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Chapter 51: Yellow Tavern.—Death of Stuart.

On the morning of May 13th, Mr. Davis came hurriedly in from the office for his pistols, and rode out to the front, where Generals Gracie and Ransom were disposing their skeleton brigades to repel General Sheridan's raiders, who had been hovering around for some days. At the Executive Mansion, the small-arms could be distinctly heard like the popping of fire-crackers. I summoned the children to prayer, and as my boy Jefferson knelt, he raised his little chubby face to me, and said, “You had better have my pony saddled, and let me go out to help father; we can pray afterward.”

Wherever it was possible, the President went to the battle-field, and was present during the engagement, and at these times he bitterly regretted his executive office, and longed to engage actively in the fight.

A line of skirmishers had been formed near the Yellow Tavern, our forces were closely pressed, and seeing a brigade preparing to charge on the left, General J. E. B. Stuart [499] dashed over there to form his troops and repel the charge. The Federals came thundering down, recognized Stuart, and fired twelve shots at him; he wheeled upon them and emptied his revolver, then checked his horse and rode for our lines, knowing he had been mortally wounded. His death-wound is said to have been dealt by a skulker concealed in a fence corner. A bullet struck him in the hip and passed through the abdomen. Like the Cid, he felt the menace to the foe his presence would be, and asked his staff to hold him upon the saddle, that the enemy might not see he was wounded. Thus supported, he rode into our lines to die, confident of having done his whole duty, at peace with God, and willing, if it was His will, to leave the struggle and the end to His good pleasure.

His wound was found to be necessarily mortal. His condition during Thursday, May 13, 1864, was very changeable, with occasional delirium and other unmistakable symptoms of dissolution. At these times his mind wandered, and like the immortal Jackson, in the lapse of reason his faculties were occupied with the details of his command. He reviewed, in broken sentences, all his glorious campaign around McClellan's rear on the Peninsula, beyond the Potomac, and upon the Rapidan, quoting from his own [500] orders, with a last injunction “to make haste.”

About noon, Thursday, President Davis visited his bedside and spent some fifteen minutes in the dying chamber of his young chieftain. The President, taking his hand, said, “General, how do you feel?” He replied, in his strong, cheery voice, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.” Mr. Davis came home and knelt with me in a prayer in which he entreated that this “precious life might be spared to our needy country.” As evening approached Stuart's delirium increased, and he wandered to the battle-fields over which he had fought, then to wife and children, and again to the front.

He held his family next only to his country. A notable instance was given once, when he was telegraphed that his first and only child was dying; this reply was sent with the tears raining over his cheeks: “I must leave my child in the hands of God, my country needs me here, I cannot come.”

General Stuart was but thirty-one years old, yet he had attained a noble fame, and no one dissented from the praise bestowed upon “Beauty Stuart.” He had lived void of offence toward his fellow-men, and life was for him one long feast of good — will toward [501] them. From his boyhood, he had never sworn oaths or drunk spirituous liquors, or indeed indulged in any vice. With the simple faith of a child, he did what his conscience dictated. He sang, laughed, fought, and prayed throughout all the deprivations and hardships of the Confederate service, never daunted, never carping at the mistakes of others. When his young life was torn out of his stalwart body, and in the agonies of death he was told he could not live to see his young wife, as she could not reach him in the few hours left, he said gently, “I should have liked to have seen her, but God's will be done.”

To the doctor, who sat holding his failing pulse, he remarked : “Doctor, I suppose I am going fast now. It will soon be over. But God's will be done. I hope I have fulfilled my duty to my country and my God.”

At half-past 7 o'clock it was evident to the physicians that death was very near, and they announced the fact, and asked him if he had any last messages to give. The General, with a mind entirely self-possessed, made disposition of his personal effects to his staff. To Mrs. R. E. Lee, he directed his golden spurs to be given as a dying memento of his love and esteem for her husband. To his [502] staff officers he gave his horses. So considerate was he in small things, even to his dying hour, that he said to one of his staff, who was a very heavily built man, “You had better take the larger horse; he will carry you better.” To his young son he left his glorious sword.

His worldly matters closed, he turned to the contemplation of eternity, and asked the Reverend Mr. Peterkin, of the Episcopal Church, of which he was an exemplary member, to sing the hymn commencing,

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee,
and joined with all the voice his strength permitted. He then united in prayer with the minister. To the doctor he again said, “I am going fast now; God's will be done.” Thus died General J. E. B. Stuart, the great cavalry leader and exemplary Christian, at peace with God and man.

His wife reached the house of death about ten o'clock on the Thursday night, about one hour and a half after his dissolution, and the poor young creature was utterly desolate. Her father was a Federal general in the regular army, and she was separated even from her family in her hour of trial. General Philip St. George Cooke, however, was an [503] honorable foe, and his old friends sorrowed with her for his sake also.

No military escort accompanied the procession, but our young hero was laid in his last resting-place on the hill-side, while the earth trembled with the roar of artillery and the noise of the deadly strife of two armies --the one bent upon desecrating and devastating his native land, and the other defiantly standing in the path, but invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their cause. They fought in better cheer for the memory of such sainted leaders as Stonewall Jackson and Beauty Stuart.

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