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Hardeman Stuart: the young Captain of the signal corps.


I never knew a braver or lovelier spirit than Hardeman Stuart's. When the wave of war rolled over his young head and swept him away, one of the truest gentlemen of the South disappeared.

The old Greek dogma that the favourites of the gods die early, had in him another illustration. His figure moved before the eyes of those who loved him for a moment only; his brave gay voice was heard; his bright smile shone-then he flitted from the great arena like some youthful actor, who has played his allotted part, and is seen no more.

It was not necessary to know him long to love him. He was with his Virginia comrades for a brief space only, but he soon won every heart. His kindness, his courage, his high-bred courtesy and delightful gaiety, made him the most charming of companions. Every one loved him. Indeed, to know him was to love him; and since his death even strangers have spoken of him in terms of the warmest affection, so deeply had he impressed all who saw him.

He was scarce twenty-one when he died, and in the flush of youth and joy and hope. He was a native of the great State of Mississippi, where hearts are warm and tempers impulsive. The bright sun of the farthest South seemed to have fired his blood; and on the battle-field he fought with the gallantry and nerve, the vigour and elan of one of Napoleon's young heroes of the grand armee. [142]

His laughing face looked out on the world with an exquisite frankness; the lips were mobile, joyous, and expressive; the large, honest eyes met your own with smiles in their blue depths, which spoke the real character of the youth. I was first attracted toward the youthful stranger by the dash and nerve of his behaviour on the field. It was in the battle of Cold Harbour, where he served as a volunteer upon the staff of General Stuart. He was the model of an aide-de-camp that day, and was specially mentioned in the general's official report for the valuable services which he rendered. I saw him frequently on this occasion, and was struck with his great gallantry. Nothing could exceed the gay ardour of his bearing, the joyous abandon with which he threw himself into the contest, his ardent and complete performance of all duties assigned to him. He courted danger with a boyish gaiety which shone in his dancing eyes and on his smiling lips, and seemed to covet opportunities of exposing himself to the heaviest fire, in the thickest portion of the fight. No bullet touched him, however; the shot and shell, bursting and plunging everywhere, seemed determined to avoid him and do him no harm. He came out of the battle gay, laughing, and unharmed as he had entered it. At the “White house,” afterward, he went with Pelham in that boyish frolic, the chase of the gunboats, and then we rode back “all a summer's day” to the banks of the Chickahominy, conversing. The delightful gaiety of the boy made the long, hot miles of sandy highway slip away unseen; and here I first obtained an insight into the character of the noble young Mississippian, before a stranger, but to be to me from that moment a valued friend.

His gallantry during the battle had attracted attention, and he now secured, through his cousin, General Stuart, the commission of captain in the signal corps. He performed the duties of his rank with alacrity, and I had frequent opportunities of seeing and conversing with him. As I have said, to know him was to love him. There was so much candour and sincerity in his character, such a light-hearted gaiety and sweetness of temper, that he became a favourite even with those who saw with difficulty any merit in their brother men, and repelled all sentiments of [143] liking for their fellow-creatures. Even the surly melted, and grew smiling as his cheerful voice saluted them, and I think the sourest of curmudgeons would have done him a favour without being solicited. His voice had a special charm in its tones. It was what the French call caressante. In the accent and intonation of every word which he uttered it was impossible not to discern the goodness of his heart. Distress had never yet laid its heavy hand upon him, and he seemed as free from all knowledge or suspicion of human bitterness or meanness. He looked into the face of the world with a smile full of friendly regard, and the hard, cold world relaxed in its scowl, and smiled back kindly in response. Suspicion or misanthropy never appeared to have visited him; and living, as it were, in an atmosphere of joy and hope and youthful gaiety, he made all around him gay, and had the whole world for his friends.

The brief season of respite from hostilities which followed the battles around Richmond soon came to an end. General Stuart broke up his headquarters in the old grassy yard of Hanover Court-house; his bugle sounded to horse; and the cavalry advanced to place itself on the right of the army about to give battle to Pope on the Rapidan. Here Hardeman Stuart left us, in performance of his duties as signal officer and I never saw him again but for a single moment. That meeting was on the field of Manassas, when the opposing lines were about to grapple; when the Southern army, hungry, weary, and travel-worn, but undaunted, was about to enter upon the decisive conflict with its old adversary.

Going back in memory to that time, I recall with melancholy interest the little trifling details of this my last meeting and “last greeting” with Hardeman Stuart. I was riding, about noon, to the front of Longstreet's line in search of General Stuart. Under a tree, immediately in rear of his front line, General Longstreet had just dismounted, and was taking off a brown linen overall, the face of the “old war horse” composed, good-natured, but “full of fight.” Learning from him that General Stuart was “just on the right of his line,” I rode in that direction along the front of the infantry drawn up for battle; the men kneeling on the [144] left knee; the bayonets bristling above; finger on trigger; eyes fixed intently on the crest in front over which the advancing enemy were about to appear.

I went on, and in crossing a fallow of considerable extent, passed one of those small wooden houses which dot the region around Manassas. Often as I beheld such spectacles, this melancholy mansion attracted my attention. It was torn and dismantled — the huge besom of war seemed to have swept over it, sparing its very existence only from a sense of its insignificance. In the broken-down porch were some frightened young women, and crowds of soldiers had straggled up to cool their parched lips from a well in the yard.

There were swarms of these crowding around the nearly exhausted well, and others basked in the sun with a careless air, which indicated natures callous to the coming battle.

All this was taken in at a single glance, and I was galloping on, when suddenly I heard a voice which uttered my name.

I drew up and turned around. As I did so, a form detached itself from the rest, came running toward me with the gay exclamation, “How d'ye, Captain!” and I recognised Hardeman Stuart.

But what a change! He had always been the neatest person imaginable in his dress and appearance. His brown hair had always been carefully parted and brushed, his boots as polished as assiduous rubbing could make them, and his new uniform coat, with its gay new braid, had been almost too nice and unwrinkled for a soldier.

His appearance was in vivid contrast with all this. He was coatless, unwashed, his boots covered with dust and his clothes had the dingy look of the real soldier, who is so often compelled to lie upon the ground, and to sleep in his apparel. His hair was unbrushed, and hung disordered around his face, and the gallant young captain of the Signal Corps had the appearance of a sapper and miner.

But the face was unchanged — that was the same; gay, ardent, joyous, as he held out his hand, and grasped mine with the same old friendly manner. The young captain was the image of martial [145] energy and abandon. The bright smile broke forth from his face like sunshine, and his cheerful voice as he greeted me was full of the old kindly music.

He was evidently overjoyed to see a familiar face among all the strange ones around him, where the eye met only alien glances; to press a friendly hand where none seemed ready to stretch forth and greet him.

I can see the bright face now, as he turned it up and smiled; hear the voice with its tones of boyish music as he related his misfortunes. He had posted himself upon a ridge with his detachment, and from his station was signalling the movements of the enemy, when a strong force surprised him, and compelled him to retire precipitately.

So sudden was the attack that he was very nearly captured. His horse had been tied near; the young officer's uniform coat, which he had taken off, from the heat of the weather, strapped behind the saddle-and there was no time to mount. He escaped in the woods with his men minus horse and coat; but seemed to regard the whole affair as an excellent jest, and only the ordinary “fortune of war.”

His gay laughter followed the narrative, and I remember the ardent light of the blue eyes looking out from the tangled curls of the brave boy.

“Well, Hardeman, you have had bad luck,” I said, “but get another horse and come on.”

“I intend to; tell the General I'll soon be there.”



I shook the brave hand and rode on. I was never more to touch it.

I have scarcely the heart to continue my narrative and relate the sequel. Something affects the throat as you think of these dead comrades whose hands you have clasped, whose voices you have heard. Some of the sunshine left the world when they went, and life grows dull.

Poor Hardeman! But how can I call him poor? Rich, rather, beyond the wealth of kingdoms; for he died in the bloom of [146] youth, before sorrow touched him, fighting for his native land.

He did not succeed in procuring a horse, which is always difficult just before a battle; and his brave young soul revolted from inaction at that moment. He must take his part in the action, in one capacity if not in another; if not as captain, then as private; and this resolution was speedily carried out. Procuring a musket and cartridge-box-old friends of his before his promotion-he sought for his old Mississippi company, entered its ranks, charged with them, and fell, shot through the heart.

He died where he fell, and sleeps in the weird path of Manassas. God rest his soul!

Such was the fate of Hardeman Stuart — an event which brought the tears to many eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood-and here my sketch might end. I will add, however, a somewhat curious incident which occurred a day or two after the battle.

General Stuart followed the enemy on Sunday, and coming up with his rear at the bridge over Cub Run, had a slight artillery engagement, and took many prisoners. The bridge was destroyed and the cavalry turned to the left, and making a circuit came into the Little River turnpike, at the mouth of the Frying Pan road. Proceeding down the turnpike in the direction of Germantown, a squadron captured a company of the enemy's cavalry; and advancing further to a small tavern on the roadside, took prisoners another company who were feeding their horses in fancied security at the place.

This cavalry formed a portion of that which had operated in the battles around Groveton; and in possession of one of the men was found Hardeman Stuart's coat, captured with his horse and accoutrements on the mountain.

There was no trouble at all in identifying the coat. In the breast pocket was his captain's commission.

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