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[177]

Cavalry operations in May, 1863--report of General J. E. B. Stuart.

headquarters cavalry division, army of Northern Virginia, May 8th, 1863.
General — In anticipation of the detailed reports, I have the honor to submit the following sketch of the operations of the cavalry immediately preceding and during the battles of the Wilderness and Chancellorsville.

The enemy had more than a week previously concentrated a large body, two or three divisions of cavalry, along the bank of the upper Rappahannock, whose efforts to hold a footing on the south bank had been repulsed with loss by the two brigades with me, commanded respectively by Brigadier-Generals Fitzhugh and W. H. F. Lee. Finally, infantry appeared at Kelly's and Rappahannock bridge, but were so inactive that there was nothing inconsistent in the supposition that their appearance was a feint. About dark, however, on Tuesday night (28th), the enemy crossed below the bend of the river at Kelly's, in boats, opposite our videttes, and before the force posted to defend the ford could be sent to the point, had crossed in such numbers as to make an attempt at resistance futile. The party crossing at once threw over a pontoon bridge, and moved directly up the river, compelling our forces to abandon the ford at Kelly's and separating our communication with the lower pickets. General W. H. F. Lee, near Brandy, on receiving this intelligence, sent a regiment (Thirteenth Virginia cavalry) at once to meet the advance of infantry, which was checked a mile above Kelly's. I received information of this move about 9 P. M. at Culpeper, and made arrangements to have the entire cavalry and artillery force in Culpeper on the ground at daylight — directing, in the meantime, the enemy to be so enveloped with pickets as to see what route he took from Kelly's and keep him in check. General W. H. F. Lee selected a fine position between Brandy and Kelly's and awaited the advance; General Fitz. Lee being held in reserve at Brandy, with a regiment at Stevensburg. The enemy did not advance that way seriously, though Chambliss, with the Thirteenth Virginia, was skirmishing all the forenoon with the enemy's infantry.

A Prussian officer of General Carl Schurz's staff was captured, who reported that two corps of the enemy were certainly across the [178] river: how many more were to follow, he did dot know. He estimated the force in this column at 20,000 men. He seemed frank and candid, as well as communicative.

About 1 P. M., I received a report from the pickets towards Madden's that the enemy was moving a large infantry force in that direction. Leaving Chambliss in front of the enemy where I was, I marched the remainder of the command, Fitz. Lee in advance, directly to Madden's, where we pierced the enemy's column while it was marching, and scattered it, taking possession of the road and capturing a number of prisoners, which enabled us to develope their strength and designs, as we captured prisoners from three army corps--Eleventh (Howard's), Twelfth (Slocum's), Fifth (Meade's); and soon after learned that the column had marched direct for Germana ford.

These items were telegraphed to the Commanding General. Colonel J. Lucius Davis, near Beaver Dam, had been telegraphed early that day to move his force at once to occupy and hold the Rapidan fords, but I had no assurance that the order would be obeyed with sufficient promptness to accomplish the object; and as there was no cavalry on the left flank of the main army, it was indispensably necessary to move around, get in front of the enemy moving down upon Fredericksburg, delay him as much as possible, and protect our left flank. Besides, while in the execution of this design, I received instructions from the Commanding General to give necessary orders about public property along the railroad, and swing round to join his left wing, delaying the enemy as much as possible in his march.

The brigade of General Fitz. Lee was put en route, in a jaded and hungry condition, to Raccoon ford, to cross and move round to the enemy's front. General W. H. F. Lee, with the two regiments--Ninth and Thirteenth--under his command, was directed to move by way of Culpeper, to take up the line of the upper Rapidan, and lookout for Gordonsville and the railroad. Couriers had been by directions sent to Eley's and Germana to notify our parties there of the enemy's advance, but were captured and consequently the parties there received no notice; but by the good management of Captain Collins, however, now Major of Fifteenth Virginia cavalry, the enemy was checked for some time at Germana, and his wagons and implements saved, though some of his men were captured. A strong party of sharpshooters was left to hold the road of the enemy's march as long as possible, and then follow us, which was [179] done till the enemy advanced about eleven at night and compelled them to retire. Dispatches captured showed that trains of wagons and beef cattle accompanied the expedition, and the men were already supplied with five days rations in haversacks. These items placed it beyond doubt that the enemy were making a real movement to turn Fredericksburg.

Crossing the Rapidan that night, the main body of cavalry was halted for rest a few hours, having marched more than half the night; and one regiment (Colonel Owen's) was sent on to get between the enemy and Fredericksburg and impede his progress. Early next day (Thursday, 30th), Owen, having reached the Germana road on the Fredericksburg side, kept in the enemy's front, while the remainder kept on the enemy's right flank, and opened on his column en route at Wilderness tavern, delaying his march till 12 M., and causing several regiments of infantry to deploy in line of battle to meet us. Hearing that the enemy had already reached Chancellorsville by the Eley's Ford road, I directed my march by Todd's tavern for Spotsylvania Courthouse. Night overtook us at Todd's tavern, and being anxious to know what the Commanding General desired me to do further, I left the command to bivouac here, and proceeded with my staff towards his headquarters near Fredericksburg; but had not proceeded a mile before we found ourselves confronted by a party of the enemy double our own, directly in our path. I sent back hastily for a regiment, which, coming up (Fifth Virginia cavalry, Colonel Tyler), attacked and routed the party. But in the meantime another body of the enemy's cavalry came in rear of the Fifth. Receiving notice of this, I gave orders to withdraw the Fifth from the road, and sent for the brigade to push on at once. This was done, and by the bright moonlight a series of charges routed and scattered this expedition, which had penetrated to within a mile or two of Spotsylvania.

It has been since ascertained that this expedition was by no means an insignificant affair, and, but for the timely arrival of this cavalry on the spot and its prompt and vigorous action, might have resulted disastrously. Artillery as well as trains were passing Spotsylvania, unprotected, at the time. With very little rest, and without waiting for rations or forage, this noble little brigade, under its incomparable leader, was in the saddle early next morning, and moving on Jackson's left flank during the entire day (May 1st), swinging around to the left to threaten the enemy's rear. On [180] the morning of May 2d, the cavalry of this brigade was disposed so as to clear Jackson's way in turning the enemy's right flank; this was done in the most successful manner, driving off the enemy's cavalry wherever it appeared, and enabled Jackson to suprise the enemy.

In the subsequent operations attending the battle and glorious victory, the cavalry did most essential service in watching our flanks and holding the Eley's Ford road in the enemy's rear, Wickham and Owen being on the extreme right. The horse artillery kept pace, and in the battle of the Wilderness led the attack of artillery.

Too much praise cannot be awarded the brave men who thus bore fatigue, hunger, loss of sleep, and danger without a murmur.

The operations of Brigadier-General W. H. F. Lee, with his handful of men, are embraced in the memoranda furnished by him. His report is not only satisfactory, but gives evidence of sagacity and good conduct throughout, and of great efficiency on the part of his command.

The result shows that the disposition made of these two commands was absolutely necessary. Jones' brigade was entirely out of reach, and Hampton was south of James river recruiting.

That Stoneman with a large cavalry force was allowed to penetrate into the heart of the State, though comparatively harmless in results, is due to the entire inadequacy in numbers of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. The enemy has confronted us with at least three divisions of cavalry, more or less concentrated, which we opposed with one division, spread from the Chesapeake to the Alleghany, yet had not the approach of a battle below made it necessary to divide the force of the two Lee's, I feel very confident it would have been prevented, though with great sacrifice of life, owing to disparity of numbers.

With the Commanding General, who is aware of all the facts, we are content to rest our vindication, if the pursuit of the plain path of duty needs vindication.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

(Signed)

J. E. B. Stuart, Major-General. Brigadier-General R. H. Chilton, A. A. and I. General, Army of Northern Virginia.

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