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One of Stuart's escapes.


I never pass the little village of Verdiersville, on the road from Orange Court-House to Chancellorsville, without casting a glance upon a small house — the first upon the right as you enter the hamlet from the west.

There is nothing remarkable in the appearance of this house; and unless some especial circumstance directed to it your attention, you would pass it by completely without notice. A small wooden mansion, such as every village contains; a modest, rather dilapidated porch; a contracted yard in front, and an ordinary fence of narrow palings, through which a narrow gate gives access to the road — there is the whole. Now why should this most commonplace and uninteresting of objects cause the present writer, whenever he passes it, and however weary he may be, to turn his horse's head in the direction of the little gate, pause on his way, and remain for some moments gazing in silence at the dilapidated porch, the tumble-down fence, and the narrow gateway, yawning now wide open, gateless? Because the sight of this house recalls a scene of which it was the theatre about three years ago — that is to say in August, 1862. It was here that Stuart had one of those narrow escapes which were by no means unusual in his adventurous career, and which will make his life, when time has mellowed the events of this epoch, the chosen subject of those writers dealing in the romance of war.

Ah! those “romances of the war!” The trifling species will [195] come first, in which the Southern leaders will be made to talk an incredible gibberish, and figure in the most tremendous adventures. We shall then see, my dear reader, the august form of Lee, dressed in that splendid new uniform which he always wore, riding that swift Arabian, blazing with his golden caparison, and exclaiming, “Behold yonder battery, my men! Charge on it! Sweep the foeman from your path!” The gay and elegant form of Stonewall Jackson will be seen as he leads his cavalry, and swears in the charge; Stuart will give his cautious counsel to fall back; and we shall have, in the yellow-covered pamphlets, a truthful picture of the war. But then will come the better order of things, when writers like Walter Scott will conscientiously collect the real facts, and make some new “Waverley” or “Legend of Montrose.” For these, and not for the former class, I propose to set down here an incident in the life of the great commander of the Southern cavalry, of which he told me all the particulars, for I was not present.

It was about the middle of August, 1862, and Jackson, after deciding the fate of the day at Cold Harbour, and defeating General Pope at Cedar Mountain, was about to make his great advance upon Manassas with the remainder of the army. In all such movements Stuart's cavalry took its place upon the flanks, and no sooner had the movement begun, than, leaving his headquarters in the grassy yard of the old Hanover Court-House where Patrick Henry made his famous speech against the parsons, Stuart hastened to put his column in motion for the lower waters of the Rapidan.

Such was the situation of affairs when the little incident I propose to relate took place. Fitz Lee's brigade was ordered to move by way of Verdiersville to Raccoon Ford, and take position on Jackson's right; and General Stuart hastened forward, attended only by a portion of his staff, toward Verdiersville, where he expected to be speedily joined by “General Fitz.”

Stuart reached the little hamlet on the evening, I believe, of the 16th of August, and selecting the small house which I have described for his temporary headquarters, awaited the approach of his column. [196]

Half an hour, an hour passed, and nothing was heard of the expected cavalry. General Stuart's position was by no means a safe one, as the event showed. He was ten miles distant from any succour in case of an attack. The country around Verdiersville was known to be full of prowling detachments of Federal cavalry; and the daring cavalier, upon whose skill and energy so much depended at that crisis, might be quietly picked up by some scouting party of the enemy, and carried as a rich prize to General Pope. Stuart was, however, well accustomed throughout his adventurous career to take such risks; they even seemed to possess an irresistible charm to him, and he prepared to spend the night, if necessary, in this exposed spot. He accordingly tied his horse to the fence, the bridle having been taken from his mouth to allow the animal to feed, spread his gray riding-cape upon the porch of the little house, and prepared to go to sleep. First, however, he called Major Fitz Hugh, of his staff, and sent him back about a mile down the road to look out for General Fitz Lee. The major was to go to the mouth of the Richmond and Antioch Church road, await General Fitz's arrival, and communicate further orders.. Having arranged this, Stuart lay down with his staff and they all went to sleep.

Let us now accompany Major Fitz Hugh, an old (though still youthful and alert) cavalryman-used to scouting, reconnoitring, and dealing generally with Federal cavalry. The major took a courier with him, and riding down the road about a mile in the direction of Chancellorsville, soon reached the mouth of the Antioch Church road — a branch of that most devious, puzzling, bewildering of all highways, the famed “Catharpin road.” Major Fitz Hugh found at his stopping-place an old deserted house, and as this house was a very good “picket post” from which to observe the road by which General Fitz Lee must come, the major came to a halt at the old rattle-trap-forlornest of abandoned wayside inns-and there established his headquarters. An hour, two hours passed — there was no sign of General Fitz; and the major, who had ridden far and was weary, tied his handsome sorrel near, directed the courier to keep a sharp [197] look-out, and, entering the house, lay down on the floor to take a short nap.

Such resolutions, under such circumstances, generally end in a good night's sleep. About daylight Major Fitz Hugh was awakened by a noise of hoofs on the road without, and, rising, he went to meet General Fitz Lee. The first circumstance which induced him to change his views of the “situation” was the sight of a swarm of blue-coated cavalrymen around the house, one of whom had untied and was leading off in triumph his glossy sorrel! A dozen others, who had arrived too late to secure the prize, were uttering imprecations on their luck.

A glance took in the whole scene-Major Fitz Hugh found himself surrounded by Federal cavalry, and a party soon burst into the house, and, with pistols at his breast, ordered him to surrender. The major was furious at this contretemps, and glanced around for his weapons. He clutched his pistol and cocked it; but his wrist was immediately seized, and an attempt made to wrench the weapon from his grasp. The major retorted by twisting his hand, and firing one or two barrels, but without result. They then rushed upon him, threw him down; his arms were wrested from him in a trice, and he was conducted to the commanding officer of the force, at the head of his column without.

The officer was a colonel, and asked Major Fitz Hugh a great number of questions. He was evidently lost. The major declined replying to any of them, and now his fears were painfully excited for General Stuart. If the column should take the direction of Verdiersville there was every reason to fear that the General would be surprised and captured. Meanwhile Major Fitz Hugh had taken a seat upon a fence, and as the column began to move he was ordered to get up and walk. This he declined doing, and the altercation was still proceeding, when an officer passed and the major complained of having his horse taken from him. “I am accustomed to ride, not to walk,” he said; and this view of the subject seemed to impress the Federal officer, who, either from courtesy or to secure a mounted guide, had his horse [198] brought and returned to him for the nonce. The major mounted and rode to the front amid “There goes the rebel major!” “Ain't he a fine dressed fellow?” “Don't he ride proud?” sounds soothing and pleasant to the captured major, who was dressed in a fine new roundabout with full gold braid.

But his thoughts suddenly became far from pleasant. The head of the column had turned toward Verdiersville, only a mile distant, and General Stuart's danger was imminent. The courier had also been captured; no warning of his peril could be got to the General; and worse than all, he would doubtless take the column for that of General Fitz Lee, which was to come by this very road, and thus be thrown completely off his guard. A more terrible contretemps could not have occurred than the Major's capture, and he saw no earthly means of giving the alarm. He was riding beside the colonel commanding, who had sent for him, and was thus forced to witness, without taking part in it, the scene about to be enacted.


Let us return now to the small party asleep on the porch of the house in Verdiersville.

They did not awake until day, when Stuart was aroused by the noise of hoofs upon the road, and concluding that General Fitz Lee had arrived, rose from the floor of the porch, and, without his hat, walked to the little gate. The column was not yet discernible clearly in the gray of morning; but in some manner Stuart's suspicions were excited. To assure himself of the truth, he requested Captain Mosby and Lieutenant Gibson, who were with him, to ride forward and see what command was approaching.

The reception which the two envoys met with, speedily decided the whole question. They had scarcely approached within pistol-shot of the head of the column, when they were fired upon, and a detachment spurred forward from the cavalry, calling upon them to halt, and firing upon them as they retreated. They were rapidly pursued, and in a few moments the Federal [199] cavalry had thundered down upon the house, in front of which General Stuart was standing.

The General had to act promptly. There was no force within many miles of him; nothing wherewith to make resistance; flight or instant capture were the alternatives, and even flight seemed impossible. The Federal horsemen had rushed at full gallop upon the house; the horses of the General and staff were unbridled, and the only means of exit from the yard seemed to be the narrow gate in front, scarcely wide enough for a mounted man to pass, and right in face of the enemy. In addition to this, the little party had just been aroused; the General had even left his hat and cape upon the floor of the porch, so complete was the feeling of security; and when Mosby was fired on, he was standing bare-headed at the gate.

What followed all took place in an instant. The General and his party leaped on their horses, some of which had been hastily bridled, and sought for means of escape. One of the staff officers darted through the narrow gate with his bridle-reins hanging down beneath his horse's feet, and disappeared up the road followed by a shower of balls. The rest took the fence. Stuart, bare-headed, and without his cape, which still lay on the porch, threw himself upon his unbridled horse, seized the halter, and digging his spurs into his sides, cleared the palings, and galloped off amid a hot fire. He went on until he reached a clump of woods near the house, when he stopped to reconnoitre.

The enemy did not at once follow, and from his point of observation the General had the mortification of witnessing the capture of his hat and cape. The Federal cavalrymen dashed up to the porch and seized these articles, which they bore off in triumph-raising the brown hat, looped up with a golden star, and decorated with its floating black feather, upon the points of their sabres, and laughing at the escapade which they had thus occasioned.

Major Fitz Hugh, at the head of the main column, and beside the Federal Colonel, witnessed all, and burst into laughter and sobs, such was his joy at the escape of his General. This attracted the attention of the Federal officer, who said: [200]

Major, who was that party?”

“That have escaped?”


The Major looked again and saw that, on his fleet “Skylark,” Stuart was entirely safe by this time, and unable to contain his triumph, exclaimed:

Do you really wish to know who that was, Colonel?

“I do.”

“Well, it was General Stuart and his staff!”

General Stuart!” exclaimed the officer; “was that General Stuart?”

“Yes, and he has escaped!” cried the overjoyed Major.

“A squadron there!” shouted the Colonel in great excitement; “pursue that party at once! Fire on them! It is General Stuart!”

The squadron rushed forward at the word upon the track of the fugitives to secure their splendid prize; but their advance did not afford the General much uneasiness. Long experience had told him that the Federal cavalry did not like woods, and he knew that they would not venture far for fear of a surprise. This idea was soon shown to be well founded. The Federal squadron made a very hot pursuit of the party until they came to the woods; they then contented themselves with firing and advancing very cautiously. Soon even this ceased, and they rapidly returned to Verdiersville, from which place the whole column hastily departed in the direction of the Rapidan. The Colonel carried off Major Fitz Hugh to serve as a guide, for he had lost his way, and stumbled thus upon Verdiersville. If you wish to laugh, my dear reader, go and see Major Fitz Hugh, and ask him what topographical information he gave the Federal commandant. It very nearly caused the capture of his command; but he got back safe to Pope's army, and took our friend, the Major, with him.

Such was Stuart's narrow escape at Verdiersville. He succeeded in eluding them, but he lost his riding cape and hat, which the enemy had seized upon, and this rankled in the mind of the General, prompting him to take his revenge at the earliest practicable moment. [201] That moment soon came. Just one week afterwards, when General Lee had pressed on to the Rappahannock, and General Pope had hastily retired before him, Stuart made an expedition to the enemy's rear, and struck the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Catlett's.

It was one dark and stormy night that the attack was madethe column plunging forward at full speed, through ditches and ravines, without light enough to see their hands before them; and by a singular chance Stuart came on Pope's headquarters, which was at Catlett's. The Federal commander fled with his staff, and Stuart captured all his official papers containing the fullest information of his strength, position, and designs. Those papers were transmitted to General Lee, and probably determined him to send Jackson to Pope's rear.

In addition to the papers Stuart made a capture which was personally soothing to his feelings. In his flight, General Pope left his coat behind! and when the leader of the Southern cavalry, so recently despoiled of his cape and hat, left Catlett's, he bore off with him the dress uniform coat of the Federal commander, who had prophetically announced to his troops upon taking command, that “disaster and shame lurked in the rear.”

The account was thus balanced. Catlett's had avenged Verdiersville!

And so, my dear reader, you know why I always glance at that little house in the village as I pass. The dilapidated porch is still there, where Stuart slept, and the fence which he leaped still stands, as he pointed it out to me one day, when we rode by, describing with gay laughter his adventure. All these inanimate objects remain, but the noble figure which is associated with the place will never more be seen in the flesh — the good knight has been unseated by a stronger arm than that of man. He passed unscathed through this and a thousand other perils; but at last came the fatal bullet. At the Yellow Tavern he fell in front of his line, cheering on his men to the last, and on a beautiful slope of Hollywood Cemetery, above the city which he died defending, he “sleeps well.”

Thus passed away the “flower of cavaliers,” the pearl of chivalry. Dying, he did not leave his peer.

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