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Jeb Stuart. From the Richmond Dispatch March 4, 1901.

How he played Sheriff in a lawyer's bedroom.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:
After a long, and, perhaps, unnecessary hesitancy, I have concluded to give to you and other friends an account of the manner in which I became acquainted with him who was afterwards such a famous general of the Southern Confederacy.

When I was a member of the Richmond bar, the Supreme Court of Appeals had gotten so far behind their docket that the Legislature made strenuous efforts to unclog said docket. The special Court of Appeals, composed of the five senior judges (by date of commission) of the circuit courts, had proved insufficient for that necessary purpose; and there were established several ancillary district appellate courts. That to which appeals from the Richmond Circuit had to be taken was held in Williamsburg.

In or about the spring of 1854 (I think it was) I had to argue some cases in this court in the old ‘Middle Plantation,’ and went thither for that purpose. But my cases were set for particular days, and I did not go down until they were about to be reached. So that when I arrived, the rdoms at the hotel were so occupied that my friend, Albert Southall, could receive me only by giving me a bed in his large ‘omnibus’ room. with the reserved right of filling the other two double beds. On these terms, I took sole possession, with plenty of ‘elbow room.’

One afternoon, just about dusk, and in a heavy shower, a neat, light carriage all curtained up and drawn by two spirited horses drove up to the hotel, and as soon as the porter could open the door, three young gentlemen, with United States army trappings, jumped out and ran into the office. I had seen them for a few moments through the window of another apartment. [268]

After supper, I retired to my room, to complete my preparations for the morrow. The opponent whom I had to encounter was the late Mr. John Howard, of Richmond. I was in bed, with a table, lamp, law-books, and manuscript notes by its side, putting system into what was to be presented to the court, when in rushed the three young soldiers, merrier than crickets, and I soon learned what a good time they had been enjoying. They quickly disrobed, and all three got into the large bed nearest my own, neither of them being willing to be off by himself. Then they kept up the liveliest sort of chat, recounting, among other things, the adventures of that evening, for in order to get as much as possible out of their opportunity, they had made several visits. Having been a student of William and Mary, and being acquainted with the society of the city, more of that part of their conversation was understood than they supposed. There was, however, nothing vulgar or improper in it. It was only very jolly, and at times rather uproarious. Still, it was not particularly favorable to the logical sequence of a legal argument. After they had ‘carried on’ for some time, one of them spoke up very pleasantly: ‘See here, fellows, we have had our fun long enough; we are disturbing that gentleman over there; let us hush up and go to sleep.’ I immediately thanked him for his politeness and told them to go on with their sport, as I had nearly finished my work and could easily do the rest before the session of the court. Moreover, I put out my lamp ‘and pitched in’ with them, and it was past midnight when quiet came to that ‘omnibus.’

The next morning they left the room in good time for me to make my toilet alone. After breakfast, seeing one of them in front of the hotel, I engaged him in a chat, in which I learned that he had been over to Gloucester county to visit an army friend, who had brought him to Williamsburg that he might proceed to Richmond. My impression is that this friend was with him at West Point, though he may not have been in the same class. Who the two companions were cannot be recalled. I wish I could call upon my friend, General William B. Taliaferro, to aid me, and am sorry I did not think of doing so before he was taken from us. [269]

I knew, from his voice, that my interlocutor was the one who had played sheriff in my behalf, by calling for ‘silence,’ but without ‘pain of imprisonment’ last night, and I learned that his name was Stuart. That name interested me and led to some inquiries. I knew the Stuarts, of Staunton, and the Hon. A. H. H. Stuart was one of the trustees of the Virginia Female Institute who had invited me to be the first principal of that institution, of which, by the way, Mrs., Jeb. Stuart was, for years, the third.

As to his other connections, of whom he spoke of, Mr. William L. Pannill, of Pittsylvania county, had sent two of his daughters to the Home School, in my family, in Richmond, and I had visited him at his home, Chalk Level, where I met his mother-in-law, Mrs. Banks. With these facts, I told him that I had a surprise for him, and that he might know whether or not it was an agreeable one, he must call and see my wife, who was his kinswoman, through the Pannills. Before we separated, I gave him my Richmond address. He had to wait for his stage, and I went to the court-house. But before he left he came to that place to see me and bid me good-bye. He could easily have omitted that, but would not.

Whether he was at my house before my return from Williamsburg is not positively recalled. But he was there repeatedly afterwards, and we all took a great fancy to him. Once he brought with him to show me a leather halter, with a fixture for very quick undoing, which he had invented and intended to patent In explaining it, he said that on the western frontier. where his service was to be with the United States Cavalry, they were liable to sudden raids and surprises from Indians, and a few seconds in mounting might be a matter of life or death. They were compelled to fasten their horses, in order to be sure of having them at hand, in case of an alarm, and that time was lost in untying them. He had, therefore, exerted his ingenuity in trying to get a secure fastener that could be loosened in the shortest possible time, and he had brought the result to show me. Whether he ever patented it is not known, but might be ascertained from the Patent Office. It might have been called ‘Stuart's lightning horse hitcher;’ or, perhaps, unhitcher, as [270] that was the important matter. He certainly was a lightning cavalier.

What struck me in him, besides his gallant and genial courtesy, was his professional esprit. He wanted to accomplish something useful and honorable to his country and himself upon laudable principle. He did; but how different was his grand career in arms from what he then anticipated!

General Joseph E. Johnston once said to me, in Abingdon, that ‘the lot of Polk, Jackson, and Stuart was more fortunate than that of their survivors.’ They, at least, escaped the horrors of the spurious peace of Appomattox.

Benj. Blake minor. Richmond, February 25, 1901.

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