James Ewell Brown “aka” Jeb Stuart was born on February 6, 1833 Stuart enrolled at the the US Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1854. His first service was the 1st US Cavalry in the Kansas territory, though he was transferred east in 1859.
As a lieutenant, Stuart was with the US Army force that marched to Harper’s Ferry to put down the bloody revolt begun by John Brown, a violent abolitionist.
When the Civil War broke out, Stuart resigned his commission with the United States Army and offered his services to Virginia. He was given the rank of colonel of the 1st Virginia Cavalry and assigned to the Shenandoah Valley.
Stuart’s wartime career was marked by spectacular exploits that made good newspaper articles for Virginia. Jeb Stuart made a name for himself at the first Battle of Bull Run where his cavalry swept down on retreating Union soldiers.
He was promoted to brigadier general in September, 1861, and given a brigade of cavalry to command in the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Seven Days Battles near Richmond, Stuart and his command succeeded in riding all the way around the Union Army.
Confederate cavalry leader Jeb Stuart
His ride became the subject of many news stories and a song called “Riding A Raid”. In July, 1862, General Jeb Stuart became a major general and was assigned to command the cavalry force in Lee’s army.
The general loved parties and gloried in being the center of attention. At every opportunity his staff would arrange dances and parties at homes that they decorated with flowers, ribbons, and crossed sabers. His camp attracted many officers who modeled themselves after the dashing Stuart.
The general wore a plumed hat and fancy jackets adorned with brass buttons and gold lace trim. Many of his officers dressed in a similar fashion after their commander. Stuart also loved songs, poems, and a good joke, some of which he played on his infantry commander, “Stonewall” Jackson.
The two officers worked extremely well as a team and Stuart used his cavalry to not only scout for Lee’s army, but to strike at Union supply lines and outposts at will. As the war carried on, Stuart’s adventures became famous in the North as well. Few Union officers were comparable in the use of mounted troopers.
Jeb Stuart was not perfect however and even his most ardent admirers had a difficult time defending the general’s actions during the Gettysburg Campaign.
General Lee’s orders to Stuart gave the cavalryman some leeway, so he took advantage of a confused situation to raid Union supply lines and ride northeast around the Army of the Potomac into Pennsylvania. This happened while Lee moved his Army of Northern Virginia up the Shenandoah Valley and into Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Separated by about 80 miles, Lee had no way of telling where Stuart was. Nor could Stuart use his cavalry to be Lee’s “eyes and ears” to inform him of where the Union army was.
General Stuart did not arrive at Lee’s headquarters until long after the Battle of Gettysburg had opened, and Lee openly expressed his displeasure at Stuart for riding off and not keeping in contact with the army.
On July 3rd, General Stuart moved his cavalry division eastward to attempt to get around the Union right flank and raid the Union army’s supply lines.
He was stopped and defeated in a pitched battle with Union cavalry three miles east of Gettysburg that afternoon. General Stuart’s troopers covered the army’s retreat back to Virginia and despite the controversy of his actions, Stuart was able to recover his reputation over the next six months.
When the spring of 1864 arrived, General Stuart found himself facing a new Union cavalry commander, General Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan was ordered by General Grant to lead a raid upon Richmond while the Union army fought Lee’s army in the Battle of the Wilderness that May.
On May 11, Stuart’s forces intercepted Sheridan at Yellow Tavern in front of Richmond and the gallant cavalier was mortally wounded. Taken to a hospital in Richmond, Jeb Stuart died the next day.
He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. His passing marked a turn of fortunes for the Confederate cavalry of Lee’s army, and he is still admired today as one of the greatest cavalry commanders of the Civil War.