked from Fleetwood in the direction of St. James' Church saw a sight that made veterans catch their breath and stare and lift their hats in admiration. Hampton's regiments were coming up in magnificent order. On the right, in advance was Cobb's Legion under Pierce Young; in support, and almost en échelon,
was Black's First South Carolina; on the left, slightly to the rear and moving less rapidly, were the First North Carolina and the Jeff Davis Legion. Sweeping in splendor across the field abreast of Hampton's column was Hart's horse artillery.
Young and Black pressed straight on; Hampton diverged to the East in order to get under the side of the hill and to trap the enemy his right regiments drove from the high ground. Soon the Federals around Fleetwood House saw Young's object and, with a gallantry that matched his, they threw themselves at him. Young changed his column to the left, met them, made them wheel, and then, in close columns of squadrons, he swept over the hill. The enemy withdrew this time toward the East, in the direction of Hampton's advance. Almost immediately there was a rolling mêlée, confused by smoke and dust; but when this cleared, Hampton still was advancing. The enemy was falling back toward Brandy Station and the woods to the South of it. Said Hampton later: "The capture of the whole force which had been driven from the hill would have been almost certain but that our own artillery, which had again been posted on the hill...opened a heavy and well-directed fire at the head of my column. The delay rendered necessary to make this fire cease enabled the enemy to reach the woods in his rear."
While Young had been sweeping over the ridge, Harman and White had been pressing along Fleetwood Hill and had cut off part of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry in the direction of the Barbour House. The Confederate cavalrymen apparently did not know these blue cavalrymen were separated and without support. Nor did the Southern artillerists realize that Federals were West of them. Suddenly, the Unionists dashed among the guns -- not in the hope of carrying off so handsome a prize but because the batteries blocked the only apparent avenue of escape. A brief, furious fight followed. Pistols answered sabres. With no better weapon than a sponge-staff, one Confederate knocked a bluecoat from a horse. The Federals, beaten off, made their way to Brandy Station. To clear the ground adjoining the station became the next task of Stuart. This was undertaken by Lunsford Lomax and his Eleventh Virginia of Jones's Brigade. In a charge down both sides of the road from Fleetwood to Brandy, Lomax easily drove the enemy back toward Stevensburg.
This charge would have removed Stuart's last concern, had not a new development come. All day Stuart had been on the lookout for Federal infantry. To Capt. W. W. Blackford he had assigned the special duty of watching for any evidence of their presence. "It was not long," said Blackford, "before I found them with my powerful field glasses deployed as skirmishers and though they kept low in the grass I could see the color of their trimmings and their bayonet scabbards." On Stuart's order, Blackford rode six miles to Longstreet's headquarters, whence the intelligence was communicated to Lee. In anticipation of a summons, Rodes already had advanced his Division to the Botts Farm and now on orders from Ewell, he started for Brandy.
While Rodes was marching, Stuart's position on Fleetwood was being consolidated. Hampton, Jones and all the horse artillery were deploying on the ridge. The three Federal guns, which the enemy had sought repeatedly to carry to the crest, were silent prizes of war. "Rooney" Lee had held his original position on the left of Jones long enough to discourage the Federals North of St. James' Church from rapid pursuit of Hampton and Jones when those two officers moved for Fleetwood. Then, repelling attacks, young Lee had moved southward to another strong flank position.
Against the front of these three Brigades, increased to four by the late arrival of Munford on "Rooney" Lee's left, the Federals under Gregg were wise enough not to shatter their weary squadrons. Further attack by the column from Beverly Ford was feeble and was confined to the left. Before Rodes got his infantry from Botts's Farm to Brandy, the enemy was withdrawing toward Beverly Ford.
The Battle of Brandy Station was over. A mellow glow after sunset, a "burnished and glowing horizon," a soft haze over wood and river ended in splendor an ugly day. Stuart had been mortified by his failure to win a dazzling victory and he was resolved now to reestablish his headquarters on Fleetwood Hill so that he could say he held his ground. Wrote Blackford: "...when we reached the place it was covered so thickly with the dead horses and men, and the blue bottle flies were swarming so thick over the blood stains on the ground that there was not room enough to pitch the tents among them. So the General reluctantly consented to camping at another place." His casualties had been 523. Those of the Federals subsequently were ascertained to be 936, of whom 486 were prisoners of war.
By his campfire, before he received these figures, Stuart had to ask how Gregg had eluded Beverley Robertson, who had been sent toward Kelly's Ford for the very purpose of blocking an advance from that direction. Robertson did not have a single casualty to report and he admitted that his command, although opposed to the enemy during the entire day, was not at any time actively engaged. It took a preliminary report by Robertson, a more detailed account, which Stuart declared unsatisfactory, and a revised narrative, which Stuart had to elaborate, to make plain the facts without disclosing the reason. Robertson had moved from his bivouac down the road which runs from Brandy toward Kelly's Ford by way of Fleetwood and Newby's Shop. Opposite Brown's Farm, Robertson had met the commanding officer of his pickets who were retiring from Kelly's in the face of overwhelming enemy forces. This officer, Capt. William White, reported Federal infantry and field guns directly in Robertson's front. Robertson dismounted the greater part of his force, reconnoitered and soon learned that the enemy were moving toward Brandy and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad by two of the roads to the South of him. It was then that Robertson made what Stuart subsequently pronounced the wrong decision. Had Robertson sent part of his force southward with promptness, he might have caught Gregg on the flank. Instead, Robertson reasoned that he could not divide his small Brigade or abandon the road he was covering. He remained where he was, reported the situation to Stuart and at length suggested that he swing southward and westward and get in rear of the Federals who already had passed toward Brandy and Stevensburg beyond his right. Stuart's answer was that Robertson should hold his front. Said "Jeb" a few days later, in explanation, "it was too late...and it would have been extremely hazardous for him to have interposed his command between the enemy's infantry and artillery and the column of cavalry that had already passed on the right flank." Robertson obeyed orders. When he was free, at length, to return to Brandy, the engagement was in its final stage.
A report more distressing than Robertson's was made by the Second South Carolina and the Fourth Virginia, which had been sent to Stevensburg, five and a half miles South of Brandy. In a confused, far-spreading fight, their 500 men had held off a column under Col. Alfred N. Duffié, but they had paid with the loss of valuable officers. Lt. Col. Frank Hampton of the Second South Carolina, Wade Hampton's brother, was mortally wounded. Later in the action, near the crossing of Mountain Run, Calbraith Butler, Colonel of that regiment, and Will Farley, Stuart's chief scout, were sitting on their horses, almost side by side in the road, though their mounts were headed in opposite directions. As the officers were deploying the troopers for a stand, a Federal fieldpiece on the flank was fired at them. The first projectile took off Colonel Butler's foot, passed through his horse and Farley's and severed the Captain's leg. Staff officers rushed to Butler and the couriers to Farley; but as soon as Butler had been placed in a blanket for removal to the rear he said to the officers in the stately speech which did not fail some of the Southern leaders even in the midst of pain: "I wish that you two gentlemen, as you have placed me in the hands of my own men, would go and take charge of Captain Farley."
They found the scout lying on a blanket and in flawless composure of mind. As there chanced to be at hand an old flat trough, which could be used as a stretcher, they lifted Farley into it and told the men of the medical detachment to take him out of danger. What followed is one of the classic incidents of the entire war and is told best in the words of John T. Rhett:
"Just as we were about to send [Farley] away, he called me to him, and pointing to the leg that had been cut off by the ball...he asked me to bring it to him. I did so. He took it, pressed it to his bosom as one would a child, and said, smiling --
"'It is an old friend, gentlemen, and I do not wish to part from it.'
"Captain Chesnut and myself shook hands with him, bidding him good-bye, and expressed the hope that we should soon again see him. He said --
"'Good-bye, gentlemen, and forever. I know my condition, and we will not meet again. I thank you for your kindness. It is a pleasure to me that I have fallen into the hands of good Carolinians at my last moment.'
"Courteously, even smilingly, he nodded his head to us as the men bore him away. He died within a few hours. I have never seen a man whose demeanor, in the face of certain, painful, and quick death, was so superb. I have never encountered anything so brave from first to last."
Stuart's own tribute was to the same effect: "[Captain Farley] displayed even in death the same loftiness of bearing and fortitude which have characterized him through life. He had served without emolument, long, faithfully, and always with distinction. No nobler champion has fallen." Other reliable scouts Stuart had and still others he developed. Ahead of Franklin Stringfellow were adventures as amazing as any that Farley had met with cold, calculating valor; but there never was in the cavalry Division another scout who in every quality was the peer of Farley. Defense that took a man so nearly irreplaceable was not defense but defeat. Another serious loss, though not fatal, was that of "Rooney" Lee, who received an ugly leg wound.
If Robertson's report and Butler's stubborn fight explained why Gregg had and Duffié had not reached the rear of Stuart's forces at St. James' Church, Stuart felt that he had reason to be disappointed over the failure of Tom Munford to bring Fitz Lee's men into action before mid-afternoon, but in this the equities were divided.
Although Stuart did not know it at the time, he had a compensating gift of Fortune in a delay of the Federal crossing at Kelly's Ford. Buford had been on the south bank of Beverly Ford by early dawn, but Duffié, despite Gregg's imperative orders, started late and had some unexplained and unexpected difficulty in getting to Kelly's Ford. For this reason, Gregg did not begin his passage of the stream till after 5 o'clock. Had he moved from Kelly's Ford when Buford advanced from Beverly Ford, the two forces, attacking almost simultaneously from North and from East, could have given "Jeb" his unhappiest day.
Most fortunate of all was Stuart in a dramatic occurrence at Fleetwood in the moment of Gregg's onslaught. Either by Stuart's order or because its ammunition was reduced to a few almost worthless shells, one gun of Hart's Battery was at the foot of Fleetwood Hill in the early morning. This little howitzer had been observed by Maj. Henry McClellan, whom Stuart, it will be remembered, had left at Fleetwood when he galloped to St. James' Church. As soon as McClellan confirmed excited reports that the Federals were at Brandy Station, he hurried Carter and the gun to the crest of Fleetwood. Search of the limber chest showed a few round shots along with the defective shells. Carter boldly opened a slow fire. Although there were no Confederates on Fleetwood Hill at that time, except McClellan, Carter and the men serving the piece, they held off the Federals long enough for Harman and White to reach the hill before Gregg's men had occupied it completely. This piece of good luck -- more than a man should have asked -- Stuart acknowledged in his report to the extent only that he deplored the fact that "the artillery sent to [Fleetwood] Hill had little ammunition." There was a fine compliment for McClellan in the report but it was second to praise of von Borcke among the staff officers, and it was without a suggestion that McClellan's promptness had prevented the seizure by the enemy of the strongest position on the field of battle.
Truth was, "Jeb" Stuart was humiliated more deeply than ever he had been in his campaigning, humiliated and, if not disillusioned, disconcerted. The Federal cavalry never had battled so hard and never had stood up so stubbornly. Most of the day, they had held the offensive and had given as good as they had taken. Outwardly, Stuart would not admit it. He wrote, in fact, a flamboyant and congratulatory order in which he proclaimed a victory and assured his men that "nothing but the enemy's infantry, strongly posted in the woods, saved his cavalry from capture or annihilation." Other participants were not so sure. The Federals boasted then and often thereafter that they had struck in time to prevent a raid that Stuart had planned to launch on June 10. While this was not true, it hurt Stuart to think that the bluecoats at any time could hold him. He had fought his heaviest battle after thunderous, demonstrative reviews of more troops than ever had been under his command. Instead of a thrilling victory that every man in the Army would have to acclaim, there was sarcastic talk of an exposed rear and of a surprise!
The commanding General understood. Stuart was sure of that. On receipt of Stuart's report, which his enemies would have said was not entirely candid, Lee wrote: "The dispositions made by you to meet the strong attack of the enemy appear to have been judicious and well planned. The troops were well and skillfully managed, and with few exceptions conducted themselves with marked gallantry." That was reassuring if not quite so laudatory as might be desired. Fair minded men took into account the final victory though they did not ignore the surprise. Stuart never saw what his West Point classmate, Dorsey Pender wrote, but he must have heard echoes of similar comment. Said Pen&r: "I suppose it is all right that Stuart should get all the blame, for when anything handsome is done he gets all the credit. A bad rule either way. He however retrieved the surprise by whipping them in the end."
Surprise -- that was the word on which that infernal Examiner
harped in Richmond. The paper did not call Stuart by name, but it might as well have done so. Its words stuck in the mind:
The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But this puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has been twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weakheaded officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion. But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy. The surprise on this occasion was the most complete that has occurred. The Confederate cavalry was carelessly strewn over the country, with the Rappahannock only between it and an enemy who has already proven his enterprise to our cost....In the end the enemy retired, or was driven, it is not yet clearly known which, across the river. Nor is it certainly known whether the fortunate result was achieved by the cavalry alone or with the assistance of Confederate infantry in the neighborhood....Events of this description have been lately too frequent to admit of the supposition that they are the results of hazard. They are the effects of causes which will produce like effects while they are permitted to operate, and they require the earnest attention both of the chiefs of the Government and the heads of the Army. The enemy is evidently determined to employ his cavalry extensively, and has spared no pains or cost to perfect that arm. The only effective means of preventing the mischief it may do is to reorganize our own forces, enforce a stricter discipline among the men and insist on more earnestness among the officers in the discharge of their very important duty.
That rankled..."tournament...vain and weak-headed officers...surprise...reorganization...more earnestness on the part of officers."
"Jeb" would show whether the criticism was justified!
Copyright © 1944 by Charles Scribner's Sons