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Stuart's “ride around McClellan” in June, 1862.


Who that went with Stuart on his famous “Ride around McClellan” in the summer of 1862, just before the bloody battles of the Chickahominy, will ever forget the fun, the frolic, the romance-and the peril too — of that fine journey? Thinking of the gay ride now, when a century seems to have swept between that epoch and the present, I recall every particular, live over every emotion. Once more I hear the ringing laugh of Stuart, and see the keen flash of the blue eyes under the black feather of the prince of cavaliers!

If the reader will follow me he shall see what took place on this rapid ride, witness some incidents of this first and king of raids. The record will be that of an eye-witness, and the personal prominence of the writer must be excused as inseparable from the narrative. I need not dwell upon the “situation” in June, 1862. All the world knows that, at that time, McClellan had advanced with his magnificent army of 156,000 men, to the banks of the Chickahominy, and pushing across, had fought on the last day of May the bloody but indecisive battle of the Seven Pines. On the right it was a Confederate, on the left a Federal success; and General McClellan drew back, marshalled his great lines, darkening both the northern and southern banks of the Chickahominy, and prepared for a more decisive blow at the Confederate capital, whose spires were in sight. Before him, [166] however, lay the Southern army, commanded now by Lee, who had succeeded Johnston, wounded in the fight of “Seven pines.” The moment was favourable for a heavy attack by Lee. Jackson had just driven before him the combined forces of Shields and Fremont, and on the bloody field of Port Republic ended the great campaign of the Valley at one blow. The veterans of his command could now be concentrated on the banks of the Chickahominy against McClellan; a combined advance of the forces under Lee and Jackson might save the capital. But how should the attack be made? In council of war, General Stuart told me he proposed an assault upon General McClellan's left wing from the direction of James River, to cut him off from that base. But this suggestion was not adopted; the defences were regarded as too strong. It was considered a better plan to attack the Federal army on the north bank of the Chickahominy, drive it from its works, and try the issue in the fields around Cold Harbour. The great point was to ascertain if this was practicable, and especially to find what defences, if any, the enemy had to guard the approach to their right wing. If these were slight, the attack could be made with fair prospects of success. Jackson could sweep around while Lee assailed the lines near Mechanicsville; then one combined assault would probably defeat the Federal force. To find the character of the enemy's works beyond the stream-his positions and movements-General Stuart was directed to take a portion of his cavalry, advance as far as Old Church, if practicable, and then be guided by circumstances. Such were the orders with which Stuart set out about moonrise on the night, I think, of June i z, upon this dangerous expedition.

As the young cavalier mounted his horse on that moonlight night he was a gallant figure to look at. The gray coat buttoned to the chin; the light French sabre balanced by the pistol in its black holster; the cavalry boots above the knee, and the brown hat with its black plume floating above the bearded features, the brilliant eyes, and the huge moustache, which curled with laughter at the slightest provocation-these made Stuart the perfect picture of a gay cavalier, and the spirited horse he rode seemed to feel that he carried one whose motto was to “do or [167] die.” I chanced to be his sole companion as he galloped over the broad field near his headquarters, and the glance of the blue eyes of Stuart at that moment was as brilliant as the lightning itself.

Catching up with his column of about 1500 horsemen, and two pieces of horse-artillery under Colonels William H. F. Lee, Fitz Lee, and Will. T. Martin, of Mississippi-cavalier as brave as ever drew sabre-Stuart pushed on northward as if going to join Jackson, and reaching the vicinity of Taylorsville, near Hanover Junction, went that night into bivouac. He embraced the opportunity, after midnight, of riding with Colonel W. H. F. Lee to “Hickory Hill,” the residence of Colonel Williams Wickham-afterward General Wickham--who had been recently wounded and paroled. Here he went to sleep in his chair after talking with Colonel Wickham, narrowly escaped capture from the enemy rear, and returning before daylight, advanced with his column straight upon Hanover Court-House. Have you ever visited this picturesque spot, reader? We looked upon it on that day of June-upon its old brick court-house, where Patrick Henry made his famous speech against the parsons, its ancient tavern, its modest roofs, the whole surrounded by the fertile fields waving with golden grain-all this we looked at with unusual interest. For in this little bird's nest, lost as it were in a sea of rippling wheat and waving foliage, some “Yankee cavalry” had taken up their abode; their horses stood ready saddled in the street, and this dark mass we now gazed at furtively from behind a wooden knoll, in rear of which Stuart's column was drawn up ready to move at the word. Before he gave the signal, the General dispatched Colonel Fitz Lee round to the right, to flank and cut off the party. But all at once the scouts in front were descried by the enemy; shots resounded; and seeing that his presence was discovered, Stuart gave the word, and swept at a thundering gallop down the hill. The startled “blue birds,” as we used to call our Northern friends, did not wait; the squadron on picket at the court-house, numbering some one hundred and fifty men, hastily got to horsethen presto! they disappear in a dense cloud of dust from which [168] echo some parting salutes from their carbines. Stuart pressed on rapidly, took the road to Old Church, and near a place called Hawes' Shop, in a thickly wooded spot, was suddenly charged himself. It did not amount to much, and seemed rather an attempt at reconnoissance. A Federal officer at the head of a detachment came on at full gallop, very nearly ran into the head of our column, and then seeing the dense mass of gray coats, fired his pistol, wheeled short about, and went back at full speed, with his detachment.

Stuart had given, in his ringing voice, the order: “Form fours! Draw sabre! Charge!” and now the Confederate people pursued at headlong speed, uttering shouts and yells sufficiently loud to awaken the seven sleepers! The men were evidently exhilarated by the chase, the enemy just keeping near enough to make an occasional shot practicable. A considerable number of the Federal cavalrymen were overtaken and captured, and these proved to belong to the company in which Colonel Fitz Lee had formerly been a lieutenant. I could not refrain from laughter at the pleasure which “Colonel Fitz” --whose motto should be “toujours gai” --seemed to take in inquiring after his old cronies. “Was Brown alive? where was Jones? and was Robinson sergeant still?” Colonel Fitz never stopped until he found out everything. The prisoners laughed as they recognised him. Altogether, reader, the interview was the most friendly imaginable.

The gay chase continued until we reached the Tottapotamoi, a sluggish stream, dragging its muddy waters slowly between rush-clad banks, beneath drooping trees; and this was crossed by a small rustic bridge. The line of the stream was entirely undefended by works; the enemy's right wing was unprotected; Stuart had accomplished the object of his expedition, and afterward piloted Jackson over this very same road. But to continue the narrative of his movements. The picket at the bridge had been quickly driven in, and disappeared at a gallop, and on the high ground beyond, Colonel W. H. F. Lee, who had taken the front, encountered the enemy. The force appeared to be about a regiment, and they were drawn up in line of battle in [169] the fields to receive our attack. It came without delay. Placing himself at the head of his horsemen, Colonel Lee swept forward at the pas de charge, and with shouts the two lines came together. The shock was heavy, and the enemy — a portion of the old United States Regulars, commanded by Captain Royal-stood their ground bravely, meeting the attack with the sabre. Swords clashed, pistols and carbines banged, yells, shouts, cheers resounded; then the Federal line was seen to give back, and take to headlong flight. They were pursued with ardour, and the men were wild with this — to many of them-their first fight. But soon after all joy disappeared from their faces, at sight of a spectacle which greeted them. Captain Latane, of the Essex cavalry, had been mortally wounded in the charge, and as the men of his company saw him lying bloody before them, many a bearded face was wet with tears. The scene at his grave afterward became the subject of Mr. Washington's picture, “The Burial of Latane;” and in his general order after the expedition, Stuart called upon his command to take for their watchword in the future “Avenge Latane!” Captain Royal, the Federal commandant, had also been badly wounded, and many of his force killed. I remember passing a Dutch cavalryman who was writhing with a bullet through the breast, and biting and tearing up the ground. He called for water, and I directed a servant at a house near by to bring him some. The last I saw of him, a destitute cavalryman was taking off his spurs as he was dying. War is a hard trade.

Fitz Lee immediately pressed on and burst into the camp near Old Church, where large supplies of boots, pistols, liquors, and other commodities were found. These were speedily appropriated by the men, and the tents were set on fire amid loud shouts. The spectacle was animating; but a report having got abroad that one of the tents contained powder, the vincinity thereof was evacuated in almost less than no time. We were now at Old Church, where Stuart was to be guided in his further movements by circumstances. I looked at him; he was evidently reflecting. In a moment he turned round to me and said: “Tell Fitz Lee to come along, I'm going to move on with my column.” These [170] words terminated my doubt, and I understood in an instant that the General had decided on the bold and hazardous plan of passing entirely round McClellan's army.

“I think the quicker we move now the better,” I said, with a laugh.

“Right,” was Stuart's reply; “tell the column to move on at a trot.”

So at a rapid trot the column moved.


The gayest portion of the raid now began. From this moment it was neck or nothing, do or die. We had one chance of escape against ten of capture or destruction.

Stuart had decided upon his course with that rapidity, good judgment, and decision, which were the real secrets of his splendid efficiency as a leader of cavalry, in which capacity I believe that he has never been surpassed, either in the late war or any other. He was now in the very heart of the enemy's citadel, with their enormous masses upon every side. He had driven in their advanced force, passed within sight of the white tents of General McClellan's headquarters, burned their camps, and ascertained all that he wished. How was he to return? He could not cross the Pamunkey, and make a circuit back; he had no pontoons. He could not return over the route by which he had advanced. As events afterward showed, the alarm had been given, and an overpowering force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery had been rapidly moved in that direction to intercept the daring raider. Capture stared him in the face, on both of these routes-across the Pamunkey, or back as he came; he must find some other loophole of escape.

Such was the dangerous posture of affairs, and such was the important problem which Stuart decided in five minutes. He determined to make the complete circuit of McClellan's army; and crossing the Chickahominy below Long Bridge, re-enter the Confederate lines from Charles City. If on his way he encountered cavalry he intended to fight it; if a heavy force of infantry barred his way he would elude, or cut a path through it; [171] if driven to the wall and debarred from escape he did not mean to surrender. A few days afterward I said to him:

That was a tight place at the river, General. If the enemy had come down on us, you would have been compelled to have surrendered.

“No,” was his reply; “one other course was left.”

“What was that?”

“To die game.

And I know that such was his intention. When a commander means to die game rather than surrender he is a dangerous adversary.

From Old Church onward it was terra incognita. What force of the enemy barred the road was a question of the utmost interest, but adventure of some description might be safely counted on. In about twenty-four hours I, for one, expected either to be laughing with my friends within the Southern lines, or dead, or captured. Which of these three results would follow, seemed largely to depend upon the “chapter of accidents.” At a steady trot now, with drawn sabres and carbines ready, the cavalry, followed by the horse-artillery, which was not used during the whole expedition, approached Tunstall's Station on the York River railroad, the enemy's direct line of communication with his base of supplies at the “White house.”

Everywhere the ride was crowded with incident. The scouting and flanking parties constantly picked up stragglers, and overhauled unsuspecting wagons filled with the most tempting stores. In this manner a wagon, stocked with champagne and every variety of wines, belonging to a General of the Federal army, fell a prey to the thirsty gray-backs. Still they pressed on. Every moment an attack was expected in front or rear. Colonel Will. T. Martin commander the latter. “Tell Colonel Martin,” Stuart said to me, “to have his artillery ready, and look out for an attack at any moment.” I had delivered the message and was riding to the front again, when suddenly a loud cry arose of “Yankees in the rear!” Every sabre flashed, fours were formed, the men wheeled about, when all at once a stunning roar of laughter ran along the line; it was a canard. The column moved [172] up again with its flanking parties well out. The men composing the latter were, many of them, from the region, and for the first time for months saw their mothers and sisters. These went quite wild at sight of their sons and brothers. They laughed and cried, and on the appearance of the long gray column instead of the familiar blue coats of the Federal cavalry, they clapped their hands and fell into ecstasies of delight. One young lady was seen to throw her arms around a brother she had not before met for a long time, bursting into alternate sobs and laughter.

The column was now skirting the Pamunkey, and a detachment hurried off to seize and burn two or three transports lying in the river. Soon a dense cloud rose from them, the flames soared up, and the column pushed on. Everywhere were seen the traces of flight — for the alarm of “hornets in the hive” was given. Wagons had turned over, and were abandoned-from others the excellent army stores had been hastily thrown. This writer got a fine red blanket, and an excellent pair of cavalry pantaloons, for which he still owes the United States. Other things lay about in tempting array, but we were approaching Tunstall's, where the column would doubtless make a charge; and to load down a weary horse was injudicious. The advance guard was now in sight of the railroad. There was no question about the affair before us. The column must cut through, whatever force guarded the railroad; to reach the lower Chickahominy the guard here must be overpowered. Now was the time to use the artillery, and every effort was made to hurry it forward. But alas! it had got into a tremendous mudhole, and the wheels were buried to the axle. The horses were lashed, and jumped, almost breaking the traces; the drivers swore; the harness cracked-but the guns did not move. “Gat! Lieutenant,” said a sergeant of Dutch origin to the brave Lieutenant McGregor, “it can't be done. But just put that keg on the gun, Lieutenant,” pointing, as he spoke, to a keg of whiskey in an ambulance, the spoil of the Federal camp, “and tell the men they can have it if they only pull through!” McGregor laughed, and the keg was quickly perched on the gun. Then took place an exhibition of herculean muscularity which would have delighted [173] Guy Livingston. With eyes fixed ardently upon the keg, the powerful cannoneers waded into the mudhole up to their knees, seized the wheels of gun and caisson loaded down with ammunition, and just simply lifted the whole out, and put them on firm ground. The piece whirled on — the keg had been dismounted — the cannoneers revelled in the spoils they had earned.

Tunstall's was now nearly in sight, and that good fellow Captain Frayser, afterward Stuart's signal officer, came back and reported one or two companies of infantry at the railroad. Their commander had politely beckoned to him as he reconnoitred, exclaiming in wheedling accents, full of Teutonic blandishment, “Koom yay!” But this cordial invitation was disregarded! Frayser galloped back and reported, and the ringing voice of Stuart ordered “Form platoons! Draw sabre! Charge!” At the word the sabres flashed, a thundering shout arose, and sweeping on in column of platoons, the gray people fell upon their blue adversaries, gobbling them up, almost without a shot. It was here that my friend Major F — got the hideous little wooden pipe he used to smoke afterward. He had been smoking a meerschaum when the order to charge was given; and in the rush of the horsemen, dropped and lost it. He now wished to smoke, and seeing that the captain of the Federal infantry had just filled his pipe, leaned down from the saddle, and politely requested him to surrender it.

“I want to smoke!” growled the Federal captain.

“So do I,” retorted Major F--.

“This pipe is my property,” said the captain.

“Oh! What a mistake!” responded the major politely, as he gently took the small affair and inserted it between his lips. Anything more hideous than the carved head upon it I never saw.

The men swarmed upon the railroad. Quick axes were applied to the telegraph poles, which crashed down, and Redmond Burke went in command of a detachment to burn a small bridge on the railroad near. Suddenly in the midst of the tumult was heard the shrill whistle of a train coming from the direction of the Chickahominy. Stuart quickly drew up his men in a line on [174] the side of the road, and he had no sooner done so than the train came slowly round a wooded bend, and bore down. When within two hundred yards it was ordered to halt, but the command was not obeyed. The engineer crowded on all steam; the train rushed on, and then a thundering volley was opened upon the “flats” containing officers and men. The engineer was shot by Captain Farley, of Stuart's staff, and a number of the soldiers were wounded. The rest threw themselves upon their faces; the train rushed headlong by like some frightened monster bent upon escape, and in an instant it had disappeared.

Stuart then reflected for a single moment. The question was, should he go back and attack the White House, where enormous stores were piled up? It was tempting, and he afterwards told me he could scarcely resist it. But a considerable force of infantry was posted there; the firing had doubtless given them the alarm; and the attempt was too hazardous. The best thing for that gray column was to set their faces toward home, and “keep moving,” well closed up both day and night, for the lower Chickahominy. So Stuart pushed on. Beyond the railroad appeared a world of wagons, loaded with grain and coffee-standing in the road abandoned. Quick work was made of them. They were all set on fire, and their contents destroyed. From the horse-trough of one I rescued a small volume bearing on the fly-leaf the name of a young lady of Williamsburg. I think it was a volume of poems-poetic wagon-drivers!

These wagons were only the “vaunt couriers” --the advance guard — of the main body. In a field beyond the stream thirty acres were covered with them. They were all burned. The roar of the soaring flames was like the sound of a forest on fire. How they roared and crackled! The sky overhead, when night had descended, was bloody-looking in the glare.

Meanwhile the main column had moved on, and I was riding after it, when I heard the voice of Stuart in the darkness exclaiming with strange agitation:

Who is here?

“I am,” I answered; and as he recognised my voice he exclaimed: [175]

“Good! Where is Rooney Lee?”

“I think he has moved on, General.”

“Do you know it?” came in the same agitated tone.

“No, but I believe it.”

“Will you swear to it? I must know! He may take the wrong road, and the column will get separated!”

“I will ascertain if he is in front.”

“Well, do so; but take care-you will be captured!”

I told the General I would “gallop on for ever till I found him,” but I had not gone two hundred yards in the darkness when hoof-strokes in front were heard, and I ordered:

Halt! who goes there?

“Courier, from Colonel William Lee.”

“Is he in front?”

“About a mile, sir.”

“Good!” exclaimed the voice of Stuart, who had galloped up; and I never heard in human accents such an expression of relief. If the reader of this has ever commanded cavalry, moving at night in an enemy's country, he will understand why Stuart drew that long, deep breath, and uttered that brief word, “Good!” Once separated from the main column and lostgood-by then to Colonel Lee!

Pushing on by large hospitals which were not interfered with, we reached at midnight the three or four houses known as Talleysville; and here a halt was ordered to rest men and horses, and permit the artillery to come up. This pause was fatal to a sutler's store from which the owners had fled. It was remorselessly ransacked and the edibles consumed. This historian ate in succession figs, beef-tongue, pickle, candy, tomato catsup, preserves, lemons, cakes, sausages, molasses, crackers and canned meats. In presence of these attractive commodities the spirits of many rose. Those who in the morning had made me laugh by saying “General Stuart is going to get his command destroyedthis movement is mad,” now regarded Stuart as the first of men; the raid as a feat of splendour and judicious daring which could not fail in terminating successfully. Such is the difference in the views of the military machine, unfed and fed.



In an hour the column moved again. Meanwhile a little incident had happened which still makes me laugh. There was a lady living some miles off in the enemy's line whom I wished to visit, but I could not obtain the General's consent. “It is certain capture,” he said; “send her a note by some citizen, say Dr. H ; he lives near here.” This I determined to do, and set off at a gallop through the moonlight for the house, some half a mile distant, looking out for the scouting parties which were probably prowling on our flanks. Reaching the lonely house, outside the pickets, I dismounted, knocked at the front door, then the back, but received no answer. All at once, however, a dark figure was seen gliding beneath the trees, and this figure cautiously approached. I recognised the Doctor, and called to him whereupon he quickly approached, and said, “I thought you were a Yankee!” and greeting me cordially, led the way into the house. Here I wrote my note and entrusted it to him for deliverytaking one from him to his wife, within our lines. In half an hour I rode away, but before doing so asked for some water, which was brought from the well by a sleepy, sullen, and insolent negro. This incident was fruitful of woes to Dr. H! A month or two afterwards I met him looking as thin and white as a ghost.

“What is the matter?” I said.

“The matter is,” he replied, with a melancholy laugh, “that I have been starving for three weeks in Fortress Monroe on your account. Do you remember that servant who brought you the water that night on Stuart's raid?”


“Well, the very next day he went over to the Yankee picket and told them that I had entertained Confederate officers, and given you all information which enabled you to get off safely. In consequence I was arrested, carried to Old Point, and am just out!”

I rejoined the column at Talleysville just as it began to move [177] on the road to Forge Bridge. The highway lay before us, white in the unclouded splendour of the moon. The critical moment was yet to come. Our safety was to turn apparently on a throw of the dice, rattled in the hand of Chance. The exhaustion of the march now began to tell on the men. Whole companies went to sleep in the saddle, and Stuart himself was no exception. He had thrown one knee over the pommel of his saddle, folded his arms, dropped the bridle, and-chin on breast, his plumed hat drooping over his forehead — was sound asleep. His surefooted horse moved steadily, but the form of the General tottered from side to side, and for miles I held him erect by the arm. The column thus moved on during the remainder of the night, the wary advance guard encountering no enemies and giving no alarm. At the first streak of dawn the Chickahominy was in sight, and Stuart was spurring forward to the ford.

It was impassable! The heavy rains had so swollen the waters that the crossing was utterly impracticable! Here we were within a few miles of McClellan's army, with an enraged enemy rushing on our track to make us rue the day we had “circumvented” them, and inflicted on them such injury and insult; here we were with a swollen and impassable stream directly in our front — the angry waters roaring around the half-submerged trunks of the trees-and expecting every instant to hear the crack of carbines from the rear-guard indicating the enemy's approach! The “situation” was not pleasing. I certainly thought that the enemy would be upon us in about an hour, and death or capture would be the sure alternative. This view was general. I found that cool and resolute officer, Colonel William H. F. Lee, on the river's bank. He had just attempted to swim the river, and nearly drowned his horse among the tangled roots and snags. I said to him:

What do you think of the situation, Colonel?

“Well, Captain,” was the reply, in the speaker's habitual tone of cheerful courtesy, “I think we are caught.”

The men evidently shared this sentiment. The scene upon the river's bank was curious, and under other circumstances would have been laughable. The men lay about in every attitude, half-overcome [178] with sleep, but holding their bridles, and ready to mount at the first alarm. Others sat their horses asleep, with drooping shoulders. Some gnawed crackers; others ate figs, or smoked, or yawned. Things looked “blue,” and that colour was figuratively spread over every countenance. When this writer assumed a gay expression of countenance, laughed, and told the men it was “all right,” they looked at him as sane men regard a lunatic! The general conviction evidently was that “all right” was the very last phrase by which to describe the situation.

There was only one man who never desponded, or bated one “jot or tittle of the heart of hope.” That was Stuart. I had never been with him in a tight place before, but from that moment I felt convinced that he was one of those men who rise under pressure. He was aroused, strung for the hard struggle before him, and resolute to do or die; but he was not excited. All I noticed in his bearing to attract attention was a peculiar fashion of twisting his beard, certain proof with him of surrounding peril. Otherwise he was cool and looked dangerous. He said a few words to Colonel Lee, found the ford impassable, and then ordering his column to move on, galloped down the stream to a spot where an old bridge had formerly stood. Reaching this point, a strong rear-guard was thrown out, the artillery placed in position, and Stuart set to work vigorously to rebuild the bridge, determined to bring out his guns or die trying.

The bridge had been destroyed, but the stone abutments remained some thirty or forty feet only apart, for the river here ran deep and narrow between steep banks. Between these stone sentinels, facing each other, was an “aching void” which it was necessary to fill. Stuart gave his personal superintendence to the work, he and his staff labouring with the men. A skiff was procured; this was affixed by a rope to a tree, in the mid-current just above the abutments, and thus a movable pier was secured in the middle of the stream. An old barn was then hastily torn to pieces and robbed of its timbers; these were stretched down to the boat, and up to the opposite abutment, and a foot-bridge was thus ready. Large numbers of the men immediately unsaddled their horses, took their equipments over, and then returning, [179] drove or rode their horses into the stream, and swam them over. In this manner a considerable number crossed; but the process was much too slow. There, besides, was the artillery, which Stuart had no intention of leaving. A regular bridge must be built without a moment's delay, and to this work Stuart now applied himself with ardour.

Heavier blows resounded from the old barn; huge timbers approached, borne on brawny shoulders, and descending into the boat anchored in the middle of the stream, the men lifted them across. They were just long enough; the ends rested on the abutments, and immediately thick planks were hurried forward and laid crosswise, forming a secure footway for the cavalry and artillery horses. Standing in the boat beneath, Stuart worked with the men, and as the planks thundered down, and the bridge steadily advanced, the gay voice of the General was heard humming a song. He was singing carelessly, although at every instant an overpowering force of the enemy was looked for, and a heavy attack upon the disordered cavalry.

At last the bridge was finished; the artillery crossed amid hurrahs from the men, and then Stuart slowly moved his cavalry across the shaky footway. A little beyond was another arm of the river, which was, however, fordable, as I ascertained and reported to the General; the water just deep enough to swim a small horse; and through this, as through the interminable sloughs of the swamp beyond, the head of the column moved. The prisoners, who were numerous, had been marched over in advance of everything, and these were now mounted on mules, of which several hundred had been cut from the captured wagons and brought along. They were started under an escort across the ford, and into the swamp beyond. Here, mounted often two on a mule, they had a disagreeable time; the mules constantly falling in the treacherous mud-holes, and rolling their riders in the ooze. When a third swamp appeared before them, one of the Federal prisoners exclaimed, with tremendous indignation, “How many d-d Chicken-hominies are there, I wonder, in this infernal country!”

The rear-guard, under Colonel W. H. F. Lee, had meanwhile [180] moved down steadily from the high ground, and defiled across the bridge. The hoofs clattered on the hasty structure, the head of the column was turned toward the ford beyond, the last squadron had just passed, and the bridge was being destroyed, when shots resounded on the opposite bank of the stream, and Colonel Rush thundered down with his “lancers” to the bank. He was exactly ten minutes too late. Stuart was over with his artillery, and the swollen stream barred the way, even if Colonel Rush thought it prudent to “knock up against” the one thousand five hundred crack cavalry of Stuart. His men banged away at Colonel Lee, and a parting salute whizzed through the trees as the gray column slowly disappeared.

A lady of New Kent afterwards told me that Colonel Rush stopped at her house on his return, looking weary, broken down, and out of humour. When she asked him if he had “caught Stuart,” he replied, “No, he has gone in at the back door. I only saw his rear-guard as it passed the swamp.”


Stuart had thus eluded his pursuers, and was over the Chickahominy in the hospitable county of Charles City. The gentlemen of the county, we afterwards heard, had been electrified by the rumour that “Stuart was down at the river trying to get across,” and had built a hasty bridge for us lower down. We were over, however, and reaching Mr. C --‘s, the General and his staff lay down on a carpet spread on the grass in the June sunshine, and went to sleep. This was Sunday. I had not slept since Friday night, except by snatches in the saddle, and in going on to Richmond afterwards fell asleep every few minutes on horseback.

Two hours of slumber, however, made Stuart as fresh as a lark; and having eaten Mr. C- very nearly out of house and home, we pushed on all day. At night the column stopped, and I thought the General would stop too; but he said, “I am going to Richmond to-night; would you like to ride with me?” I was obliged to decline; my horse was worn out. Stuart set out by [181] himself, rode all night, and before daylight had passed over the thirty miles. An hour afterwards General Lee and the President knew the result of his expedition. The cavalry returned on the same day, moving slowly in front of the gunboats, which fired upon them; but no harm was done. Richmond was reached; and amid an ovation from delighted friends we all went to sleep.

Such was Stuart's ride around McClellan's army in those summer days of 1862. The men who went with him look back to it as the most romantic and adventurous incident of the war. It was not indeed so much a military expedition as a raid of romance — a “scout” of Stuart's with fifteen hundred horsemen! It was the conception of a bold and brilliant mind, and the execution was as fearless. “That was the most dangerous of all my expeditions,” the General said to me long afterwards; “if I had not succeeded in crossing the Chickahominy, I would have been ruined, as there was no way of getting out.” The Emperor Napoleon, a good soldier, took this view of it; when tracing out on the map Stuart's route from Taylorsville by Old Church to the lower Chickahominy, he characterized the movement as that of a cavalry officer of the first distinction. This criticism was only just, and the raid will live in history for three reasons: i. It taught the enemy “the trick,” and showed them the meaning of the words “cavalry raid.” What General Kilpatrick, Sheridan, and others afterwards effected, was the work of the pupil following the master. 2. It was on a magnificent arena, to which the eyes of the whole world were attracted at the time; and, 3. In consequence of the information which Stuart furnished, Gen. Lee, a fortnight afterwards, attacked and defeated General McClellan.

These circumstances give a very great interest to all the incidents of the movement. I hope the reader has not been wearied by my minute record of them. To the old soldiers of Stuart there is a melancholy pleasure in recalling the gay scenes amid which he moved, the exploits which he performed, the hard work he did. He is gone; but even in memory it is something to again follow his feather.

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