The wounding and death of General J. E. B. Stuart-several errors corrected.
The following comes from a source entitled to the very highest consideration, and will be read with mournful interest by all who feel-and who does not?--an interest in the minutest details concerning the career and death of our “Flower of cavaliers” :
In the last number of the Historical Papers--that for February, 1879--I find an article entitled The death of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart.
In the main it is true, yet there are several errors that should be corrected ere it becomes a part of history.
In speaking of the dispatch sent to his wife these words occur: “Some thoughtless but unauthorized person, thinking probably to spare his wife pain, altered the dispatch to ‘slightly wounded,’ and it was thus she received it, and did not make that haste which she otherwise would have done to reach his side.”
This is entirely a mistake.
The circumstances were these: as soon as possible after General Stuart reached Richmond, the evening of the 11th May, a telegram was written by Major H. von Borcke, and sent, as he supposed, to Mrs. Stuart, who was at Colonel Edmund Fontaine's, near Beaver Dam station.
It was found to be impossible to send it direct, as all communication had been cut off, both by way of what was then the Central railroad and telegraph line and by the Fredericksburg railroad.
Some delay was thus occasioned, and the dispatch was not actually on its way until the next morning; then it was sent by way of Lynchburg and Gordonsville, and some difficulty attended its transmission by that line.
Colonel Fontaine, with several members of his family, and Mrs. Stuart were that morning (the 12th) at the depot doing all in their power to relieve the many wounded and dying who had been started to Richmond by General Lee, but captured by the Yankees while on their way and left by them at Beaver Dam, two days before.
While there, at about twelve o'clock, Colonel Fontaine received the dispatch, which read as follows: “General Stuart has been seriously wounded; come at once.”
Colonel Fontaine hurried the party home, but did not tell Mrs. Stuart of it; after she reached her own room, the sad news was lovingly broken to her by his gentle and compassionate wife.
Colonel Fontaine had made some arrangement for an engine and car to carry Mrs. Stuart and little children to Ashland, that road not having been destroyed between those points, and at a few minutes after one o'clock they started — there not having been one moment's delay.
The Rev. Dr. Woodbridge, who had been visiting his son, a member of General Stuart's command, reached Beaver Dam that
morning, and at once offered to escort Mrs. Stuart in her sad journey.
Mr. Charles Carter, of Hanover county, proved himself also the kind and attentive friend.
Some two hours or more were consumed in reaching Ashland, for the engineer was a volunteer.
At that place a new difficulty presented itself.
How was the party to go from there to Richmond?
Fortunately, an ambulance had just been made ready for the trip, in which one or more wounded cavalry officers were going; these most courteously insisted upon Mrs. Stuart using it. Under the circumstances Dr. Woodbridge acccepted it for her, and in a few minutes they were on their way.
The roads were very bad, and soon after leaving Ashland a heavy storm gathered, and it became dark and threatening, with constant and terrifying flashes of lightning; but still they pushed on. Frequently on the way soldiers were met, and each time the same question was asked by Dr. Woodbridge, “Any news from General Stuart?”
Almost invariably the answer was, “No; but we heard his wound was not serious,” --so that the anxious hearts of the poor wife and friend were encouraged to hope for the best.
About eight o'clock they reached the Chickahominy, and found to their distress that the Confederate cavalry had destroyed the bridge.
In the rain and dark, after some little detention, a cavalry picket was found not far off, who directed the driver to a ford a mile or two lower down.
This difficulty was surmounted in time, and once more they were traveling on the turnpike towards Richmond.
Just before reaching the suburbs of the city they were delivered from what might have been a most distressing accident.
It was so very dark, it now being after ten o'clock and still storming, that neither the driver nor Dr. Woodbridge saw the dark masses of horses and men lying along the roadside; but suddenly they became aware of a horseman being directly in front of their horses' heads.
When the noise of the moving vehicle ceased, he was heard to say, “Who's there?--stand” Dr. Woodbridge discovered he was a sentinel on duty, and at once told him his errand and who were in the ambulance, when he exclaimed: “Thank God!
my cap snapped twice when you did not answer my repeated challenge,” --and then added, “We are Lomax's men.”
Not until half-past 11 o'clock did they reach Dr. Brewer's residence, on Grace street, and then a certain quiet resting on all about the house instantly impressed them, and words were not necessary to convey to the quick perceptions of an anxious and devoted wife the sad intelligence awaiting her.
During that day, in his longing desire to once more see his dear ones, this noble man had done what he had never before consented to do — use spirits as a stimulant, hoping thus to delay, for a few hours, what he well knew to be inevitable.
But God's will must be done, and for a wise purpose, no doubt, this last hope was denied.
A second error occurs in the latter part of the article, in regard to General Stuart's age. He was born in Patrick county, on the 6th of February, 1833; died 12th of May, 1864, being thirty one years, three months and six days old.
A third error is in reference to the death of his child.
He left two children — a son, who bears his father's name, and a baby daughter, only seven months old, to whom he had given the name “Virginia,” named for the State in whose defence he yielded up his life.
The child he lost was a daughter, “Flora.”
She died November 3, 1862, when the Confederate cavalry were for fourteen consecutive days fighting untiringly, holding in check the whole of Pleasanton's cavalry, supported heavily by infantry, who were covering McClellan s march across to Fauquier, when McClellan was superseded by Burnside, before the army moved to Fredericksburg.
The loss of this dearly loved child was a great blow to him, greatly increased by his utter inability to be with her; but in his letters be expressed the most beautiful Christian resignation and his perfect willingness to meet the same great change whenever his Maker should call.
The world knows little of the circumstances which led to and immediately followed the wounding of General J. E. B. Stuart, at Yellow Tavern, in May, 1864.
Some have pretended to tell “what they saw” ; but the truth has been painfully distorted.
The account given below was written by Major H. B. McClellan to Mrs. Stuart, not long after the General's death.
The incidents of the charge in which the General received his wound were related to the Major by Captain Dorsey, of the Maryland company, First Virginia cavalry, who was by the General's side at the time.
Major A. R. Venable, a member of the staff, was with him also almost immediately afterwards, and remained by him until the last.
Major McClellan says:
We reache the vicinity of the Yellow Tavern that morning about ten o'clock, and found that we were in advance of the enemy's column, and in time to interpose between it and Richmond.
Not knowing what force we had there, the General was uncertain whether to place himself at once between the enemy and the city, or to take a position on his flank, near the Yellow Tavern — the latter he preterred if he could be satisfied that we had a sufficient force in the trenches to defend Richmond.
To ascertain this he sent me to see General Bragg.
When I returned to him about two o'clock, I found that a heavy engagement had taken place and, that alter driving in a portion of our line, the enemy had been heavily repulsed.
When I found the General there was a lull in the fight, and we sat quietly near one of our batteries for more than an hour, resting and talking.
About four o'clock the enemy suddenly threw a brigade of cavalry, mounted, upon our extreme left, attacking our whole line at the same time.
As he always did, the
General hastened to the point where the greatest danger threatened — the point against which the enemy directed the mounted charge.
My horse was so much exhausted by my severe ride of the morning that I could not follow him, but Captain Dorsey gave the particulars that follow.
The enemy's charge captured our battery on the left of our line, and drove back almost the entire left.
Where Captain Dorsey was stationed — immediately on the Telegraph road — about eighty men had collected together, and among these the General threw himself, and by his personal example held them steady while the enemy charged entirely past their position.
With these men he fired into their flank and rear, as they passed him, in advancing and in retreating, for they were met by a mounted charge of the First Virginia cavalry and driven back some distance.
As they retired.
one man, who had been dismounted in the charge and was running out on foot, turned, as he passed the General, and, discharging his pistol, inflicted the fatal wound.
When Captain Dorsey discovered that he was wounded, he came at once to his assistance and endeavored to lead him to the rear; but the General's horse became so restive and unmanageable that he insisted upon being taken down and allowed to rest against a tree.
When this was done Captain Dorseys sent for another horse.
While waiting for this horse, the General ordered him to leave him alone and return to his men and drive back the enemy; said that he feared he was mortally wounded and could be of no more service.
Captain Dorsey told him that he could not obey that order — that he would sacrifice his life rather than leave him until he had placed him out of all danger.
The situation was a dangerous one.
Our men were sadly scattered, and there was hardly a handful of men between that little group and the advancing enemy.
But the horse arrived in time; the General was lifted on to him and led by Captain Dorsey to a safer place.
There, by the General's order, he gave him into charge of Private Wheatly, of his company, and returned to rally our scattered men. Wheatly procured an ambulance, placed the General in it with the greatest care, and supporting him in his arms, he was driven from the field.
As he was being brought off, he spoke to our men, whom he saw retreating, and said: “Go back!
go back and do your duty as I have done mine, and our country will be safe.
I had rather die than be whipped.” * * I was hastening toward the part of the field where I heard he had been wounded, when I met the ambulance bringing him out. The General had so often told me that if he were wounded I must not leave the field, but report to the officer next to him in rank, that I did not now presume to disregard his order; and the more so, because I saw that Dr. Fontaine, Major Venable, Lieutenant Garnett, and several of his couriers, were attending him. I remained with General Fit. Lee until the next morning, when he sent me to the city to see General Bragg, and I had an opportunity to spend an hour with my General.
More than any brother did I love him; greater loss I have never known.
Thus closes the sad account from which we have copied, and as we read character it proves that the gay, dashing soldier possessed such worth as not only to attract, but to retain the affection of those with whom he was most intimately associated.
May his deeds be long cherished by those who love the cause for which he so willingly laid down his life.